I could tell you all types of lessons I learned about gaining weight during my freshman year: It doesn't happen in the dining hall. Exercise doesn't matter as much as you think. No one notices the gain more than you do.

But these lessons only focus on the weight itself, which I have since realized aren't that important. I wish I'd learned sooner that the actual weight doesn’t matter nearly as much as the reason why you’re gaining it.

I struggled to adjust during my freshman year and used food to cope. I began binge eating regularly and ended up gaining almost 20 pounds. I assumed it was normal for freshman to gain weight, so I didn't asked myself why it was happening. Instead, I just got mad at myself for being that stereotypical freshman.

GIF courtesy of allmoviegifs.tumblr.com 

I now realize that getting mad at myself was pointless. The problem was not the number on the scale. Being overweight didn't make me undesirable or mean that there was anything wrong with me. A person's weight does not define his or her character. 

The real problem is the underlying cause of your body's drastic change. If you gain a fifth of your body weight like I did, it usually means something is off, and you should pay attention.

So if you're body is trying to tell you something, listen and ask yourself why you might be gaining the weight. Maybe you're letting your lack of sleep get completely out of hand. Maybe your weekend binge drinking is getting out of control. Maybe genetic factors or years of unhealthy habits are finally catching up to you. 

Jennifer Cao

Your weight gain could be caused by anything as extreme as an eating disorder to something as common as excess stress. 

Regardless, not all new college students gain the Freshman 15. Don't just dismiss gaining weight (and I'm not just talking about normal weight fluctuations) as a "typical Freshman thing."

Pay attention to your body's signals, and address the problem before it spirals out of control. Because I ignored my binge eating, I became so depressed that I couldn't get out of bed some mornings. It wasn't until I opened up to friends about my struggles and got professional help that my body and mind started to get healthy. 

cake, tea
Lexi Nickens

Most people's stories aren't that extreme, but my point still holds: if I had dealt with the actual reasons for my weight gain instead of just assuming it was normal, I never would have gotten to such a low point.

The Freshman 15 isn't just a common college phase that everyone faces. It's your body's way of talking to you. Listen to it. I know I wish that I had.