Fighting the freshman 15


By Anna Streetman

The popular term “freshman 15” is used to describe weight gain that many students experience during their first year of college. To avoid the freshman 15, many would advocate for adequate exercise. But diet, which is often overlooked, plays a huge part in weight management. Two diets in particular, the Paleo diet and the high carb low fat diet, have shown to be beneficial to students.

What causes the freshman 15?

MARIETTA, Ga. – “I spent my freshman year at KSU eating all the pizza in sight,” said Alex Gallagher, a communications major at Kennesaw State University. “Before I knew it, I’d gained the freshman 15 and then some.”

Gallagher’s situation is not unique. A study done by researchers at Auburn University followed 131 students for four years of college to study changes in their weight. The study concluded that 70 percent of the students studied gained weight, with 12 pounds being the average amount of weight gained.

Weight gain freshman year can be attributed to a variety of factors. These factors include stress, lack of sleep, increased alcohol consumption, less time for exercise, and changes in dietary behavior.

The term “freshman 15” has been floating around since the 80s.

The Commons

According to Web MD, a possible reason for weight gain freshman year of college is the buffet-style dining that many campuses offer. Kennesaw State University’s most popular eatery, The Commons, is a buffet-style, all-you-can-eat dining hall.

The entrance to the Commons. (Photo by Anna Streetman)

The Commons takes measures to ensure that their food is as healthy as possible. All of their sauces and soups are made from homemade stocks without any MSG. They also grow 20 percent of produce on KSU farms. They make and cure their own meats, sausages, and cheeses.

Their website provides nutritional information for all food served.

Student athletes “eating to perform”

In addition to working with a trainer four days a week, KSU club rugby player and coach Zach Miller said he tries to maintain a balanced diet to help him play his best.

“What I eat and drink definitely affects how I play,” Miller said.

Miller said he strives for a “well rounded” diet full of whole grains, lean proteins, and fruits and vegetables. He also drinks a half-gallon of water every day.

Zach Miller playing rugby. (Photo courtesy of Zach Miller)

“There’s a couple of things you can do to avoid the freshman 15,” Miller said. “Burn more calories than you consume, walk everywhere, and find an athletic hobby you enjoy.”

The Paleo diet

The Paleo diet calls for the consumption of basic foods such as meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and eggs. Foods such as sugars, grains, dairy, and beans are not a part of the Paleo diet. The Paleo diet has been called “an effort to eat like we used to back in the day.”

The Paleo diet came into prominence in 1975 due to a gastroenterologist named Walter L. Voegtlin. His book, “The Stone Age Diet,” makes an argument for a low carb, high fat diet consisting of mainly meat and other protein.

Voegtlin cites human anatomy to support his claims, stating that human teeth differ too much from the teeth of herbivorous animals for humans to sustain a plant-based diet.

Paleo and weightlifting

Weightlifter, history student, and martial artist Logan Flurrance stuck to the Paleo diet for a year and said he saw a difference in both his body and his athletic performance.

Logan Flurrance doing a warm-up deadlift of 405 pounds. (Photo courtesy of Logan Flurrance)


“Going into the Paleo diet, I weighed about 220 pounds,” he said. “By the end I was about 185 pounds. It was very effective in helping me lose body fat. It also helped with my athletic performance. It helped me maintain a heavy deadlift of 445 (pounds), and helped me improve my body worthy exercises, such as pull-ups.”

Flurrance also said that, overall, following the Paleo diet made him feel great. He said he still incorporates aspects of the Paleo diet into his everyday life.

“You could go your whole life eating Paleo and probably be pretty happy with the results,” Flurrance said.

CrossFit and the Paleo diet

CrossFit is an exercise program that strives for overall fitness and incorporates aspects of gymnastics, weightlifting, running, rowing, and more.

Meghan O’Brien and fellow Paleo CrossFitter, sister Renee Williams. (Photo courtesy of Meghan O’Brien)

Meghan O’Brien has been a CrossFit fitness instructor since October 2014 and “absolutely loves it.” O’Brien advocates for a Paleo diet for all her clients.

“Everything we do in CrossFit is based on functionality,” O’Brien said. “Our exercises mimic every day movements that people do in real life, because it makes the most sense to train the way you live. The same principle applies to our diet.”

O’Brien has been Paleo herself for three years, and said she has seen nothing but improvement from it. She said she is in “the best physical shape of her life” and is “never tired, despite a grueling work week and workout schedule.” She said she is currently training for a 31-mile race up a mountain.

O’Brien also said “science doesn’t lie,” and that every client of hers who transitioned to the Paleo diet saw significant health improvements.

The high carb, low fat diet

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the high carb, low fat (HCLF) diet. A HCLF diet calls for the consumption of raw fruits and vegetables and healthy starches such as potatoes, legumes, rice, and whole grains. The diet calls for no animal products whatsoever, and encourages “eating in abundance.”

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A mango and pineapple smoothie bowl with nectarines, coconut, and granola on top. Smoothie bowls are an example of a HCLF meal. (Photo by Anna Streetman)


A HCLF diet also calls for keeping daily macronutrients at a ratio of 80/10/10. This means that 80 percent of daily food intake should be from carbohydrates, 10 percent should be protein, and 10 should be fat.

The HCLF diet was popularized by T. Colin Campbell with his 2005 book, “The China Study.” His book makes an argument against consumption of all animal products, citing evidence that links animal product consumption to health issues such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer.

HCLF for weight loss and a lifestyle change

Alex Gallagher has lost 35 pounds on a HCLF diet. He said he learned about the HCLF from his girlfriend, who lost a significant amount of weight from following the diet.

He said that the weight loss method he was using before wasn’t meeting his expectations.

“When I first started to lose weight, I was obsessed with protein,” he said. “I ate nothing but meat and drank nothing but protein shakes. I was always told that’s how you lose weight: eat tons of protein. But I always felt bloated and tired, and it made losing weight feel like a chore.”

Gallagher said being on a HCLF diet made him feel “happier, healthier, and less bloated and tired all the time.”

“I don’t even think of the way I eat as a diet,” Gallagher said. “It’s a lifestyle. It’s a lifestyle I’m really happy and passionate about. My only regret is that I didn’t start sooner.”


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