Course 102
The Dreaded Freshman Fifteen
Top Calorie Culprits

As you learned in Course 101: Freshman Fifteen Causes, excess calories are responsible for Freshman 15 weight gain.

Now your job is to gain a better understanding of all the places extra calories can sneak in on a college campus and take some steps to make sure they don't.


Use this acronym I personally created to remember the top ways excess calories are likely to slip past your lips make you gain the Freshman Fifteen LBS!

(Click on any letter to learn more.)


Freshman Fifteen Cause: F is for Friends

College life is filled with new friends and social events and this usually mean FOOD! You'll find yourself doing more "social eating," "hanging out eating" and "taking on others food habits" more than you did in high school.

Hanging Out

Would you ever go into a restaurant by yourself, sit there for 1-2 hours, order seconds, then thirds, and then dessert?

Well you'll likely find yourself doing just this, while enjoying a good time with a group of friends because the cafeteria at school becomes not only a place to eat, but a place to hang out.

Beware of the yogurt machine: Sitting around and eating is a popular activity in college and you’ll likely find a frozen yogurt/ice cream machine just steps away from wherever you may be sitting in the cafeteria!

A small (4oz) lowfat frozen yogurt in a cup with 1 Tbsp. of rainbow sprinkles = 150 calories. Not bad. But eat it 5 days/week x 15 weeks/semester = 11,250 calories. That's 3.2 pounds toward the "frosh 15."

(150 calories x 5 days per week x 15 weeks = 11,250 calories / 3500 calories per pound = 3.2 pounds)

Consider yourself warned!

Social Eating

Social eating means eating because someone/everyone else is, and not because you need. Doing so is a sure way to gain the freshman fifteen:

  • Someone in your hall has a craving for donuts and gets a box, and all of a sudden you find yourself eating 1-2. (1 glazed donut = 200 calories)
  • A friend breaks up with a boyfriend and seeks comfort in a carton of Ben and Jerry's ice cream and being the good friend you are, you help console her by joining in on the ice cream fest. (1 cup Ben and Jerry's = 500 calories and 30 grams fat)
  • You ate a late lunch and plan to have a light dinner, but your friends are going out to McDonald's and you don’t want to be left behind, so you decide to join them. (McDonald's small fries = 230 calories)
  • You're not really hungry, but your friends are all ordering a pizza and you don't want to be the oddball out. (1 slice pepperoni pizza = 300 calories)

Picking up Bad Habits

Your new friends will likely eat things you may have never considered or that were never around the house you grew up in. As a consequence of being around new friends and/or living with them you may start picking up on some of their (bad) food habits and food preferences.

Suppose your new room mate LOVES M&M’s and keeps them around all the time. You'll likely find yourself indulging "here and there." Well if you eat a good handful (~1 1/2 ounces) just a few times a week, that's an extra 650 calories you're adding to your diet, and over the course of a 15 week semester, that translates to ~ 3 pound weight gain toward the Freshman Fifteen.

Now you can see it's their influence on your food choices that make your friends one of the causes of Freshman Fifteen weight gain!

Follow this eating strategy to address the issue of friends.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: I is for an Increase in Access to Food and Increase Variety of Foods


You'll probably feel like a kid in a candy store when you first encounter the mass quantities of ready to eat food, available 24/7. Every food craving you have can be satisfied at any hour of the day or night.

Beside the cafeteria, you'll likely find coffee shops, convenience stores, vending machines, and of course fast food restaurants within walking distance of your front door or dorm room.


Let’s talk about the little issue of the prepaid meal card. The dining card basically allows you to eat from an all-you-can eat buffet at every meal and if you're not careful, it can be like holding a one way ticket to the Freshman Fifteen.

The number of options/variety that a buffet or cafeteria provides is part of the problem. There’s research to confirm that when there are more options or more variety offered, you eat more!

One study was done on frozen yogurt: When 3 flavors were offered, vs. just 1, participants ate almost 25% more.

You'll face endless quantities of bagels, muffins, cookies, pasta, pizza, French fries, and ice cream. There’s no mom or dad or dietitian at the end of the line to check your tray and make sure you also took a piece of fruit and some protein to balance the meal!

With unlimited choices of food and no parents to tell you what, when or how much to eat, it's no wonder this is one of the Freshman 15 causes!

Follow this eating strategy to address the issue of increase access/variety of food.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: F is for Fast Food

Even if you didn't eat fast food when you were in high school, it quickly becomes appealing on a college student's limited budget and tight schedule. After is cheap and fast.

Cheeseburger + medium fries = a fast, cheap, way to eat almost 700 calories.

Eat this even twice/week for an entire semester and you're getting 21,000 calories (6 pounds)!

Follow this eating strategy to address fast food.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: T is for Tequila...or any Alcohol

Note: Let me make it crystal clear that I'm NOT RECOMMENDING alcohol (21 is the legal drinking age after all). However, in recognition of the fact that drinking is alive and well on college campuses, I'm addressing how it's one of the causes of the Freshman Fifteen here.

Any day of the week, any time of day, and for any reason at all, people are ready to have a good time on campus. It isn’t like high school, where you had to wait for the weekend and HOPE someone’s parents were out of town to find a good party.

Drinking your excess calories can produce the same amount of weight gain as chewing them.

Think of each can of beer as 2 slices of bread (~150 calories). Drinking a 6-pack is close to eating a loaf of bread (900 calories)!

alcohol calories_1

Alcoholic Beverage Standard Serving Calories
Champagne  5 oz. 85
Wine 6 oz. 120
Light beer 12 oz. 100
Regular beer 12 oz. 150
Liquor, 80 proof 1 1/2 oz. 100
Liquor, 100 proof 1 1/2 oz. 125
Wine cooler 12 oz. 200

If you don’t like beer or don't drink beer and limit yourself to the fruity punch or blender drinks, know that those contribute to the Freshman Fifteen too. Each of those is the calorie equivalent of a big scoop of ice cream!

"The most popular drinks are the ones that are cheap and easiest to make: fruit punches and beer."
Keep in mind if you drink mixed beverages, whatever you mix spirits with may have calories: rum and COKE, vodka and OJ, Kahlua and CREAM.

alcohol calories_2

Mixer Amount Calories
Club soda Any 0
Seltzer Any 0
Tomato juice 4 oz. 20
Bloody Mary Mix 4 oz. 25
OJ 4 oz. 60
Cream 1/4 cup 80
Cranberry juice 4 oz. 70
Ginger ale 8 oz. 80
Tonic 8 oz. 80
Regular cola 8 oz. 100

And check out how these drinks contribute calories toward the Freshman Fifteen:

alcohol calories_3

Name of Drink Calories
Bloody Mary 120
Long Island Iced Tea (diet) 130
Long Island Iced Tea (regular) 230
Manhattan 130
Martini 160
Chocolate Martini 440
Pina Colada 245
Daiquiri 145
Margarita 170
B52 (3 oz.) 210
Wine Coolors 210-275 (depending on flavor)
Mai-tai 260
White Russian (4 oz.) 290

Drinking Alcohol is a Double Freshman 15 Whammy

I call alcohol a "double whammy," because it can contribute to college weight gain in TWO ways.

Not only does the drink you're consuming have calories, but it's also making you less conscientious about your diet because it lowers your inhibitions.

Its hard enough stone cold sober to pass up the free stuffed cheese sticks (750 calories) and buffalo wings and blue cheese dressing (1100 calories) at the happy hour buffet, but after one drink, you’re lucky to pass up the stale nuts (200 calorie per small handful) and pretzels (110 calories per handful) served at the bar.

And things usually get worse after a second drink. That's when you might say out loud (and to no one in particular), "I don't care how fat I get...I want to order some super nachos (1150 calories)...NOW!"

At this point, 300 calories from 2 drinks sounds minimal compared to the 1000 calories they're being chased with.

And it might not stop there.

You may stop at the 24hr convenience store and pick up a gallon of ice cream or box of cereal to get you through the rest of the night.

By the end of the night its likely you don’t care how may calories are in anything, or what the scale might say on Monday morning.

Top 10 Reasons NOT to Drink Alcohol

10: Drinking is against the law for people under age 21 in US!
9: A beer belly is not sexy with low cut jeans.
8: Six pack beer = 12 pack abs.
7: The health benefits of red wine end after one glass.
6: You can never get those 2 hours back after making an idiot of yourself.
5: I said/did ….WHAT?!?!?!?!?!??!!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?
4: The food served in bars tastes worse coming up than it does going down.
3: Dancing around in a lampshade doesn’t burn as many calories as you think.
2: Belching is not a guy magnet/chick magnet.

Follow this eating strategy to address the issue of alcoholic beverages.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: E is for Eating While Studying

There’s no getting around it. You're going to endure long hours of studying.

And studying can be a little...


What better way to make it more manageable...or to procrastinate...than to take a SNACK break...

...or two, or three or four.

Eating is certainly more fun than studying!

Sometimes snacking may seem to be the only way to keep your eyes open and focused.

"I would eat anything with lots of sugar in it to help me stay awake when I had to write a paper or study for exams."

Starchy, sugary foods are usually the snack of choice...

...not carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes or grapes. (Why not?!)

If you mindlessly eat while you study, you may not realize how many calories you're consuming:

snack calories

Chocolate covered raisins 10 pieces 40
Chocolate chips 1/4 cup 320
Chocolate covered peanuts 1 bag (1.4 oz.) 210
Chocolate covered raisins 10 pieces 40
Jellybeans 1/4 cup 160
Hershey kisses 5 130
Mini peanut butter cups 5 210
Brownie 1/9 pan 190
Animal crackers 16 pieces 130
Potato chips 1 3/4 oz. snack bag 270
Cherry tomatoes 3 cups 90
Banana 1 120
Strawberries 1 pound 135

Follow this eating strategy to address the issue of eating while studying.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: E is for Emotional Eating

When you were little, what did your mom do after you had a rough day? Feed you cookies and milk? How about after a dance or music performance or championship game? Do you remember going out to eat to celebrate?

We all learn at an early age to associate emotions with food and you'll be entering a jungle of emotions your first semester away at college.

It's exciting, it's scary, it's overwhelming, it's stressful, it's lonely. Everything is so foreign.

Food is a wonderful coping mechanism in the midst of chaos and one of the first things you may turn to for comfort.

You may find yourself reaching for high calorie comfort foods: mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, cheeseburgers, chicken fingers, and pizza. The familiar tastes and smells will reassure you and make you feel more at home.

Similarly, it's not unusual to seek refuge from the unfamiliar or unappetizing "mystery dishes" in the cafeteia by choosing familiar, "safe" (high calorie) comforting foods: hamburgers, French fries, fried chicken, etc.

Unfortunately if you get in the habit of finding comfort in food, you'll be carrying the extra Freshman Fifteen pounds with you long after the chaos has settled.

Follow this eating strategy to address the issue of emotional eating.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: N is for Nobody's Watching

College = Freedom

Being away at college may be the first time in your life that you can literally come and go as you please.

You don’t have to answer to anyone about:

  • what you’re doing
  • who you’re doing it with
  • if you're appropriately dressed to be doing it!

No one really cares if you’ve gone to class, done your homework, made your bed, stayed out all night, slept all day, or eaten anything for breakfast. No one notices and no one cares!

Everything that was once forbidden or denied can now be indulged in. Eating pizza at midnight or living on coffee drinks and chocolate may become your norm.

No doubt about it, self control is much easier to practice when someone else is watching. But they won’t be.

If your new found freedom results in you eating an extra 500 calories per day for the entire semester, you can say hello to the Freshman Fifteen.

Follow this eating strategy to address the increase in freedom.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: L is for Lack of Structure

College life is definitely different than the regular routine you left (or will be leaving) at home where you:

  • Ate at regular mealtimes
  • Slept at regular hours
  • Followed a somewhat regular schedule:
    • woke up at the same time
    • went to school at the same time
    • came home from school at the same time
In college, your schedules are likely to be different day to day, you probably have no two days that start and end at the same time, all-nighters become the norm, and scheduled breakfast, lunch, and dinner are almost unheard of.

This lack of structure leads to haphazard and random eating...grabbing here and there...whenever and whatever you can. Irrational eating like this contributes to Freshman 15 weight gain.

Follow this eating strategy to address lack of structure.

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Freshman Fifteen Cause: B is for Beverages

cartoon apple on caffeine

College is a time where many start a life-long love affair with coffee (if you haven’t developed the habit already).

You may find you start drinking coffee:

  • To keep you up all night to cram for a final
  • To get through the following day after staying up all night
  • Socially: it's the "thing to do," meeting friends at a coffee shop for a drink
The coffee itself doesn’t have significant calories. It's what you may add to it in order to lighten it and make it sweeter that contributes to your freshman 15 weight gain.

These lighten your coffee...not your figure:

  • Cream (heavy) = 50 calories per Tablespoon
  • Half and half = 20 calories per Tablespoon
  • Whole milk = 10 calories per Tablespoon
Note: 1 Tablespoon = 1/2 oz. = 1 individual creamer container

Note how these extra calories can contribute to the Freshman Fifteen:

8oz coffee, 3x/day, with 2 half-n-half each = 120 calories

7 days/wk x 120 calories = 840 calories

840 x 15 week semester = 12,600 calories

12,600 calories / 3500 calories in 1 pound

= 3.6 pounds!

What if you add sweetener?!

  • Sugar = 16 calories/packet

  • Artificial Sweetener (Splenda) = 4 calories/packet
Note: 1 packet = ~ 1 teaspoon

Try this: Save all your empty packets for one day

Artificial sweeteners add to college weight gain too: 5 packets/day of Splenda = 20 cal/d x 7 d/wk x 52 weeks/year = 7280 calories = 2 lbs!

Sugary, Creamy Coffee Drinks

"We all drank the sugary, creamy coffee drinks like chocolate mochas and caramel lattés."

A habit of seemingly innocent coffee drinks can become one of the Freshman 15 causes if you're not careful. What was once a simple cup of coffee has become the calorie equivalent of a 3 course meal if you opt for the specialty mochas, frappuccinos, etc.!

Your favorite coffee drink might be a lot like an ice cream cone...nutritionally speaking. See more on Starbucks nutrition.


"I never drank soda until I went to college but then everyone drank it and I found myself drinking it more often."

Imagine going to the sugar bowl and gulping down 3 Tablespoons of sugar. That’s essentially what you're doing every time you drink a can of soda pop.

A 12oz can of soda has ~ 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar

Even if you're not a regular soda drinker, indulging in just a couple a week (that you weren't drinking previously) equals 300 additional calories in your diet. Over the course of a 15 week semester, that's 4500 calories, or 1.3 pounds.


Remember that clear, calorie free beverage that comes out of the faucet or fountain?

You probably had easy access to all the water you wanted in high school and just took it for granted. You could go to the refrigerator or sink and get it anytime you wanted at home. That won't be the case anymore in college.

You may find you drink less water because it's not as convenient to get it as it used to be. That's not good!

Even MILD dehydration causes fatigue and impaired thinking (that certainly won’t help your GPA). It's not uncommon to reach for FOOD when feeling fatigued thinking it will give you the "pick me up" you need.

If you don't stay hydrated, you may tend to eat more. One more cause of the Freshman Fifteen!

Follow this eating strategy to address beverages.

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sleeping cat
Freshman Fifteen Cause: S is for Sleep

There is a direct correlation between inadequate sleep and weight gain.

The hormones that regulates hunger and appetite are "balanced" when you sleep. If you don't get enough sleep, your hunger signals will be out of whack! You'll feel physically hungrier than you should.

Translation: You may have good intentions to eat right, but if you don't get enough sleep, your messed up chemistry gets in the way of those intentions and can contribute to the Freshman Fifteen.

Results from a Colombia University study showed a direct relationship between body mass index and sleep habits:

  • People who sleep 2-4 hours a night are 73% more likely to be obese than those who get 7-9 hours sleep.
  • People who get 5 hours of sleep per night are 50% more likely to be obese than normal sleepers.
  • People who sleep 6 hours per night are 23% more likely to be obese.
  • Those who get 10 or more hours per night are 11% less likely to be obese than those who get 7-9 hours of sleep.

A Quick Biology Lesson

Here's a little more about the 2 hormones that regulate hunger and appetite. Their names are leptin and grhelin.

Leptin shuts off appetite and speeds up metabolism. GO leptin!

Grhelin increases appetite.

Sleep deprivation increases grhelin and decreases leptin.

In one study, 2 nights of 4 hours of sleep per night resulted in leptin levels that were 18% lower and grhelin levels that were 28% higher than baseline levels.

Can you see how not getting enough sleep chemically makes you hungrier and contributes to Freshman Fifteen college weight gain?! Keep those all night study sessions to a minimum and try to get your zzzz's. It'll be harder to fight the Freshman Fifteen if you don't.

Follow this eating strategy to address lack of sleep.

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Now that you understand the causes of the Freshman Fifteen, you can proceed to the solutions in the next lesson,
Course 103: How to Avoid The Freshman Fifteen.

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