Freshmen are commonly led to believe that the “freshman 15” is a common problem that can easily be avoided by simply watching what they eat.
However, the “freshman 15” is not that simple.
I surveyed 30 college women from across the country through an online survey about the freshman 15. Several college women surveyed said they gained weight their freshman year. Several others maintained approximately the same weight. Some lost weight.
These women attributed their weight changes to many different factors: Unhealthy options in cafeterias. Stress and comfort eating. Time management issues. Irregular sleep schedules. Birth control. Alcohol. Tight budgets. Break ups. Eating disorders. Independence.
Some of these women lived on campus without cars, unable to easily access a grocery store. Some played sports in high school but not in college. Others drank too much and ate too much afterwards.
Clearly, college is an adjustment. With all of the possible changes happening in our lives from starting to take birth control pills to navigating the campus party scene to managing our own time and money, should we really be that surprised or upset about weight change?
Many women surveyed said we should place less emphasis on weight, and more emphasis on health, including mental health.
Some said the idea of the “freshman 15” is ridiculous because weight changes aren’t a problem as long as you’re staying healthy.
“I think it’s a problem in the sense that you should be in tune with your body and with your health. However, the fear centered on the freshman 15 is a little ridiculous. It’s just weight – people act like gaining or losing 15 pounds is the end of the world, but unless your weight puts you at risk for health issues, it’s not that big of deal,” said Libby Jourdan, a sophomore at the University of South Florida.
Most women surveyed agreed that there aren’t enough healthy options on many college campuses, and much unhealthy food isn’t as convenient or affordable as unhealthy food. While dining halls might offer salads, eating salad every day can get a little boring, and making Easy Mac seems easier than cooking a healthy meal.
Junior Alexandra Baertsch, however, lost weight in college because she no longer ate out of boredom and didn’t have constant access to snack food. Senior Lauren Banis lost weight because unlike before college, she had easy access to the gym. Sophomore Meagen Colon maintained a similar diet and walked everywhere, maintaining the same weight during her freshman year. Some students, however, had more access to unhealthy foods than ever before.
When freshmen start college, they’re faced with many choices: what to eat, how to spend their time, how much to drink and so many more.
Freshmen are learning to be independent and figuring themselves out. They’re going through tons of changes at once.
We go to college to learn. We don’t know everything the moment we step on campus, nor do we know everything when we leave. We’re learning to have fun, succeed, be healthy and be confident. The “freshman 15” is a label that attempts to simplify the growing and changing that new college students experience – but being a college freshman is far from simple.
“Living on your own for the first time is weird, and sometimes you don’t know how to make a balanced meal out of what you can get in your campus grocery store,” said Sami Fisher, a senior at Bowling Green State University. “It’s also weird to time manage your entire life for the first time. It’s all a learning experience, and that includes learning to eat in a healthy way.”
It’s not uncommon to see people associate fear or shame with the “freshman 15.” But bodies change, and weight gain doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re unhealthy. And if people do make unhealthy choices as freshmen, they can learn from those choices.
“Everyone’s first year is so different and to generalize isn’t fair,” Colon said.
Image via Francesca Smeriglio