The "Freshman 15" and the "Holiday 7," which are titles for the average amount of weight gain that people experience during the winter holidays and during the first year in college, keep popping up in articles.


Are these statements true? They are close to being true for about 25% of the population.


The Freshman 15


The most recent research on the "Freshman 15" published by the National Institutes of Health Web site refers to the Freshman 15 as "a myth," because it's not true for most freshmen, (Freshman 15: valid theory or harmful myth? 2002, Graham, MA).


So what’s the big deal? Wouldn’t this information perhaps motivate college freshman to become more aware on their eating habits? Maybe not; researchers report just the opposite can occur. The “Freshman 15” was found in this study to play a role in "perpetuating negative attitudes toward weight."


Starting the debate was a study conducted 18 years ago. It showed that university women were more likely to be 15% over ideal body weight when compared to community women for about 25% of the students, (Risk of excess weight gain in university women: a three-year community controlled analysis, 1985, Hovell). This study also revealed that during the sophomore and junior years, "stabilization and reduction in weight" occurred once the women moved away from cafeteria-style food services offered by dorm living.


More recently, David Levitsky, a Cornell University professor, reported that college freshmen gained an average of 4.2 pounds just during their first 12 weeks on campus and from this he concluded that the "Freshman 15" is real. Richard Clark, a nutrition professor at the University of Connecticut, agrees that the "Freshman 15" is real for some students.


The Holiday 7


Most people gain less than one pound during the 6-week period between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, report researchers. And this is much less than the suggested 7 pounds that's being tossed around. However, this study also shows that overweight individuals gain 5 pounds during this time, (Holiday weight gain: fact or fiction?" 2000, Roberts).


This research should be a real concern for those who are overweight. While it's not quite as bad as the "Holiday 7," gaining 5 pounds every year during the holidays means 50 additional pounds over the next ten years.


The real culprit in holiday weight gain
Metabolic Syndrome X


Researchers report that 40 million US adults suffer with "Metabolic Syndrome X." This is the worst nightmare for someone overweight or obese, especially during the holiday season, (A major health hazard: the metabolic syndrome, 2003, Isomaa).


While the Freshman 15 and the Holiday 7 are not as bad as reported for most people, small gains in body fat over time can contribute to the condition "Metabolic Syndrome."


Metabolic Syndrome has to do with how the body acts as it puts on extra body fat. Starvation diets may temporarily pull off a few pounds after the holidays; but these diets without exercise can make matters worse.


Symptoms of Metabolic Syndrome are extra body fat around the waist, higher cholesterol, and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means that someone with a lot of body fat can eat bread for example, and their body processes it like pecan pie. This is why someone lean and in shape can eat some traditional holiday meals without too much concern, and someone overweight will gain 5 pounds during the holidays.


The Best part…
there may be a free cure for Metabolic Syndrome


The cure for Metabolic Syndrome is not a fad starvation diet, but rather a consistent diet of moderation and a real commitment to exercise regularly.


Extra body fat is at the center of this disease, and this means that you should add exercise to build and tone muscle. Adding muscle will raise your resting metabolic rate so the muscle, in essence, eats away the body fat for you while you're resting.


Men, women, teenagers, and even children need to exercise to add and tone muscle. Walking and increasing activity levels will not do what you need to get accomplished without adding some type of strength training to your fitness plan.


Personally, I'm partial to weight training at least three times a week along with an anaerobic exercise (sprinting types of exercise) program to make the body produce exercise-induced growth hormone, (Impact of acute exercise intensity on pulsatile growth hormone release in men, 1999, Pritzlaff). Growth hormone released from exercise will facilitate the bodyfat burning and muscle building and toning process.


The take home


Make the commitment today to add weight training to your fitness plan and enjoy meals this holiday season … in moderation, of course.


Phil Campbell. M.S., M.A., FACHE is the author of Ready, Set, Go! Synergy Fitness


Free Newsletter on this topic at


National Institutes of Health studies summaries cited:


Freshman 15




University Women


Holiday weight gain

Metabolic Syndrome




Exercise-induced growth hormone release