The myths and realities of the ‘freshman 15’

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MSU junior Arielle Tolbert recently launched a clothing line, FITnessin. Photo courtesy of Arielle Tolbert.

When coming to college, many people experience a gain in weight, otherwise known as the “freshman 15.”

Arielle Tolbert is a junior at MSU majoring in computer engineering with a minor in theatre. She’s a certified personal trainer and a Miss Michigan pageant competitor. Tolbert recently published a book called “Get Fit! How to Gain the Freshman 15 of Muscle,” and released a clothing line called FITnessin. Originally, her uncle, a certified personal trainer, was her inspiration and guide behind getting in shape, until Tolbert got certified herself.

In her first few months of school at MSU, Tolbert made sure she made smart choices in the cafeteria and stayed active most days. On Christmas break, the people around her of similar age noticed that she was staying trim, while they might have put on a few unwanted pounds.

“Coming to college freshman year, I saw there wasn’t anything out there for people our age, especially those trying to avoid the ‘freshman 15.’”

Tolbert wrote her book about the things she was doing to avoid gaining weight.

A study on the dreaded “freshman 15” in 2007 by Cecelia Brown, School of Library and Information Studies from the University of Oklahoma, netted contradictory findings regarding the popular belief about weight gain in the first year of college.

“Although some students experience some weight gain during freshman year, it is less than the supposed 15 pounds, and students may perceive a greater weight gain than that which actually occurs,” the study states.

Instead of 15 pounds, the weight gain is more of an average of four.

The study also traced the popularity of the term freshman 15.

“The first article discovered appeared in a peer-review journal in 1985, where an average weight gain of 8.8 pounds was reported,” according to the study. “This was next followed in 1989 by an article about one college freshman’s fight against weight gain, and appears to be the the article where the term ‘Freshman 15’ was first used.”

Tolbert’s goal in writing her book, which happens to be more of a lifestyle change guide, was to combat weight gain and help users stay fit and healthy.

Freshman are still adolescents when they enter college, so “an increase in weight would be expected as a natural part of physical maturation into adulthood,” said MSU Nutrition Program Coordinator Anne Buffington. 

Buffington said MSU’s Health Promotion Department offers resources for students concerned about health and nutrition.

To combat weight gain, Tolbert recommends adding in 30 minutes of walking per day, and eating a salad every once in a while instead of gravitating toward comfort foods all the time.

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