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Byline: Phil Davis Staff Writer

Attention, college freshmen: Beware the ``Lu-Butt.''

This is no Southern California version of the Blair Witch, or even a disgusting ``Austin Powers'' bathroom joke, but it is enough to make an image-conscious college student shudder. We're talking fat here. Call it ``the Freshman 15,'' a spare tire, beer belly or, if you go to California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, the semi-dreaded and politically incorrect ``Lu-Butt.''

It's nature's first cruel joke, a slight downshifting in the body's ability to process calories that coincides with the first real chance you have to pick when and what you have for dinner. It comes down to simple math: Pizza and potato chips X seven nights a week = the Freshman 15.

Don't take our word for it. UCLA graduate student Shailesh Vaya, 25, lived it.

``After four or five months, someone told me I had some kind of tire on my belly,'' the computer science major said with a laugh. ``I was actually taking a lot of cheese and butter. But it's better now.''

Experiences may vary. Tatania Lawler, 23, a junior majoring in women's studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, said despite occasional fits of the munchies - inspired by boring homework - she actually eats better than when she lived at home.

``The way my parents were raised, they never really watched the way they eat,'' she said. ``They always cook, and dinner is like a thing. For me, I can have a sandwich, and it doesn't have to be a big thing. It's a big process at home.''

She balances the occasional slice of pizza with healthy foods from Trader Joe's. Because she lives off campus, Lawler has a major advantage over dorm rats - a refrigerator and a stove.

Most freshmen get in trouble because they live on fast food, fatty snacks and dorm cafeteria food, which can be healthy when taken in the proper amounts. College dining services take the Sizzler approach, offering a wide range of foods - from salad to fried chicken - to please the most people possible.

``They've got to accommodate the needs of a variety of different people,'' said Beverly Kemmerling, director of Health and Counseling Services at California Lutheran University. ``We've got high-energy athletes who need a lot calories, and we have people who are pretty sedentary and don't need as many calories just to maintain their weight. But when you walk into the dining service, you have access to all that food. Some people get defeated by the fact that they figure, `I paid for this - I should get my money's worth,' and they eat too much.''

Many freshmen don't believe they need to watch what they eat. Spare tires and love handles are their parents' problems.

Wrong. Kemmerling explains: ``What happens between 18 and 20, your metabolism changes somewhat. So if you continue to eat the same way you did at 16 when you're, say, 19, you will gain weight. You don't require as many calories just to breathe, for the heart to beat - just basic metabolism.

``People start to gain weight around that time,'' she continued. ``The other thing that happens with college students is that they often are less physically active than they might have been at home. You're sitting at the computer, you're sitting in class. And people often will snack on some pretty high-fat goodies. Instead of stocking the refrigerator with fruits and vegetables, they'll have chips and cheeses and that kind of thing.''

There's no need to panic.

Even though your body needs fewer calories to maintain its weight, this is not your father's metabolism. Just eating right most of the time - there is room for pizza in there - and getting regular exercise is enough to hold off extra pounds. And even if you gain it, the weight will come off.

Elizabeth Matza, 20, a student at Pasadena City College, experienced what she calls the ``freshman 30'' when she first left home in 1997 to study at Menlo College in Northern California. She said a combination of stress, homesickness and a major disruption in her eating routine caused her to turn to snack foods and Jack in the Box hamburgers for comfort.

``I didn't really notice until I got back home and I got into the next size,'' Matza said. ``Now, I'm back down to the size I was before I left.''

Matza joined Weight Watchers, along with her family, to lose weight. But there's plenty of free help on campus, too.

Counselors at student health services are glad to outline a healthy eating plan. Cal Lutheran provides a registered dietitian free of charge for private counseling sessions with students. And even McDonald's offers breakdowns of calories and fat content in its food.

Experts say learning to eat right now will help avert future love handles.

``This is the very sad news: The older you get, the fewer calories you need just to maintain your weight,'' Kemmerling said. ``So the only way you can counteract that is by increasing your exercise or decreasing your intake, but nobody wants to do that.''

In many ways, today's college freshmen have an edge over their parents. A greater understanding of what's good and bad for the human body means professionals like Kemmerling can easily prescribe a healthy lifestyle.

``Kids are smart, they learn fast,'' Kemmerling said. ``It's an important time in their life. If you can teach someone about nutrition when they're a college student, you're really affecting the food choices of whole generations of people to come.''

Time for a little Nutrition 101

The ugly truth: You are not 16 anymore. Subsisting on pizza and potato chips will catch up with your waistline sooner or later. So go easy on the greasy stuff and get out and play in the sunshine. Sounds a little like Mom, huh? Well, guess what? She was right.

Some tips from the experts, including some moms:

Avoid beer bellies: The body processes alcohol as fat, and a single beer has 145 to 165 calories, or roughly 6 percent of a man's daily allowance. Save alcohol for special occasions. It'll save a lot of headaches - in more ways than one.

Calorie counting: To figure the number of calories you need each day, multiply your ideal weight by 13 if your are a woman, or 15 if you are a man. For example, a woman seeking a desired weight of 130 pounds (x 13) should consume 1,700 calories a day. A man shooting for 185 (x 15) should consume roughly 2,800 calories a day. Read labels of food boxes to see what you're eating and check the cafeteria for nutritional information and calorie charts.

Forget dieting: It's not a permanent solution. When the body gets 1,000 calories or less a day, it works more efficiently to prevent starvation - actually making it harder to lose weight. Couple that with no exercise, and the body begins to burn protein and muscle mass, not fat. Try eating a balanced diet and working out.

Work it off: A suggested workout, three to five times a week, includes five minutes of stretching, 15 minutes of biking, 15 minutes of jogging, 10 minutes of weight training (arm curls, triceps extensions, overhead lifts) and another five minutes of stretching to cool down and prevent tight muscles.

Snack right: It's OK to indulge in goodies, just eat less and try to satisfy some cravings with fruits or vegetables instead of cookies. If you buy large bags of chips to save money, divide them up into smaller portions and store in sandwich bags to eat over time.

Pick a sport: Most campuses offer everything from racquetball to yoga. Enjoy it now - it may be the last time in your life you have access to a free fitness center.

Don't push too hard: Drink lots of water and get plenty of sleep.

Sources: ``Healthy Eating and Fitness,'' California Lutheran University; ``Eater's Choice, 5th Edition,'' Houghton Mifflin; and Weight Watchers International.


3 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Cover--Color) THE FRESHMAN 15

How first-time college students can avoid that notorious weight gain

David Crane/Staff Photographer

(2) College students, including these at Glendale Community College's food court, face a new environment and schedule as well as metabolic changes that can contribute to weight gain.

John McCoy/Staff Photographer

(3) Pasadena City College student Elizabeth Matza, 20, says she added on the ``Freshman 30'' in 1997. She has since lost the weight.

John Lazar/Staff Photographer

Box: Time for a little Nutrition 101 (See text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 23, 1999

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