Health Buzz: 'Freshman 15' Is a Myth

Mindless eating habits that cause weight gain; 10 things that can sabotage your weight loss.

The average freshman gains about 2 or 3 pounds, not 15, during his or her first year of college.

Study: College Freshmen Don't Gain 15 Pounds During First Year

Despite the belief that college freshmen pack on about 15 pounds during their first year of school, the "freshman 15" is nothing more than a myth, new research suggests. Average gain is really about 2.4 pounds for women and 3.4 pounds for men. Compared to non-college students the same age, the typical freshman only gains an additional half-pound during the first year. The findings are based on data from a longitudinal survey of 7,418 young people, and will be published in the December issue of Social Science Quarterly. Two factors were linked to above-average weight gain among freshmen: Heavy drinking, meaning six or more drinks at least four times a month, and juggling a job in addition to schoolwork, the researchers found. "There is no 'freshman 15,'" said study author Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University, in an interview with "There are lots of things to worry about in college, but if you're the average person, gaining weight is not one of them."

  • Best Diets
  • What Is the 'Best Diet' for You?
  • Mindless Eating Habits That Cause Weight Gain

    Much of our daily eating happens on autopilot. We grab a snack out of the fridge just because we happen to be walking past it. We pick up a greasy lunch on the run during a busy day. We wolf down dinner while catching up on the news. But mindless habits like these aren't waistline-friendly, and minor missteps are a reason some of us can't seem to shake off unwanted pounds. "The most dangerous habits are the ones that feel like they're no big deal," says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner, author of The Flexitarian Diet. "When people gain weight, they often don't think they've done anything majorly different—and that's probably true. You don't have to do anything major to gain 10 pounds a year."

    The good news: Bad habits are meant to be broken. Here's how to overcome some common mindless eating behaviors.

    1. Eating while distracted. It's not as dangerous as driving while distracted, but it's still a big threat to your figure. Reading the newspaper or channel-surfing while chowing down is a recipe for overeating. When you're distracted, you're likely to eat more than you want or need to, without even realizing it until you're done—in part because multi-tasking makes it difficult to detect feelings of fullness. Studies suggest that eating while doing something else produce less satisfaction with the meal and leads to eating too much later. The solution? Focus on your food. That means doing nothing other than eating during meal times and, when possible, having dinner at the dinner table. [Read more: Mindless Eating Habits That Cause Weight Gain.]

    • How to Stay on a Diet to Lose or Maintain Weight
    • Is Your House Making You Fat?
    • 10 Things That Can Sabotage Your Weight Loss

      So you've got your plot to drop the extra pounds. It certainly seems sensible: You're going to eat right, eat less, and exercise. After weeks of declining dessert and diligently hitting the treadmill, you step on the scale and...only 2 pounds gone? You conclude that something or someone must be sabotaging you.

      You might be right. While experts say weight loss can always be reduced to the simple "calories in, calories out" mantra—meaning if you eat fewer calories than you burn, you'll lose weight—a host of oft-hidden saboteurs may be meddling with the balance. Here's a smattering of them:

      1. Treating healthy foods as low-calorie foods. "A lot of times they're not consistent," says Scott Kahan, codirector of the George Washington University Weight Management Program in Washington, D.C. So while whole grains, avocados, and nuts might be kind to your heart or cholesterol levels, dieters who binge on such foods can, before they know it, add hundreds of calories to the day's total. Enjoy calorie-rich healthy foods, dietitians urge, but ration them out: a quarter of an avocado on a salad or a small handful of almonds for a snack.

      2. Shunning shuteye. Some research has linked shorter sleep duration to a higher body mass index (a measure of body fat) and increased hunger and appetite. Additionally, if you're tired, you might be prone to grab a sugar-laden treat for a midday boost, skip the gym, and have takeout for dinner to avoid cooking. It's a vicious cycle. Aim for seven or eight hours a night. [Read more: 10 Things That Can Sabotage Your Weight Loss.]