Freshmen Fifteen: How to prevent it

Jordan Cho

As incoming freshmen, there will be many worries that plague and stress you.  For instance, how to get to your classes, living in a new environment, who your friends will be, and even deciding your major will possibly be sources of anxiety for you.  That considered, you have one more thing to think about: the dreadful “Freshmen Fifteen”.  Many of us in the class of 2017 have heard of or even experienced, to a degree, the terrors of the freshmen fifteen. It may even add to your daily worries as incoming freshmen.  However, I am here to tell you, as someone who has actually experienced the full weight of the freshmen fifteen, that there are many ways to avoid it and prevent such unwanted weight gain. Most importantly though, the freshmen fifteen isn’t even usually “fifteen” lbs.

As I’ve stated before as a freshmen there are many things that are a cause for worry, but take a deep breath as you read this article: everything will be okay. The stress that you have will eventually escalate over the next few months if it isn’t properly managed which will inevitably lead to weight gain and other negative effects. It may sound arbitrary right now, but honestly you made it into one of the greatest schools for a reason, not out of luck, and that should, in and of itself, give you confidence.  This will honestly be one of the most interesting and happiest years of your life; yes it will be hard, but college is only as great of an experience as you make it.  That being said, here is the advice you will need to make that happen.

First I’d like to make it clear that the title of “freshmen fifteen” is a very misleading title.  Sophia Breen’s article “Why The ‘Freshman 15’ Is A Lie” from the Huffington Post states that in most cases the freshmen fifteen is indeed a myth.  She goes on to say that such an obsession with gaining weight is unhealthy and suggests it can cause more weight gain due to stress.  Yet, the idea of fifteen pounds instills fear into freshmen with the clichéd alliteration.  Thankfully, 15 lbs doesn’t come close to how much weight people usually gain in their first year of college; it’s more around 3-5 lbs and technically should be called the freshmen five. Although it is a much smaller amount than most people believe it to be, it is still something to give consideration to as 5 lbs can really change how you feel.  And as I’ve said before, I got the full freshmen fifteen (in about two months) so there is always the chance of becoming the exception.  Incidentally, you may be thinking, “Why am I taking advice on how to prevent it from someone who experienced the fifteen lbs weight gain—not in a year, but eight weeks?”  This is understandable, but after I realized what was happening I made a lifestyle change and started going to the gym five times a week and started gaining healthy weight (and happily so).  Therefore, the first step into losing or preventing the freshmen fifteen is exercise.

EXERCISEheavy bag

Let me say this with confidence; learn to treat UREC as your best friend.  It will be there 7 days a week from 6:30-11:30 on week days and 6:30-10:00 on weekends.  It will be there when times are tough. It will be there when all you want to do is escape from the copious amounts of work you are running away from. It will be there as a way to relieve stress in a positive way.  UREC is synonymous to sanctuary for many, but to some it is simply JMU’s gym facility.  For me, it was a sanctuary.  As I gained more and more weight over the first semester, I began to notice pains in my knees from the drastic weight gain. This was when I knew I had to do something to take care of my health.  I took the first steps in going to UREC—initially just messing around with the equipment or playing basketball.  It became a habit which eventually became a necessity.  This becomes the most important thing: consistency. It may seem like a hassle and more of a chore to go to UREC, but eventually it really becomes a part of the day which is as essential as eating or sleeping.  There are tons of things to entertain people of all fitness levels such as ping pong, rock climbing, basketball, crossfit, yoga, and lifting weights.  Moreover, I feel like many people are intimidated by the gym saying they are not fit enough to go. This actually prevents a lot of people, but that statement is like saying I am not going to class because I don’t know the material, it just creates a cycle of getting more and more behind.

Moreover, if you check out JMU’s official website and go into UREC’s page there gives you a list of things fitness and nutrition related that any JMU student can look into.  There is information about where to go for nutrition tips, to sign up for classes, and group fitness activities.  The intramural sports page ( is also the site you can use to sign up for intramural teams, which I advocate everybody should do at least once.  The competition is usually divided into three levels of difficulty and participating is a great way to get some exercise and have fun with friends!  The time commitment is also very manageable as the games last around an hour and are only once a week for most sports.  As a testament, I was on three intermural teams each semester and never even noticed the time spent on them.  It really is a great opportunity to get to know more people as well.  Another thing on the UREC website is information on how to get a massage.  UREC has a massage room which is around $50 for an hour, paid on flex. Personally I haven’t experienced it, but I have heard it is a great way to relax and relieve stress.


This is probably one of the main reasons I gained so much weight. Coming to college in a new environment and being away from home can really take its toll on incoming freshmen.  Not to mention—the workload is probably something no high school student has dealt with before.  All of this, combined with the new found responsibility of getting to choose what we get to eat for each meal, dooms many freshmen to over eat and gain weight.  Thus, whenever I got stressed I ate, whenever I was happy I ate, whenever I was sad I ate, and whenever I was hungry I ate.  Let’s just say I ate a lot. Not to mention I had the 19 punch meal plan, which I’ll go into later on how it’s a horrible idea. I was eating more than ever before.  However, what I learned from the first semester of freshmen year was that there are so many better ways to deal with stress. Like I said before, I used eating whenever I felt any anxiety at all, and I can tell you that the weight will hit you harder than finals week will. describes why we eat when we are stressed or emotional.  It is explained as a way of reaching comfort, satisfaction, and a way of coping with new anxiety.  I mean when we near finals week, we all know the feeling of wanting to eat gallons of cookie dough ice cream while we study, right? Well, to a certain extent this stress is good and indulging in food to fight off stress isn’t always bad.  It is when we use it as the only means of stress relieving do people start gaining weight unhealthily.  For example, some people may treat themselves to some Ben and Jerry’s or Klines ice cream (something everyone living in Harrisonburg should discover) after a bad day; which is totally fine. Then there was me.  I would feel bad and eat like a gallon of ice cream or eat like 6 plates at E-hall. That may sound crazy, but I could’ve made been the author of “How to Gain Weight as Fast as Possible”.  But have hope, if someone like me can learn to manage stress and replace emotional eating with exercise, anyone can.klines

How I healthily learned to relieve stress was through basketball and working out, but not everyone is the same.  For as much as I encourage going to the gym, someone may simply benefit from just sitting down and reading a good book to relieve stress.  The main point is everyone needs to find an activity that helps them relax that isn’t eating excessively or something else harmful to the body.  Nathan Reese’s article “10 Simple Ways to Relieve Stress” provides great ways to take your mind off things.  They method’s Reese includes in his article are simple things like walking in the park, reading, or even just talking it out with someone.

What I personally do and recommend is to walk or do anything active.  Not only does it relieve stress but you are literally doing something that helps lose weight.  I would usually go to UREC right after a test and spend a good two hours letting all of my frustration and stress out by running or hitting the heavy bag up stairs.  I remember one time in particular where I thought I had failed a test and felt terrible, and I ended up going to UREC.  After around an hour of just running and hitting the heavy bag on the third floor, I let out all my stress.  It also gave me no room to think while I was stressed, and gave me time to calm down and think about things in a less dramatized and calm manner.

After venting all of your stress through active exercise, it just seems as if nothing matters, and that’s when I realized a test doesn’t define me.  And it turns out, I got a B on the test and had nothing to worry about in the first place.  There will be times you will feel the same, but know that sometimes you are stressing for no reason and that all you need to do is take your mind off things.


Honestly, if you are really are worried about weight gain, this will be one of the most important parts of this article.  Healthy eating is an integral part of maintaining/losing weight, more so than exercise is.  As I talked about eating responsibility before and how the responsibility shifts to choose healthy diets switches entirely to you as you come to college.  This is the biggest struggle I faced when coming to JMU: healthy eating. This meant a number of things for me.  I was gorging myself on everything, I didn’t eat anything remotely healthy, and I would order pizza at like 2 in the morning for about a month straight.  Here I will tell you the mistakes I made and the best alternatives to avoid them.

First of all, if you live on east campus know that it is both a curse and a blessing.  You will have the best dining hall, e-hall, within a minute’s walk from any of the dorms on east campus.  You will also be tempted by festival another place to get food even closer than e-hall, which is insanely close.  Never will you starve or run out of variety, as when e-hall starts to get trite, you could always try every option at festival.  With this power of choice however, comes great responsibility: the responsibility of limiting yourself.  Especially, if you have the 19 punch meal-plan. From the moment you choose this plan, just know that you will eat a lot.  You will have to punch three times a day, even when you aren’t hungry.  This will cause you to punch junk food and over eat just so you don’t waste punches. Furthermore, I can honestly say you will gorge out on all the fantastic food at e-hall and festival, but at a certain point you need to limit the quantity you eat.  You may think six plates at e-hall is an achievement, but as your trophy you will have protruding stomach.  For example, I went to e-hall twice a day for the first month or so every day and ate around five plates on average.  I thought this was great and all and never noticed anything until one day at UREC I measured how much I weighed.  Let’s say I feel sorry for the scale.  I gained around ten lbs by the first month.  But at that point, my mindset was I was still healthy. It wasn’t till my knees started hurting and my friends started noticing my double chin did I know it was a problem.

Quality is something people really forget.  Yes, we are second in the nation for dining, but that doesn’t magically make everything at JMU healthy.  That burger you pound down five times a week isn’t a salad just because you have lettuce and tomato in it.  That is why every incoming freshmen needs to know moderation in the junk food they eat.  Every once in a while you need to learn to go the salad bar instead of the Chinese food place at festival.  Because if you don’t you will most likely break out in acne.  Trust me, I would know.  The stress coupled with all the pizzas, hamburgers, and fries I ate gave me acne like I’ve never had before.  I never had breakouts in high school, which was probably due to my mom choosing what I ate, but since I ate so unhealthily my body could not handle the excess fat intake.  I don’t think I am alone when I say that my mom fixed me a balanced meal and she forced me to eat vegetables.  In college, you will have to learn to do it yourself or be prepared for the

This is probably the most disgusting thing you will read in this article—where you will judge my hygiene rather than my health.  When I said I ate pizza for a month straight, I meant it. My roommates and I literally had 30 pizza boxes in our dorm at the end of our semester.  We looked at the boxes as a trophy of sorts, like every pizza we ate was a pizza conquered, but in reality it was just really… gross.  This pizza binge was a product of being awake at ungodly hours of the night and procrastinating on assignments.  We would eat around nine and by two AM we would be starving.  Not to mention, if you are up at two AM every night, you will get in the habit of skipping, which should be an entirely separate article. And who can do work when you’re starving right? I kind of doubt that anybody will beat our record of 30 pizza boxes, but my extreme case should show everyone how easy it is to let loose. My pizza anecdote in conjunction with the things I said about food choice and stress is my way to impart to you, the incoming class, what mistakes not to make (in a freshmen fifteen kind of way).