The Myth of the Freshman Fifteen

Around this time of year, we start to hear a lot about the freshman fifteen.  Most of it is couched in apocalyptic rhetoric, largely aimed at and leveled by women.  It is as though gaining 15 pounds is the end of the world (I've gained 42 since college started and it was only the beginning of my world).  It's like it's some kind of failure to drink a lot with your friends on the weekend, eat a big dinner, and go out for ice cream.  It's like we forget that food can actually be a really nice way to bond with people and treat yoself and that the stresses of Davidson that might lead to a lack of sleep, less time to keep that body moving, and a biologically tuned craving for sugar and carbs in times of stress have no role in the conversation.  No--it is only because YOU did not make the GOOD choices and YOU did not do the GOOD things and YOU are pretty much the scum of the Earth.

Look, if you gain weight during college and you are worried--don't read articles online. Talk to your doctor.  And then for good measure talk to Lisa at the counseling center to make sure you're not worried about weight gain for reasons like "I'm a terrible human" and "I hate myself" but more for reasons like "My body isn't able to do the things I need and/or want (within reason) to do and I want to address that in a way that doesn't hurt me."  

But in the midst of such fatalistic talk, here's a fun fact: The freshman 15 is a myth.  

Over the course of a 6-year relationship with Anorexia Nervosa: restricting type, and obsessive exercising, I've done a lot of reading about the human body, health, fitness, and "health" and "fitness."  And beyond realizing that most of it is literal junk and that you can't really trust much besides reputable sources (i.e., no magazine that's trying to sell you itself) and your doctor (i.e., someone who literally studies your body for a living), I also learned that around the time Americans go to college, we also are completing our physical growth processes and that it's pretty natural for women especially to gain some weight in this time frame seeing as women who do and don't attend college are gaining pretty much the same average weight.

The freshman 15 is one of those things that the media created and spun and sold to us to keep itself going.  

Look at that y'all.  

"But that heavy drinking!"  Yes, friend, that heavy drinking.  It is the single most significant factor when looking at who's gaining weight.  And it does suggest you'll gain more weight on average if you have 6 or more drinks at least 4 times per month.  Want to know how many more pounds you'll gain on average than your friends who drink less (and annoy you about how little they're drinking because they're watching their figure)?

LITERALLY ONE POUND MORE ON AVERAGE. SO STOP WORRYING ABOUT YOUR DRINKING AS IT RELATES TO WEIGHT GAIN. (Worry if you have reasons to be worried, like you're saying, "I can't have fun without alcohol" or "I need alcohol to feel happy and ok.")

What all of these pretty baseless fears have an effect on is women's mental health (and, increasingly, men's mental health) as more and more older adolescents are seeking help and treatment for highly comorbid depression, anxiety, addiction, and eating disorders.

These are a few paragraphs that entirely subvert the whole freshman 15 myth and paranoia machine.  There's so much more out there to help you figure out a balance that works for you, and that balance should NEVER include obsessing or shaming or guilting.  In the meantime, I'll be getting a ride to Cook Out for a milkshake and hush puppies after having a few Guinnesses and skipping my run because I was dead tired and wanted to sleep.  I might gain a pound or two, or seven to eight, and I'm aight with that.

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