The concept of the "Freshman 15" may have morphed into a motivational factor rather than a college freshman adjective, some University of Colorado students say.

The Freshman 15, which refers to 15 pounds that freshman are rumored to gain during their first year in college in part because of increased partying, unlimited dining food and decreased exercise, "pretty much scares people from being lazy to the gym," said Ronnie Borchard, 18, an incoming CU freshman.

Fact or fiction?

Whether the Freshman 15 is fact or fiction, nutrition experts agree that there are certain things new college students are susceptible to that could lead to weight gain. They include:

1. Lack of exercise

2. Eating late at night

3. Unhealthy snacks and meals

4. Drinking excessive alcohol

Borchard regularly lifts weights four times per week, but said some students are so concerned with gaining weight that they ramp up their high school work-out regimen to fend of the extra blubber.

CU Recreation Center data supports the notion that students are immediately driven to get to the gym early in the year, possibly trying to prevent the Freshman 15.

The Rec Center, which sees an average of 3,500 to 5,000 students each day during most of the year, sees "a huge push" during the first few weeks of school, said Catie Gibson, fitness and safety manager.

Cardio equipment is full and lines form behind machines as students wait their turn to work up a sweat.

As the academic year settles, however, so do the students, and large crowds at the Rec Center diminish some.

Myth?

Several research studies have suggested that the Freshman 15 is more of a myth than anything. Yes, college students gain weight, but others lose weight or just stay the same, said Anne Schuster, a spokeswoman for Community Health, a division of Wardenburg Health Center.

Blame it on the unlimited dining food, late-night partying and drinking or a slowing metabolism, but some students leave their first year of college feeling a bit tighter in their high school jeans, and the catchy Freshman 15 alliteration rings true.

"I definitely gained the Freshman 15," said Courtney Carr, a 22-year-old advertising senior at CU.

Carr attributed no longer playing sports, drinking and a knee injury to gaining an extra few -- which more or less stuck with her through the rest of college, she said.

Body image

Weight fluctuations could be linked to the knowledge that body image concerns pervade the CU campus.

According to student data collected by the American College Health Association, CU has one-and-a-half to two times the national average of eating disorders among college and university campuses.

This finding, based on a survey of approximately 37,000 college students nationwide, is based on the percentage of students on campus with an eating disorder.

That might be because Boulder is an "overwhelmingly" health-conscious community, with an emphasis on appearance that could supersede health, Schuster said.

In February 2010, a Gallup index ranked Boulder as the No. 1 healthiest and happiest town in America. A month before that Men`s Health magazine ranked Boulder as the second healthiest town in America.

"We are a very fit and health-minded town," fitness manager Gibson said.

Aware of the high levels of eating disorders and disordered eating on campus, the Rec Center attempts to focus on establishing good habits as a part of routine exercise, not weight gain or loss, Gibson said. The Rec Center also aims to be a tool for students to access nutrition and body image resources on campus as a part of a wider goal to increase body image awareness.

"We want to help people know where to go to get help," Gibson said.

Resources

Both Wardenburg and the CU psychology department offer resources for students battling body image issues. There is one nutritionist on staff at Wardenburg, and students can seek counseling through the Counseling and Psychological Services, or CAPS, as well as the Psychological Health and Psychiatry center at Wardenburg.

Nutrition is a key factor in academic performance, providing energy and nutrient for studying, reading and learning, Schuster said. The best way to provide you body with it`s needed nutrition is to listen to internal cues. "Eat something when you are hungry, and recognize when you are full," she said.

But incoming freshman Borchard said it might not be that easy.

"No one wants to gain the Freshman 15," Borchard said. "It`s definitely a scare."