Ahh, the freshman 15. Something you probably was the stuff of legend until you came home for winter break and your favorite jeans were a little too snug. Between late nights (of partying and studying), cheap beer, and cafeteria food, it’s honestly hard to not gain weight.
The infamous freshman 15 doesn’t have to be a reality for everyone, but it definitely isn’t surprising anymore. In college, you’re often too busy to think about eating healthily, so fast food, late night pizza delivery and junk food snacking are often solutions for quick sustenance. Dining halls also have limited options, so fries and soda might be the most delicious thing to you–especially if your mom isn’t there to monitor your diet. And don’t even get me started about the drinking! Beer, cheap liquor and boxed wine are a lethal combination when it comes to calorie intake.
But even though a lot of characteristics of college living seem to make weight gain inevitable, not everyone gains weight their first year of school. The Journal of American College of Health reported that only half of college students gain weight during the school year–and most don’t gain 15 pounds. College freshman put on between 2-4 pounds on average, and over four years of college, women gain an average of 8.9 pounds while men put on an average of 13.4 pounds.
The most drastic weight changes typically happen during the first semester of college–the changes in environment and routine are drastic, and stress definitely leads to overeating. In fact, 76% of female students said that they eat when they’re under stress. Hello, Nutella! Women’s metabolisms also change between ages 17-19, making it easier to put on extra pounds without really noticing.
Exercise is also a big factor. Maybe you played sports in high school and are used to having practice built into your schedule. Now, you might be too busy to make time for exercise, especially since it’s no longer part of your daily life. Scheduling in general is a big reason for weight gain–your schedule might put you in class all day long, or late into the night. Instead of being able to sit down to breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same times everyday, you have to eat when you have time to spare.
Surprisingly, not all college students gain weight. As many as 25% of students lost weight during their time on campus. A busy lifestyle can also be good for getting fit–between going to class, interning and socializing, you don’t have time to lounge around watching Netflix and snacking.
You don’t have to gain weight in college–but you shouldn’t feel bad if you gain a couple pounds. Some weight gain is actually normal. When you start college as a freshman, you’re still an adolescent, but by senior year, you’re a full-grown adult. “Some weight gain is part of the developmental process,” says Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietician at the University of Maryland.
This doesn’t mean gaining fifty pounds is normal–but if you are generally eating well and live a fairly active lifestyle, you definitely shouldn’t feel bad if you’re not as slim when you graduate as you were when you moved into your freshman dorm.