Fighting the Dreaded
Freshman 15By JAKE ELLISON SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER
College freshmen are
swarming campuses across Washington this month, finally on their own,
accumulating life-changing knowledge, skills and fat.
Yes, fat -- an accumulation dubbed the
Freshman Fifteen, as in 15 extra pounds.
According to experts, too many students
simply aren't paying attention to one of the surest accruals next to debt that
they will experience their freshman year. And, much like debt, the extra pounds
they put on will likely stick with them for quite some time.
Unless, that is, they listen to Caitlin
Murphy, 22, a senior in philosophy at the
University of Washington, has been through the lunch line on this issue and is
eager to spread the word: New college students, you don't have to gain those
Over the summer, Murphy self-published her
tips-laden diet-fitness book, "Fighting the Freshman Fifteen: How to lose
weight in college -- or better yet, never put it on."
Murphy, a UW aerobics instructor, fairly
bursts with enthusiasm when discussing her crusade.
"I love getting other people excited about
fitness," she said. "I wanted to take all of the stuff that I've learned at UW
and help them navigate college without gaining the dreaded freshman fifteen."
Her 138-page book reads like a fast-paced
conversation with a friend.
"I had girls my age in mind reading it,"
she said. "If you sat down with your friend and talked about getting in shape,
this is what it would sound like."
The book includes workout plans and diet
tips, laced with personal discussions of her bout with anorexia, weight gain
after a round of mono and poor fitness. She also discusses general personal
health issues, such as the tendency for girls to "size up the competition" or
measure themselves against the "skinny girl" across the hall.
"It's not restrictive," she said. "It's not
about being skinny, but about being healthy. ... It's important for women to
feel good about their bodies, and you feel good about your body by doing
something good for it -- eating right and treating it right."
Murphy said she has an earnest desire to
help freshmen -- men and women -- navigate some of the pitfalls of their new
college lives, as well as selling the thousand copies of the book she's had
The culprit behind much of the freshman
weight gain, she said, appears to be sweet freedom -- which includes booze,
pizza and other fatty snacks in addition to sugar.
Many freshmen go through their first
experience without direct parental involvement making a steady stream of poor
dietary decisions, while stuck to their seats, staying up late, stressing out
and working only their brains.
"It definitely is a problem and I encounter
it a lot," said Dr. Mary Watts, director of UW's Hall Health Primary Care
Watts said students are aware of healthy
foods and basic nutritional needs. They've just not been responsible for such a
"Because they have never had to actually
select the items that constitute a balanced dinner -- it always just appeared
at dinner, they've never had to think about limiting their fat and salt," she
Most fail to realize that they were fit and
trim in high school while eating all they wanted because they were in track and
swimming, football or volleyball, and other physical activities. Something most
of them will not do in college on a regular basis.
Watts said students need to keep in mind
that the average woman needs only 1,500 calories a day to maintain her weight,
while men need only 2,200 to 2,500. And, she emphasized, alcohol is a major
player in a poor diet, leading to weight gain.
Many students, she said, don't recognize
the enormous number of calories in alcohol. Turns out that newfound right to
party is a recipe for expanding the waistline.
Approximately 15 pounds of new mass will
accumulate on many freshmen before they move out of the danger zone and into a
more stable, better-adjusted adult lifestyle, according to Cornell University
researcher David Levitsky.
A study that Levitsky published last summer
showed that freshmen gain an average of 4.2 pounds during their first 12 weeks
Super-sizing the problem, more and more
incoming freshmen enter their first year weighing more to begin with.
Last week, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
reported that roughly two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese.
There are real dangers to all those extra pounds -- excess weight is
approaching tobacco's top ranking in causing preventable deaths in this
"There is hope for the Freshman Fifteen,"
Watts said. "You have to work at getting it off, but if you work gradually and
slowly, it will happen."
Murphy started collecting thoughts for her
book last summer while working as a hostess in a downtown restaurant. She
jotted down notes and put other ideas on tape, recording her ideas even while
on the road.
Her parents, who live in Bellingham, are
fitness nuts themselves and helped her produce the book.
Early on, Murphy knew she wanted the book
to read fast and be easy to use like a magazine. She wasn't sure there was a
direct connect between studying philosophy and writing a fitness book, but her
college classes have made her a confident writer.
"It was natural to take something I was
passionate about, fitness, and tying it with something I was also passionate
about, writing," she said.
Right now, she said her career goals follow
the fitness path. She'd like to produce videos, write for magazines and publish
"If all else fails, I would potentially
like to go to law school."
Murphy wants to stick with training for
now, though. She said she enjoys making aerobics and kickboxing fun and
exciting for others. She's been teaching four to six classes a quarter at UW
The book idea, she said, grew out of that
enthusiasm -- and from her own experience of being out of shape and then
feeling good about her body once she was fit. She focused on the freshman year,
because she wanted to draw from her own experiences.
"People want to know," Watts said of the
Freshman Fifteen phenomenon. "This woman's booklet is a very good first step."
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