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When your chubby freshman comes home, mum's the word

By Jennifer LaRue Huget

If you have a freshman in college this fall, chances are you're eagerly awaiting Thanksgiving, when your kid comes home for the holiday, maybe for the first time since leaving for school.

Perhaps she (or he!) may bring home something other than dirty laundry: namely, a few extra pounds.

As I write in this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column, the typical freshman gains about five or seven pounds, not the much-touted 15. But even that little bit of chub can be noticeable, especially when you haven't seen your child for a couple of months.

It also can, if not held in check, snowball into a larger weight gain over the course of college. (Brand-new research presented Nov. 10 found that college students' weight gain isn't limited to freshman year. Senior gain, too, apparently because they get less physical exercise than before.)

So how can a parent help?

First, by biting your tongue.

Be sensitive when talking to your college student about the Freshman 15. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)

The last thing your kid needs, the experts I interviewed for the column point out, is to feel that he or she has disappointed you or that you are critical of the extra weight. Daphne Oz, author of "The Dorm Room Diet," and Jane Jakubczak, a registered dietitian at the University of Maryland, note that your job as a parent is to make your child feel welcome, embraced and unconditionally loved. You need to allow him or her to enjoy the break from school and take comfort in time at home. If you play your cards right, experts suggest, your kid probably will bring up the topic of the more-plentiful padding. Then you can have an honest talk or two about steps he or she might take to manage the weight (through more healthful eating habits and more physical activity) when your kid returns to school.

In the meantime, we parents are urged not to scrutinize what our college kids eat at the Thanksgiving meal. Saying, "Are you sure you need all that stuffing?" is likely to backfire and cause ill will.

That all sounds reasonable, right? But I imagine that actually keeping one's maternal or paternal mouth shut is easier said than done.

Do any of you have experience in dealing with the return of the newly chubby freshman? How have you handled the situation, and how did it turn out?

I'd also like to hear from the freshmen -- and former freshmen. What was it like going home for Thanksgiving knowing you were, er, a bigger person than when you left home? How did your folks react? And how did you react to their reaction?

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  | November 16, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness, Obesity, Parenting, Teens  
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A lot of seventeen and eighteen year old kids have gone through a height spurt but haven't put on weight in proportion. That five or ten pounds may just be taking them from gangly teen to adult body shape. Don't worry about the scale--do they look healthy?

Posted by: di89 | November 16, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

For starters, going into school i was underweight and an athlete. Midway through the semester I got injured and found that without the exercise to supress my appetite, but still scheduled to lift in the weight rooms, i was hungry constantly. I gained about 10 lbs mostly muscle, but that was much needed weight. still slim at thanksgiving, my face was a lttle rounder. my grandfather said to me, "I think you should start drinking the light beer at school honey". This was infuriating to me because as an NCAA athlete, i didnt drink, and i was just eating healthfully, something that i honestly hadn't done in years. Sometimes, I think that people should just keep their mouths shut.

Posted by: nd2012 | November 16, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

My lovely daughter actually lost weight when she went to college, and has kept it off. She has more control over her own schedule, and her eating and exercise habits. She's very into a healthy lifestyle, and clearly gets lots more regular exercise at school. Even though she was also a HS athlete, she now spends much less time in transportation (except more walking!) or watching TV! The particular campus atmosphere probably has an effect as well.

Posted by: Mflc2005 | November 17, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

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