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For college students, the campus dining hall offers a tantalizing feast: ice-cream sundaes every night, thirty varieties of cereal and a limitless supply of french fries.

“It’s like a smorgasbord on a cruise ship,” said Cynthia Bulik, PhD, director of the Eating Disorders Program at the UNC School of Medicine.

All-you-can-eat dining halls, along with changes in exercise habits, have been blamed for the “freshman 15,” in which first-year students gain weight.

But Bulik said recent research suggests that the average student gains only five pounds in the first year of college. And a 2008 study published in the journal Health Psychology found that the male students who gain weight generally do so because of an increase in muscle mass.

“The ‘freshman 15’ isn’t actually a freshman 15,” Bulik said.

Meanwhile, Bulik said many young adults, especially women, pressure themselves to lose unhealthy amounts of weight before college begins. That’s unfortunate, she said, because the months before college should be a time for establishing healthy eating and exercising patterns.

“You want to go into college as healthy and robust as you possibly can,” she said.

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