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Weight Gain & Loss: Why You Should Embrace Your Body’s Changes

Content Warning: Mentions of Eating Disorders and Suicide

If you are a college student, I’m sure Freshman Fifteen is a familiar phrase to you. And with the infamous lockdowns and isolation due to our recent pandemic, Quarantine Fifteen is a new term that’s been floating around. These statements may seem meaningless and easy to joke about at first glance, but in reality, they feed into the problematic viewpoint we have towards our own and other people’s bodies when it undergoes a significant change.

Freshman Fifteen refers to the weight gain that results in many freshmen in college. While fifteen is an arbitrary number, weight gain is a very common occurrence for incoming students. However, what people don’t consider is how normal it is. Most freshmen are living on their own for the first time, either in a dorm or an apartment. Not having a parent or guardian cook meals or monitor what they eat is a big contributor to diet changes. Additionally, freshman year is an entirely new experience for people. Many of the stress factors freshmen face include:

  • Creating an optimal class schedule
  • Picking or changing majors/minors
  • Making friends and maintaining relationships
  • Homesickness
  • Exploring a new environment
  • Time management
  • Monitoring mental health

The list goes on. Due to the intensity of these stressors, eating healthy meals at the proper time is typically not a top priority. Relying on fast food and instant meals like ramen, or even opting for unhealthy options at the university’s dining hall provides a sense of convenience and potential comfort for students. Freshmen also tend to eat more since they have to walk a good amount between classes. All in all, it’s totally normal for freshmen to gain weight.

So why is the term freshman fifteen a problem? According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD), 9% of the American population (roughly 30 million) will report facing an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Eating disorders can directly lead to death, or they can influence suicidal ideation (Arcelus et al, 2011). Pointing out weight gain, or even alluding to the freshman fifteen in a joking manner, could cause disordered eating, worsen a pre-existing condition, or result in a relapse for someone who has already recovered. It’s generally unacceptable to mention someone’s weight, but the term “freshman fifteen” provides a gateway for weight jokes. 

Quarantine fifteen is in the same vein as freshman fifteen. Covid-19 has taken the world by storm, and the lockdowns had quite an impact on a lot of people’s bodies. Being forced to stay in our homes for weeks on end has made it immensely difficult to adhere to healthy habits and lifestyles. Eating out of boredom was fueled by social media sites, TikTok and Instagram especially, sharing numerous recipes and comfort meals. Furthermore, many individuals who regularly frequented gyms were forced to exercise at home or stop entirely if they lacked the space (Katella, 2020). The motivation was at an all-time low and spending the day in bed watching Netflix was far more preferable than exercising or doing homework and chores. It’s no surprise that several people either gained or lost weight during the lockdowns. 

Unfortunately, Freshman fifteen and Quarantine fifteen only really refer to weight gain. When someone has noticeably lost weight, the typical response is “Wow, you look so good!” Weight loss tends to receive a better response than weight gain. Bodies that can be described as “big”, “large”, or “fat” are immediately considered unattractive. Skinny doesn’t equal healthy, and fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. It cannot be stressed enough that it is perfectly normal for people’s bodies to change, especially when dealing with something new and taxing. Next time you see a friend who looks a little different compared to the last time you saw them, consider thinking twice before saying something about how they look. You never know what two seemingly harmless words could lead to.

“Eating Disorder Statistics: ANAD.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, 3 Mar. 2021, https://anad.org/get-informed/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/ 

Arcelus, Jon et al. “Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. A meta-analysis of 36  studies.” Archives of general psychiatry 68,7 (2011): 724-31. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.74 Katella, Kathy. “Quarantine 15? What to Do About Weight Gain During the Pandemic.” Yale Medicine, Yale Medicine, 1 July 2020, https://www.yalemedicine.org/news/quarantine-15-weight-gain-pandemic

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