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Teen Health

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The 'Freshman 15' Means More Than Weight Gain

The stresses of Freshman year can make students turn to food for comfort.

Emotional Eating continued...

So how can you keep this situational overeating in check?

Get in a regular pattern of eating, Kimball suggests. "Eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner," she says. "Don't skip meals, and keep a healthy, satisfying snack on hand [such as] peanut butter, cheese, or fruit to help with cravings."

Eat things you enjoy, but start to exert some choice, she says. "Don't let situations force you to eat when you're not hungry. And be particularly wary of the kind of late-night pizza and junk food binges that are so common to college life."

See what options you have for eating on campus and try to put together a healthy food plan that uses what you have around you that is easy and convenient, she suggests.

Avoid alcohol, Kimball says. "Binge drinking is a big problem, and kids need to set their own limits and boundaries. Alcohol can be a huge factor in Freshman weight gain."

Also, don't stop exercising. "Many kids who were active in sports programs in high school stop exercising altogether. That's terrible," Holland tells WebMD. "Most schools have some kind of student sports center, and it is vital to stay out of the habit of driving across campus to go to class that so many student fall into."

Disordered Eating

The flip side of this weight gain is disordered eating, especially excessive exercise, anorexia, and bulimia. It's a kind of Freshman 15 in reverse, only more serious.

"I see this disordered eating in people on campuses as they try to prevent the Freshman 15 weight gain," says Kimball. "We see overexercise, bingeing and purging, and anorexia. The worry over weight gain actually triggers an eating disorder."

She says that for young women, especially those who end up in a living situation with other women who have similar concerns, such as sorority houses, eating disorders can quickly snowball. She adds that the form the eating disorder takes depends on the person and the underlying psychological stresses at work.

"Some kids will rapidly lose 20 pounds and are exercising six hours a day or eating 1,200 calories a day," Kimball said. "Parents and friends are freaking out and don't know what to do. A certain number of these kids will self-correct the problem over a year or two, but a significant number will need some kind of counseling."

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