Don't Fret the Freshman 15

As long as college students are happy and healthy, what does it matter if they gain a little bit of weight?

Laura Magerkurth

August 18, 2015

Don't Fret the Freshman 15 Don't Fret the Freshman 15

If you’re a first-year college student, you’re about to experience more “firsts” than ever before. Many of you will be sharing a room for the first time ever. You won’t have a curfew. You’ll probably only be in class for a few hours a day instead of seven. And during your freshman year, some of you may end up gaining weight.

I’m not here to warn you away from college weight gain, nor am I encouraging it. I want everyone out there—freshmen and returning students alike—to try develop a more neutral attitude towards their bodies. We are taught to fear our bodies and especially to fear any change that may be negatively perceived, especially the “freshman 15”: the 15 pounds that every first-year college student supposedly gains.

I first heard about the dreaded freshman 15 the summer before my first year of high school. The deliverer of this message of doom was a particular gym teacher, an individual whose other hobbies included criticizing her students’ bodies and gazing, stony-faced, at those of us who weren’t particularly gifted at team sports. She not only explained what the freshman 15 was, but made it sound like gaining weight during your freshman year of college was somehow both inevitable and tantamount to death itself.

There are a plethora of articles out there with advice about how to avoid the freshman 15—even articles that are geared towards parents of new college students—and all of them provide great, if repetitive, tips: drink plenty of water. Get lots of sleep. Eat your fruits and veggies. Get some form of moderate exercise most days. Limit foods like pizza and ice cream and don’t fill up on soda or sugary coffee.

The trick with this kind of advice, though, is that it’s just good advice, period. What does your weight matter if you’re getting all your nutrients, exercise enough and are feeling physically and emotionally content?

If college students do put on a few pounds during their first year, it may be a good sign. It means that they’re spending their free time studying or socializing (or sleeping) and not worrying too much about the number on the scale or on the tags inside their clothes. The truth is that, except in the case of some kind of illness, slight changes in your weight are frequently neither good nor bad—they simply are.

It’s true that gaining a lot of weight in a short amount of time can be a symptom of depression, which plenty of college students experience—but so can rapidly shedding weight.

Preoccupation with your weight and appearance, especially if you find yourself engaging in behaviors like calorie restriction, excessive exercise, and frequent use of laxatives or diet pills, is a cause for concern.

If you’re worried about your health (note: weight does not equal health) in college, make a point to seek out healthy options in the dining hall. Many universities have web sites where you can see what the cafeteria will be offering days in advance, so you can plan whether you want to use your meal plan on certain days.

Use that mini-fridge to stock up on healthy, frozen meals as well as fruits and veggies for those times that you’re not feeling the fare offered in the dining hall. When I lived on campus, I was partial to Annie’s frozen burritos (which you can get gluten- and dairy-free and won’t break the bank).

You could also seek out recipes with only a handful of ingredients to make in your dorm kitchen.

As long as college students are happy and healthy, what does it matter if they gain a little bit of weight? College is about learning, developing independence and personal growth—and for some of us that involves putting on a few pounds.

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