August 26, 2014

Prof. Levitsky Tells You How to Avoid Putting On the ‘Freshman Fifteen’

Print More


College is a time of change, and suddenly having all-you-can-eat dining halls at your disposal combined with a new lifestyle of studying in the library for hours a day can lead to what’s commonly known as the “Freshman Fifteen,” a weight gain in your first year.

According to Prof. David Levitsky, nutritional sciences, college freshmen do tend to gain 2-3 kilograms — about four and a half to six and a half pounds — in their first year. “I think the number one nutritional problem in the country is weight gain,” Levitsky said. “It’s going to bankrupt our medical system, [and] it’s going to cause unbelievable grief because of all the comorbidities that occur with it.”

Levitsky has done multiple studies looking at freshman weight gain and found one simple strategy that consistently prevents students from putting on the pounds.

“We essentially gave a group of freshmen scales and had them weigh themselves every day,” he said, “and it completely blocked their weight gain.”

Levitsky said a large factor in how much we eat is the amount of food-related stimuli we are exposed to on a daily basis. Anything from a commercial about food to a picture of food to talking about food is a stimulus, and will cause us to eat more.

“I think the thing that is killing us is the amount and intensity of food stimuli that constantly invade our environment, including Cornell,” he said.

Levitsky’s hypothesis for treating weight came from his training in behaviorism psychology, which emphasizes looking at people’s responses to stimuli rather than asking their thoughts or feelings on a stimulus.

“The way you treat weight gain is by showing people the consequence of their eating, which shows up on that scale,” he said. “It’s not accurate, but it’s a very good indication.”

According to Levitsky, weighing yourself every morning and keeping track of your weight over time will prevent you from unconsciously eating between 50 and 200 calories a day. Small actions like accepting a snack someone offers to share or grabbing some candy from the bowl on the table can add up over time and result in weight gain, but if you track your weight daily you will engage in less unconscious eating.

Levitsky said he has repeated the same study of having people weigh themselves daily with multiple age groups and found the same result in each case.

“That is the number one thing that I think you can do. Watch your weight,” he said.

Shailee Shah / Sun File PhotoVeggie variety | Levitsky recommends eating a variety of foods in order to maintain a healthy weight.