Fighting the Freshman Fifteen - A College Woman's guide to Getting Real About Food and Keeping the Pounds Off

Avoiding the Freshman 15 - It's a Fact of Life...Young Women Go Away to College and Come Home — Pounds Heavier

Asbury Park Press

By Patti Martin, Staff Writer - August 14, 2002

It's the one thing almost every female freshman dreads when it's time to head off to college.

Worse than leaving Mom and Dad. More terrifying than making new friends or dealing with professors and long-term assignments. More horrible than the thought of spending a semester living with a psychotic roommate.

It's the "freshman 15" - those extra pounds that almost magically appear on the bodies of young women across the country between the time they leave for college to their return home in December during the holiday break.

"The weight went on little by little so I didn't realize I was gaining," said 23-year-old Los Angeles resident Marisa Bradanini, who graduated last year from the University of California at Los Angeles. "It wasn't until I got home at Christmas and my family started making comments, that I realized I had put on almost 20 pounds. I couldn't believe it."

Neither could her sister, 22-year-old Marchelle.

"Marissa was relatively thin and in good shape and when I saw the weight she put on, I said something like, 'Oh my God, I don't want to go to college,' "said Marchelle, who recently graduated from the University of Southern California. "And then we started looking around and realized that most of our friends coming home from school had gained weight too."

It was after about 10 years into her practice as a registered dietitian that Robyn Flipse, who has a private practice in Ocean Township, began getting calls from frantic mothers of college women. The calls usually would come around Thanksgiving, with mothers expressing concern about the 5 to 10 pounds their daughter had gained. By the time the young women met with Flipse during semester break in December, an additional 5-pound gain was not unusual.

For more than 15 years, Flipse has monitored the diet histories of young women and, along the way, found a common thread. College life is uncharted terrain for freshman, but no matter which path a young woman takes, there will be plenty to eat and drink along the way.

Flipse's research prompted her to write "Fighting the Freshman Fifteen: A College Woman's Guide to Getting Real About Food and Keeping the Pounds Off" (Three Rivers Press) with Marisa and Marchelle Bradanini.

The book is a handy, must-read guide not only for freshmen but for their parents as well.

"There are only three things that can make you gain weight in your first semester," Flipse pointed out during an interview. "Overeating, overdrinking, undergoing."

Think about it.

Consider that a small McDonald's shake contains 360 calories, while a Dunkin' Donuts Coffee Coolatta with Cream (16 ounces) has 400 calories. A 12-ounce glass of beer has 150 calories, and a 12-ounce wine cooler weighs in with 200 calories.

The third element is that little thing called exercise.

"You have to keep up the same level of activity in college that you had in high school," Flipse stressed. "And that's just to keep yourself at the same level. Doing less means weight gain is almost inevitable.

While college life is filled with plenty to do - great independent film festivals, new bands to check out, sororities to join - most choices do not count as exercise.

"You have to get out and do something," Flipse said. "The weight doesn't go on overnight, and once it goes on, it will take more than overnight to lose."

Flipse said avoiding the freshman 15 doesn't mean going without or missing out. Rather, it's a lifestyle choice based on making sound nutritional choices.

"It's real common-sense stuff," she said. "It's not saying you can never have something, but pointing out that there may be better choices. And, it's helping young women recognize that a balance between what you eat and what you do (in terms of activity) is necessary."

The book's easy-to-read chapters cover everything from "Dorm-Room Cooking Essentials" (low-fat microwave popcorn, water-packed tuna and salsa, among others) to "Weekends, Holidays and Visits Home = Dieting Disaster Zones" (Flipse recommends care packages that include shampoo, scented candles and calling cards rather than food) and "An Extra-Credit Course in Exercise" (featuring exercise you can do right in the dorm room).

Interspersed throughout the pages are the recollections from sisters, Marisa and Marchelle who fought the freshman 15 - and won.

"I think any knowledge we can provide to young women before they go in - whether it's pointing out that they don't have to have seconds of ice cream just because it's there, or providing healthy alternatives - is a positive step," Flipse said. "There's enough you have to concern yourself with at college; your weight just doesn't have to be one of them."

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