The “freshman” 15 isn’t just about college students

by Christina Meyer-Jax MS, RD, Tastemaker in Residence

Yup its fall and the articles on “freshman 15” weight gain get some traction.  How it happens and how to avoid it.  But how much weight should we give this topic? (yes very bad pun intended) Truth is, according to a 2012 Auburn University study, the average weight gain is closer to 12 pounds and that’s spread over 4 years of undergraduate.  Not 15, but not ideal. The other big concern, in addition to collegiate weight gain, is what weight potential lurks after…where does the scale tip post-graduation as people head out into the work world? Weight loss, gain, or maintain?

A 2013 Career Builder survey found that 41% of employees reported gaining weight at their present jobs. So let’s assume that we didn’t “shed” all the extra burgers, beer, and pizza from our college days. Now we are pushing 30 years old and probably more pounds than we’d like.

Why does this happen in both scenarios? The straight up facts...human behavior and environment. Many of the factors that lead to college weight gain, follow us into the working world (i.e. stress, lack of sleep, over scheduled, etc).

Last year I worked with the Google Food program to design healthy eating systems in the land of free and endless eating possibilities. Google (now known by its parent company Alphabet), as well as many Silicon Valley organizations, offers free meals and snacks to their hard working employees. And yes, there was often discussion if the “Google 15” was real as well.

Whether it’s the college or corporate years taking some tips from the tenets of behavioral science and nutritional science can make eating healthy easy. Yes it’s like a magic wand of wellness ☺


Just because it’s all you can eat doesn’t mean you should eat all you can.  Human behavior drives us to “hot state” and/or impulsive choices.  We eat with our eyes and the wonderful aromas of fried and creamy foods will also derail our best intentions.

  1. Make a game plan. Review menu on dining hall or cafe websites before you go.  If that doesn’t happen then make an effort to scout out options in the dining hall/cafe before you start adding items to your plate.
  2. Apply the 10 + 1 + 20 rule to “all you can eat dining”. Choose a salad plate (~10 inches in diameter) + only use it 1 time (no seconds). Wait 20 minutes. Are you really hungry for more?
  3. Cook and/or prepare your own meals. Typically cheaper and you can control to the portions and ingredients.  If you have time to hang out on your social media, you have time to Google, Pinterest, Instagram, and search Twitter for meal plans and food prep hacks.  For college students having a mini-fridge can be a lifesaver for healthy breakfasts on the go.  Whether it’s smoothies or overnight oats (here are some great starter recipes), these can be done ahead of time and will be key to starting your day off right.

Snack Attacks

Stress and perceived lack of time are big culprits to snacking binges. Here’s how to get a handle on those crazy hormones and neurotransmitters driving you to bag of cookies.

  1. Pack ahead snacks with protein and fiber. Satiety (feeling of fullness) is key for keeping your snack attacks in check.  My favorites are raw nuts, whole piece of fruit, string cheese, cottage cheese, and bean dips with sprouted grain crackers (my favorite are Way Better Snacks). The key is it doesn’t need to be fancy…just tasty and easy. 
  2. Hydrate and take a hike.  Filling your up stomach with low or no calorie hydration helps you feel full and it crucial for feeling great in general. Next go on a walk, hike, bike, stroll, etc.  Many snack attacks are averted by redirecting activity.  Bonus, you get in a little exercise as well.
  3. Go mini.  Research shows that the smaller the package the less that’s consume. The brain registers when you have completed a serving when the container is empty. And to be budget smart, buy good for you snack options in bulk, then portion them out in smaller containers. My new favorite on the go snack/lunch bag has compartments already built in for portion perfection.

Care Packages

It’s with love and the best intentions that parents and family members send care packages loaded with goodies.  Unfortunately the all-you-can eat student dining and late night pizza is already challenging willpower and waistlines.  This can be true for the “care packages” we bring into the office setting too.  Whether it’s for our desks or employee break rooms, what we bring in can be a sabotage to our best health intentions.  Here are some outside of the box items that could go inside the care package box:

  1. Mason jars to create on the go breakfast
  2. Re-useable travel mugs and cups
  3. Subscription to healthy snack delivery service and/or meal pack services for college students who have kitchens as part of their housing
  4. Gift cards (i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Target, etc)
  5. Fitness wearable (i.e. Fitbit, Jawbone, etc)
  6. Lunch box with container compartments

Whether it’s the “freshman 15” or the “corporate 15”, it ultimately comes down to setting yourself up for success.  Willpower is limiting and relying on it is tiring.  Create habits of planning ahead, packing ahead, and choosing smaller serving containers will help everyone look and feel better.  To perform at high levels both academically and in the workplace you should treat your body like an athlete in training.  Fueling big ideas also requires the right food inputs!