Rethinking the myths of college weight gain


The myth that college causes extra weight gain becomes especially prominent during finals period. Students munching on junk food is a common sight during finals, from those Lays from the SciLi vending machine to the Cheez-Its from CVS or the Reese’s back from Halloween.

Such snacks are not as wholesome as a plate of celery and carrots, but studies show that eating junk food isn’t actually the main factor in gaining extra pounds. A recent study targeting college students found that a poor sleep schedule factors more heavily in weight gain.

It’s not that less sleep causes weight gain: it’s that less sleep causes more sweet cravings. When you’re not fully rested, your body naturally seeks for a quick energy source. Sugar provides that short-term, immediate energy, and your body wants that extra kick to get the day going. The journal Sleep followed students into their adult years and found each later hour of bedtime in school resulted in an approximate two-point increase in body mass index.

While later sleep is harmful, the study found an even more impacting cause: variability. In college, bedtime and waking time change on a nearly daily basis. Almost all of us have differing schedules every other day. Say you’ve got 9 a.m. Econ Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, but beautifully late 2 p.m. Chem Tuesday and Thursday. You know that temptation to keep snoozing until 1:45 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday.

On the other hand, most jobs come with a more regular schedule, and you have to wake up around the same time at least five times a week to get to work. In college, it’s a little unpredictable since we have more fun. With shifting wake times by a couple hours each day, it’s like adjusting to jet lag daily. With such adjusting comes unsteady metabolism rates and those sweet cravings.

On the flip side, college also offers healthy alternatives. Think about all the steps you take during a day. Instead of traversing the narrow corridors of your high school between classes, you’re now making that hike from Pembroke to Keeney, from the SciLi to the Rock, or from wherever you’re pre-gaming to the Colosseum. On average, we take around 10,000 steps a day. If you’re an athlete or play a sport of some kind, that’s even more exercise. And if you’re like me, hitting the Nelson thinking you’re a bodybuilder (ha) burns a good amount of calories and gets your metabolism going.

These four years of Brunonia are key not only because of the open curriculum and the inspiring people you meet, but also because of daily patterns you set for life. Sure, college weight gain is there, but in the long run it’s pretty insignificant. What’s worth more attention is your sleep: when you go to it, and when you wake from it. After Brown, try not to snooze past your first day of work thinking you had a 2 p.m. Chem lecture.

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