First-year unhealthy eating decisions lead to ‘Freshman 15’

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    For José Acevedo, a sophomore business major from El Salvador, getting a taste of United States culture turned out to be a little more than he bargained for.

    Many first-year students dread the “Freshman 15,” a weight gain reportedly experienced during their first year of college. In José’s case, the “Freshman 15” turned out to be closer to the “Freshman 30.”

    “When I came here, the food was really different from back home. My family owns a farm, and so most of the food I used to eat back home was very natural,” he said. “Coming from a different culture, you wanted to try something new. It was food that was different.”

    A diet of burgers and pizzas served at the campus’ dining hall, Market Square, resulted in a weight gain that proved inconvenient for Acevedo.

    “None of my clothes fit anymore,” he said. “I had to buy new jeans and a new suit. I am in the business school, and they use suits for everything, and I couldn’t use my suit anymore. I still can’t use the suit that I was using before I came to TCU.”

    He said he only recently learned about some of the options offered by TCU to help students maintain a healthy lifestyle.

    One of these options is guidance from a nutrition counselor at TCU Dining Services. He said such services needed to be promoted more on campus.

    Dining Services’ Nutrition Counselor Stephanie Dickerson said she has worked with students concerned with their diets. From her experience, the weight gain resulted from students’ poor food choices.

    “Being a freshman, not being under the hands of the parents and being in a new environment, you now have freedom, and with that freedom comes your freedom to choose your food,” she said. “Sometimes you get like a kid at the candy store.”

    Despite the all-you-can-eat format and food options like burgers and pizzas served everyday at the Market Square, students can avoid packing on the pounds by being conscious about what they put in their bodies, Dickerson said.

    Lean meat options, low-fat milk, a salad bar and veggie burgers are just some of the healthy food options available at Market Square, she said.

    Dickerson also said students should pay close attention to the sugar content in their beverages since a lot consumed calories are from drinks.

    First-year strategic communication major David Cohen said he heeded Dickerson’s advice.

    He said he chose chocolate milk and Powerade over sodas.

    The “Freshman 15” is whatever one makes it, he said. And while he still indulges in junk food occasionally, he said he made use of the University Recreation Center to maintain his weight.

    Hayley Garner, an exercise kinesiology graduate student and former instructor of Rec activity classes, said the Rec Center provided a lot of activities that benefit students and faculty members, such as group exercise classes, fitness center orientations, outdoor clubs, rock-climbing wall and personal training.

    Acevedo said he did not make use of these facilities in his first year.

    “We have an awesome Rec, and I admit I have not used the Rec to its full potential, so there is really not a justifiable reason to gain as much weight as I did,” he said. “It’s really more about me pushing it over and not working out, but I think you could use a little ‘be careful talk’ when you come here during orientation.”

    Cohen agreed with Acevedo and said he thought it would be a good idea if Dining Services sent an email to students informing them of ways to deal with the diet change in college.

    Sophomore mechanical engineering major Erika Herge said she felt the same way.

    “I think everyone checks their emails daily, so if an email went out, people would see it, and people would consider it,” she said.

    All three students said they wished nutritional information was available along with the food served at Market Square.

    Yvonne Mann, director of TCU Development Information Services and member of a Weight Watchers club in the TCU area, said the fast food options surrounding the TCU area were another contributing factor to the weight gain.

    Herge agreed.

    She said the repetitive nature of the food served at Market Square led her to go to fast food restaurants around campus despite purchasing a campus meal plan.

    “I just get bored from getting a sandwich or a salad everyday, so then I go out,” she said. “Also, I know late at night I go to Whataburger and Jack in the Box because I am hungry later, and the BLUU and all the places are closed, and that’s my meal plan. So, maybe if they were open later I would eat there instead.”

    Mann said clubs like Weight Watchers were supportive forums in which students could participate and learn more about how create a healthy lifestyle when faced with such unhealthy options everyday.

    “Weight Watchers will help with choices,” she said. “You can have your cake and eat it, too. It’s just a matter of planning and making the choices for it.”

    Acevedo said through his weight gain experience he has learned that battling the “Freshman 15” ultimately boils down to the personal food choices students make.

    “The food will always be there,” he said. “It’s a personal thing.”

    Acevedo participates in a rugby club at the Rec Center to keep active and says he has lost 18 of the 30 pounds from his first year.