After a summer travelling across Europe with friends, Genevieve Lou’s return to reality was heavy.
The extra pounds she put on over the summer were concerning her because Lou, like many other young women, wanted to look her best before starting her first year at McGill. She was determined to beat the dreaded double-digit weight gain dubbed by many as “Freshman 15,” an expression that refers to the troublesome extra pounds students traditionally put on during their first year at university.
Part-time worker at both Nautilus Gym and a Dairy Cream parlour, Lou’s theory is to indulge now and work it off later. “I go to the gym so that I can have that piece of chocolate cake for dessert,” she said, patting her thighs. Yet with the beginning of school looming closer, Lou was attracted to trying a cleanse, a new diet two of her girlfriends, as well as her brother, had recently tried: one litre of water, two lemons, seasoned with some cayenne pepper and some maple syrup to sweeten things up. Drink four times a day for 10 days. Just that and nothing else. By the end, Lou lost 12 pounds in total.
The cleanse, though effective, was a very unhealthy means to weight loss and also caused Lou to take off more pounds than she probably needed to lose. It also did not help her tackle some of the major factors that contribute to “Freshmen Fat,” like living away from home, eating out, irregular meal hours, excess drinking, little exercise, lack of sleep and stress.
A typical student lifestyle leaves many with little time to cook dinner or even walk down to the cafeteria. Stressful study sessions come with a side of nachos, ice cream and Redbull. Unfortunately, the junk food industry isn’t the only thing booming. According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, obesity has doubled in the past 25 years and 37 per cent of adults are now overweight (a body mass index between 25 and 30) and another 24 per cent are obese.
Though these increases are concerning, university students have been slightly misled about this apparently typical weight gain. According to Obesity, the official journal of The Obesity Society, the so-called Freshman 15 is actually a myth and is more realistically a “Freshman 5” — a term that is slightly less catchy and less frightening.
What is five pounds, right? This unfortunately does not diminish the insecurities students feel towards weight gain.
This is something that universities can help tackle. Owen Moran, a Concordia health educator, feels that institutions can implement changes in their environment that can make a difference long-term, because ultimately, “healthier students are better students.” While he recognizes that the focus in most universities is on academics, Moran pointed out that in schools where physical education is given a priority, the academic results generally improve.
In the past few years, Concordia has promoted sustainability programs, encouraging student awareness of healthy and environmental lifestyle choices. Vegetarian lunches are now served daily at the Loyola Luncheon, an offshoot of the popular vegan People’s Potato downtown.
On Sept. 15, Concordia will host the Sustainable Food Festival, an event supporting local businesses and that aims to shed light on homegrown and locally produced foods. Although this is a step in the right direction, Moran feels Concordia’s policies with regards to food values could be improved.
Aside from the responsibility institutions bear, Moran also believes healthy eating remains a behaviour change an individual must adopt independently. What worries Moran is that he feels students’ attitudes towards fast food are still very positive, when in fact it is a choice that is rather unfriendly to the environment. Students have to realize is that what they eat reflects their values.
“We need to enjoy good food,” Moran explained. “When you are eating something healthy, like an apple, you need to think of it as a gift that you are giving yourself.”
Along with a healthy diet, exercise is essential for maintaining a healthy weight, something that may be hard to do when entering university. During this time students go through many routine changes, including the fact that physical education courses are no longer a requirement. This means that self-motivation is now key. If you’re interested in joining a gym class or a sports team, you have to do the legwork yourself.
One affordable option is joining the Concordia gym (Le Gym), which only costs $60 a semester, giving you access to both the downtown and Loyola facilities. Even with the gym’s accessibility, students stay away because they are intimidated, explained Mark Singer, a personal trainer at the gym. “They don’t know what machines to use, or how to use them.”
In order to get over fear of the gym, Singer suggests booking at least one one-hour session with a trainer for $25. They will assess your goals and “show you the lay of the land.” Le Gym also offers many classes, varying from aerobics to martial arts. Quick tip: those interested should sign up immediately because classes fill up quickly!
On the other hand, exercise science student Donovan Delarosbil believes the gym is not necessarily the best option for students because some don’t have time or money to spend on gym memberships.
Instead, Delarosbil suggests joining recreation sports on campus which is both a plus on a CV and great for the body. Concordia has several house leagues such as indoor soccer and volleyball, which students can sign up for. The university even offers a Skating 101 class at Loyola.
It is clear there are many options out there to help battle the “Freshman 15”, but Moran is convinced that students could achieve significant health gains simply by making small changes to their daily routine, such as taking the stairs or packing a lunch. Who knows, maybe the everlastingly broken escalators in the Hall building are actually a blessing in disguise?
For more information on recreation sports and Le Gym check out Campus recreation schedule promises something for everyone.
For operating hours and location of People’s Potato and the Loyola Luncheon check out Back to school problem solving
For 101 courses available this semester visit www.101s.csu.qc.ca