By Meredith Foster – mfoster@unca.
edu – Staff Writer
Junior roommates Jenna Surratt and Payton James represent two of a large population of new students who said they struggled with the infamous freshman 15.
“Before I came to UNCA, I was really nervous about coming away to school,” Surratt said. “I’m a first generation college student in my family, and that was a lot of pressure.”
Coming to school so far away from her close-knit family presented a big challenge. Getting used to not seeing family every day became the hardest thing to overcome, according to Surratt.
“I really just wanted to go back home for the first few weeks,” Surratt said.
James said she faced a different situation upon leaving home: “I was really excited to get away from home and come to college,” she said. “Rules at home were very strict and the pressure to make good grades was crazy.”
Starting a long distance relationship with her high school sweetheart proved difficult, as well as starting to eat differently than she had always eaten at home, James said.
“My dad is a huge health nut, so everything at our house is always good for you, and reduced fat on top of that,” she said.
Surratt and James said they both gained about 15 pounds in the first semester of college.
“It’s funny. I didn’t really realize that I was gaining a lot of weight until I went home for Christmas break,” Surratt said. “I came home with my boyfriend on a weekend, and we went to see my boyfriend’s grandfather ‘Pawpaw,’ and his grandfather said, ‘Well, Jenna baby, I was going to tell you I thought you looked smaller, then you turned around and I saw your ass.’”
According to Surratt, hearing that made her want to start a disciplined workout routine, and when James decided she wanted to start working out as well, they decided to make it their New Year’s resolution. Both students said working out together helped to solidify the routine, but it took a while for them to lose the weight.
“It’s a whole lot faster to gain weight than it is to lose or maintain weight,” said Stephanie Novak, lecturer in the health and wellness department at UNCA.
The UNCA community offers a wealth of information and a variety of classes for students, Novak said.
“It’s one thing to have resources, but when people don’t know what’s available, those resources don’t get accessed,” Novak said.
Students are so distracted with new schedules, making new friends and adjusting to life on their own. When they start to realize the weight gain is starting to happen, they don’t feel like they can treat it as a priority, Novak said.
“When there’s a lot of change in a short amount of time, folks rely on other ways to comfort themselves,” Novak said. “So using food as a comforting way to deal with stress is one of the reasons that students end up putting on the pounds.”
In addition to stress, poor time management plays a big role in excessive weight gain, according to Novak.
“Students have their own well-being on the backburner with all the pressure of academic success and the pressure to perform,” Novak said. “We don’t really know how to manage our stress. We learn from contrast, so it’s not until after we’ve been stressed out, gained weight, or both.”
Those feelings of stress and the tendency for students to put their physical well-being aside encourage students to eat comfort food, according to Novak.
“A lot of times the foods that we crave when we’re stressed are the ones that help us quickly put on pounds,” Novak said. “The carbohydrates that give us that sense of satisfaction – comfort foods.”
The dining hall offers a variety of information, choices and healthy options to help raise student awareness and maintain a healthy diet, Novak said.
“There are a lot of people who have decided to go all gluten-free, or all vegan, or all fat-free, and your body was never intended to go one way or the other. It’s about balance and moderation and exercise,” Emily Williams, senior director of dining services, said.
UNCA has such a wide variety of wants and needs, and the dining hall works really hard to reflect its students, and they are always looking for ways to improve that, according to Novak.
“The menus are available online to help students make better choices, the under 600 calorie action station is out front to help draw people to that, as is the salad bar to draw people to that,” Novak said.