Preventing ‘Freshman 15’ with positivity

By Levi Kapplani – lkapplan@unca.edu – Contributor | April 8, 2015 |

First-year students face many challenges due to the changes they undergo in college.
The dreaded “freshman 15” — the weight gain some new college students face due to an unhealthy relationship with food, overconsumption of alcohol and a number of other factors — affects the lifestyle of many UNC Asheville students.

Weight gain is a phenomenon that influences many students regardless of their year of study, said Laura Sexton, UNCA dietitian.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the greatest amount of overweight and obesity cases is seen among people between the ages of 18 and 29. More than 10 million full-time college students fall in this range in the U.S.

“I am more focused now on the students who are exhibiting restrictive behaviors or unhealthy food behaviors, more than ‘freshman 15,’” Sexton said.

Jonas LeMieux, a junior art and education student, said he gained 20 to 30 pounds during his sophomore year.

LeMieux, from Asheville, said he thinks he gained weight because his habits changed. During his sophomore year he stopped playing sports and started eating more.

Sexton said when people do not have a good relationship with food, they tend to make the wrong choices, and sometimes this causes weight gain.

When students come to college, they lack their parents’ guidance, and they have to make their own lifestyle choices, Sexton said. Alcohol consumption and the lack of knowledge on how to prepare food can also cause weight gain.
Weight gain has many psychological effects on UNCA students, Sexton said. Sometimes, it makes them vulnerable to purchasing weight-loss programs they see in media.

“I think body image plays a huge role in self-confidence,” said William Ward, personal trainer at UNCA.

According to The Beauty Myth, the average American woman is 7 inches shorter and 20 pounds heavier than the average female model portrayed in media.

Ward, a freshman from Colchester, Vermont, said American culture is geared around the idea that people have to be skinny to be accepted.

Sexton said media often misleads students. It makes them feel guilty about their weight and causes them to develop unhealthy eating behaviors.

LeMieux said he has started restricting what he eats and working out to lose weight. He eats breakfast every morning, a snack at mid-afternoon, and sometimes another snack for dinner.

“Honestly, I guess the biggest reason is just overall appearance and looking good,” LeMieux said. “I feel like if I fit into my clothes, I feel confident.”
Sexton said students should mainly eat plant-based foods and less processed foods, to develop a better relationship with food.

“It’s not so much an emphasis on really any specific label,” Sexton said.” Its just getting you to understand where your food is grown, where it comes from, and how important it is to eat whole fruits and more plants.”

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