By Chef Lauren Cox, Closer to Your Food

What is the “Freshman 15” anyway? Young people are introduced to the concept as they prepare to leave for their first year of college. The common belief is that young adults (mostly women) are prone to gain an average of 15 pounds in their first year of college. So why is the freshman year infamous for weight gain?

Freshman 15 Factors:

First Time Living Away from Home

As exciting as it is to move away from a parent breathing down your neck, becoming an adult on your own means you don’t necessarily have someone to cook wholesome family meals for you. The stability of family interaction also disappears, and is replaced with new-found stress to make new, meaningful social connections and friendships.

Cheap Thrills

We like to call these “chemical hugs,” or any food or beverage substance that gives you a boost of serotonin and makes you feel good or comforts you. This can be junk food, processed food, sweet coffee drinks, sodas, pastries, etc. “Chemical hugs” are dangerous because they are cheap, readily available, addictive and oh-so-detrimental to your health.


We aren’t saying that it’s not okay to legally and responsibly let loose a little and enjoy a craft beer, glass of wine or cocktail. However, over-drinking (especially cheap beer) creates a wildly acidic and inflammatory environment in your body that leaves the door open to a host of disease. Liquid calories can also be your worst enemy with weight gain, as they contain many calories and little to no nutrients. Alcohol is one of the biggest empty-calorie traps.

Sedentary Lifestyle

While we commend you for walking or biking around campus, that’s typically not enough exercise to maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s easy to just hang out with your new friends, watch TV, and sit on the computer doing homework.

Eating Out Too Much

Let’s face it – most commercial restaurants and food service facilities do not have your health in their best interest. These companies want to serve you tasty food at a low price, but that comes at a cost to your health as you eat nutrient-empty food that only weighs you down.

So what is a young freshman to do? There are several things you can do to take control of your life and ensure that your first year away at school is a healthy one, helping you set the foundation for a healthier lifestyle throughout school and as an adult.

Before you read any further, the first step you MUST take is to accept yourself for everything you are, and what you are not. It is easy to body shame yourself and not be happy with the body you have. Without being comfortable in your own skin, you won’t have any space to be free of the negative thoughts that will inevitably make you self-sabotage.

Fight the “Freshman 15”

Get off of Your Bum

Unless you are breaking into a sweat for 30 minutes walking around campus, it’s just not enough exercise. Try signing up for a class that you can commit to at least 3-4 times a week. The best part is most schools offer free or very cheap exercise classes for students. So go ahead and try that yoga, tai chi, boxing, spin, dance, or whatever class it is that floats your boat. Invite your dorm mates or other students to make exercise more fun, plus you can hold each other accountable. Just remember, to stay fit and to keep your body energized at a cellular level, you should be burning nearly as many calories as you consume.

Don’t Sell Yourself Short

Repeat after me, “I can do better.” That should be your mantra when you think you really need a late night bowl of ice cream or fast food fix. Remember, conventional foods are often not organically grown; therefore they have pesticide residue that ends up storing in your body tissues that may lead to disease down the road. These foods are not necessarily free of genetically-modified organisms. These scientifically engineered plants are designed to be herbicide resistant, which means these crops may be saturated in pesticides. Quick service restaurants and cheap foods sometimes use products from confined animal farming operations where livestock live in dismal and torturous conditions. Lastly, companies who make these foods have little interest in your and our environment’s long-term health. When eating and buying food try to remember;

  • Organic and non-GMO are the best options. Visit on more information about genetically modified organisms
  • Eat mostly plants – every meal should have one green plant ingredient
  • Pay your farmer now, or pay your doctor later
  • Keep food simple and only eat when you are truly hungry
  • Stay hydrated. Drink at least 8 glasses of water a day!

Take Food Into Your Hands

Cooking for yourself is bar-none the best way to eat. Like we said, you can pay your farmer now or pay your doctor later. The nutrients and minerals you get from 10 fast food meals could actually be consumed in one high-quality, home-cooked meal, actually making organic foods cheaper.

Don’t Stress!

As some of the realities of adulthood start to sink in, like bills, relationships, stressful classes, work load, and missing loved ones you’ve moved away from, you need to find a way to de-stress. For many young adults, substances fill that void. We’d like to challenge you to be bigger than that and seek your own peaceful balance. Whether it’s volunteering, joining a hobby group, exercising with friends, or meditation/mindfulness practice, you need to give yourself a break to breathe and relax.

Supplement and Detox

Even if you eat all organic food, the nutrient content of produce is far less than it was 50 years ago because of soil depletion. For optimal health, you really need to make sure you supplement your diet with good nutrients. Set up an appointment at the campus health center or with a local practitioner to discuss adding supplements to your diet. We suggest taking:

  • A good multi-vitamin
  • A daily probiotic
  • A daily fish oil or Omega supplement
  • A daily concentrated green powder

Accordingly, you should do a detox at least twice a year. Even if you are eating and living a healthy lifestyle, it is nearly impossible to avoid environmental toxins. Our younger generations are becoming more and more allergic to foods and the environment, so it is really important to help your liver and gastrointestinal system detox on a regular basis. Research which detox programs might be right for you and be sure to talk to a naturopath or your healthcare provider.

Continue Reading the Freshman 15 Part 2: Tools for Success.  



Closer to Your Food is a wellness blog focused on eating and cooking for health and sustainability with recipes
and lifestyle tips formulated around a plant-based diet and home-grown local foods. Chef Lauren Cox holds a B.A. from the le Cordon Bleu in Culinary Management with over 8 years of fine dining experience in private dining, catering and Michelan star restaurants. For more information, please visit and follow Closer to Your Food on Twitter and Facebook @Closer2YourFood. 

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.