More and more college students, especially female, enter college with the fear of gaining weight—specifically, the dreaded "Freshman 15." Rather than keeping their normal eating habits they have had over the last 18 years, they let this myth control their lives, and in some cases, let it lead to an eating disorder. Who’s to blame them? Balancing a completely new environment, making new friends, adjusting to harder classes, experiencing a different (or new) party scene and pressures, as well as maintaining a certain image of yourself can lead you downhill, fast. 

My Story

I just finished up my first year of college, and I’ll be the first to say that one of my biggest fears coming to college wasn’t that I would get homesick or not make any friends, but rather, that I would gain weight. This fear of gaining fifteen pounds constantly lingered in the back of my mind. 

The beginning of freshman year was a blur filled with juggling school work, managing my time, and making friends with anyone that I encountered. I was busy and quite frankly, I kept forgetting to eat. But, I was making friends so that’s all that mattered, right? Things were fine until I went home for Thanksgiving Break: my first time home since August. I splurged at all of my favorite restaurants and late-night bites with my friends. Fast-forward a month and winter break was the exact same way. By the end of winter break, I felt absolutely disgusting and knew that I needed to change.

Although I tend to eat a mostly healthy diet, when I went home for breaks, I ate all the things processed, fried, and fast that I missed from my hometown. At the start of spring semester, I told myself that I would start strength training and doing more cardio at the gym as well as eating mostly plant-based whole foods. Although I did not intentionally cut calories, it was inevitable.

This whole semester has been a learning process for me. I have had to listen to my body so I eat more protein-rich foods because I began feeling fatigued and sluggish every day. I have had to listen to my muscles to tell me when I needed to take a break from the gym. Although I have tried to listen to my body as much as possible, the little voice in my head screaming “you need to go to the gym today”, or “you’re going to gain weight” or “you shouldn’t eat that cookie, it’s too many calories” continues to haunt me. When I think about it, I never had that little voice in my head until I came to college and was presented with the challenge of not gaining the “freshman 15.” 

How bad can a silly term really be?

While, thankfully, I'm on track to getting a healthy mentality about food and working out, this story is not uncommon. And sometimes, it goes even further and leads to eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. According to a study done by the National Eating Disorders foundation, “data from one college over a 13 year period shows total eating disorders increased from 23 to 32% among females and from 7.9 to 25% among males.” As this data shows, females are not the only ones with eating disorders. Eating disorders are sometimes hard to detect. While anorexia might be slightly more obvious if you see a friend never eating, disorders such as bulimia can be completely kept hidden.

One less talked about eating disorder, orthorexia, is defined by the National Eating Disorder Association as, “those who have an unhealthy obsession with otherwise healthy eating may be suffering from orthorexia nervosa,” a term which literally means “fixation on righteous eating.” Of them all, orthorexia potentially poses the most danger because these “healthy” mindsets often spiral into an eating disorder.

The origin of the term “Freshman 15” comes from an issue of Seventeen Magazine in 1989. 1989? C’mon people…it’s 2017, this term is outdated! An Ohio State University study concluded that “less than ten percent of the freshmen gained 15 pounds (or more), and a full quarter of the students actually lost weight in their first year.” In reality, there is a very small percentage of students that actually gain fifteen pounds during their freshman year of college. With unhealthy food at your disposal, an increased use of alcohol, and a rise in stress, some weight gain in college is inevitable and also comes with getting older but don’t expect to gain fifteen pounds overnight.

Now that we can lay the term “freshman 15” to rest, let’s talk about the group of people that I haven’t talked about: those who did gain the weight. Whether it be 5 or 25 pounds, it’s okay. College is a learning process and will involve a lot of trial and error. If you gained weight, learn from it. Do your research on a healthy diet and check out your school’s gym. If you don’t like the way you look or feel, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it but rather, use it to grow stronger.

Madelyn B Bucher

There’s already too many things to worry about for freshman, and weight is one thing that they shouldn’t be worrying about. Although we might not be able to eat like we did in middle school, our metabolism is still fairly high, so we can get away with eating that slice (or 5) of pizza Saturday night after the party. Don’t let the fear of gaining the “freshman 15” stop you from enjoying your freshman year of college. Living a healthy lifestyle is the most important thing, and that doesn’t just mean eating healthy and working out every day, but also maintaining your mental health. So, stop your worrying because the “freshman 15” is officially SO 1989.