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How About We Say Goodbye to the “Freshman 15”?

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

Diet culture is everywhere. From a young age we hear about fad diets, beauty standards, and see unrealistic images of women and men in the media. As college students, we now have to brave that scary world on our own, and you may not even realize the negative effects it can have on you. So, how does diet culture manifest itself in college?

The most obvious foothold that diet culture has on college students, especially female students, is the infamous “freshman 15.” Girls enter college with this fear of gaining weight that influencers can capitalize on with videos like, “how to avoid the freshman 15,” or “how I lost weight in college.” These are harmful to young girls, who are about to be on their own for the first time. With all of these thoughts about what to eat and what not to eat, girls will develop harmful eating habits right at the start of the semester. It is even said that clinical eating disorders affect 10-20% of female college students. There are so many options under meal plans, like UConn’s, that it can be overwhelming; and, having the nagging fear of gaining weight makes eating that much more difficult. 

Having a healthy mindset going in to college is a much better way to start your freshman year rather than working to avoid a fatphobic myth. An easy way to stay healthy without falling into the claws of diet culture is through mindful eating. According to mindful.org, there are six things you can do to eat healthfully without restricting or harming your body, like listening to your body’s hunger cues, stopping when full, eating with friends, and establishing a routine. It is more harmful to go into college afraid of gaining weight than actually gaining weight. However, it is always good to be healthy and aware of your body so that you can stay on top of your physical and mental wellbeing.

Our bodies are meant to change, so there is no need to perpetuate an unrealistic body image.

Additionally, something that is not talked about enough with girls in their late teens and early 20s, is that it is normal for your body to change, whether that’s because you gained weight in your first semester on campus, or not. First of all you aren’t on your high school’s sports team anymore, practicing every day for hours on end. Second of all, you are in a new environment with new stressors, so gaining weight is completely natural and normal. Our bodies are meant to change, so there is no need to perpetuate an unrealistic body image. 

Personally, as someone who ran cross country for 6 years and abruptly stopped upon getting to UConn, my body completely changed. It frustrated me that I wasn’t as thin as I used to be, and it felt out of my control. I have always had a complicated relationship with food, and this just made it ten times worse because it felt like I was falling victim to the terrifying “freshman 15” and there was no way to avoid it. Without structured practices and races to work towards, I didn’t know how to work out anymore, and in a global pandemic, I felt like a mess. No one told me that everything I was feeling was normal, but I am here to tell you that it is. I even went gluten-free because I needed to try something to reverse the weight, but that wasn’t what my body needed. Diet culture ruled my mind, and let me tell you, fad diets are not the way to go. 

While there are a lot of influencers out there that parade unrealistic bodies and beauty standards, there are a handful of women who are defying these expectations and teaching girls to embrace their insecurities. For example, Victoria Garrick, a retired D1 athlete that struggled with body image throughout her athletic career now works to help other college athletes, and girls in general, feel confident in their bodies and embrace their insecurities. You can also find her on RealPod, her mental health and body image podcast. Another influencer that I’ve been following on TikTok for a while is @marycjskinner. She posts body positive and mental health content for the college-aged to mid-twenties woman. For me, she was the first influencer I saw with my own body type talk about her insecurities and represent a size range that is not represented in the media because it is not considered “skinny” nor truly “mid-size.”

Finding people to look up to and gain validation from is pivotal during this transitional time. However, it is just as important to be able to talk to friends, family, or anyone you trust about your body image issues, weight gain, or any of the other harmful effects that diet culture may have on you. I’ve learned that a lot of my friends at UConn have gone through similar experiences as me, so I know I can always go to them if I’m struggling and vice versa. You are not alone in feeling insecure or frustrated with your body, and having a support system is so important when dealing with mental health. However, it takes time to find what works for you. Mindful eating was something that helped me through my transition to college. Developing a new relationship with fitness was also important in my journey. 

Let’s not fear the “freshman 15” anymore; it isn’t worth the hype! Instead, we should embrace the changes that moving to school brings and stop the influence of diet culture. 

Audrey is a sophomore marketing major and french minor at the university of Connecticut