March 1, 2019 | Narrative
weighing in on freshman 15
for a healthier sense of self
Before I actually stepped foot on campus, I heard about the foreboding “freshman 15” from family and friends: “You won’t notice the weight gain until it’s too late, so watch out for the 15 pounds that will sneak up on you over the course of your first year.” I found this shocking, to the point that I have since done some online reading—what I learned, thankfully, is that freshman 15 is more of a myth.
According to a study done by Jay Zagorsky, research scientist at Ohio State University’s Center for Human Resource Research, 25 percent of students reported losing weight, and fewer than 10 percent of freshmen surveyed gained 15 pounds or more. What I gathered is that weight gain, of course, does not apply to everyone, and that in fact, some even lose weight. I wondered if this was because college students have to make their own choices about what, when, and how much to eat, some of which are not necessarily the most healthy or balanced. Having skipped meals while experiencing the unfamiliar environment and stress of freshman year, I wanted to reflect on what I have learned and what I’m still working on to embrace a healthier lifestyle.
Brown requires first years to choose a meal plan, and I have quickly befriended the Blue Room muffins and Ratty omelets through my Flex 330 membership. The first couple of weeks of school, I found the food at each dining hall decent, but the similar options got boring. Every visit, I wondered to myself—is this really the food I want to and should eat? How could I make the most of my meal credits? With the buffet-style Ratty and V-dub, I sometimes max out my portions and struggle with how many of the curly fries I should eat, or think that the special pasta looks really cheesy tonight, so hey, I should get another scoop. I’ve combatted this temptation by going on a grand tour of the Ratty or V-dub to survey my options first before actually putting food on my plate—judging less with my eyes and more with my stomach.
Freshman year was a time to learn about myself—what healthy habits I like (such as exercise and sleep), how to navigate the generally unhealthy college food pyramid (caffeine, ramen, fast food, and alcohol), and how each of my preferences really came down to how I was feeling that day. Say, drinking that delectable grande caramel macchiato before breakfast to jumpstart the day because I felt lethargic with only six hours of sleep and hadn’t fit in any workouts to burn out the negative energy. Or sometimes, I would skip dinner because I either didn’t feel hungry or didn’t want to venture out to a dining hall when I was already situated in my studying. I found my personal struggles with self-image and weight fluctuations to be extremely prevalent after finals season, when I tended to push most of my non-academic responsibilities to the side and burrow into my studies. Coming off the stressful rollercoaster of finals, I found that the time fed into my existing struggles with self-image because I’d let my healthy eating and exercise habits slide and consequently feel guilty. Such factors continued to influence me during my first year and still do, but what keeps me grounded is Colbie Caillat’s song “Try”: “Wait a second / Why, should you care, what they think of you / When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you? / Do you like you?”
The song taught me to learn to feel good about myself. I’ve realized that I feel best about my lifestyle when I consistently have balanced, well-portioned meals. A “cheat” day is alright once in a while, say when I want to treat myself to that gooey red velvet Blue Room muffin in addition to some Pokéworks the day before my 7:00 p.m. exam, but I try to not use “cheat” days as an excuse to justify frequent stress eating. I need to be honest with myself and my conscience to work towards a healthy lifestyle.
As a sophomore, I’m still working on finding my healthy balance. I have adopted intermittent fasting to refine my diet and portion control for the past two years, and while this may not work for everyone, I’ve found it has helped me. I don’t avoid any particular foods for my meals, and I enjoy eating whatever I feel like during the eight-hour eating window I have per day. I am working on substituting my love for coffee—lattes are my last resort for the days that I really need that boost of caffeine—with unsweetened caffeinated teas, like matcha, English breakfast, or Earl Grey at Starbucks. And last but not least, I made myself a promise that no matter what happens each week, I would make it to the Nelson at least once in the morning (I highly recommend going with a gym buddy to keep each other accountable).
According to a recent blog post I read, students experience an average weight gain of only two pounds during freshman year, and 25 percent of the two pounds was due to an increase in muscle. I now think of freshman 15 as more of a saying that scares first years into making better food choices for themselves. We need to debunk the myth of and remove the perceived sense of losing control over one’s weight during this time. Weight gain should be viewed as a normal part of getting older. Instead of adding the unjustified concern of freshman 15 to our list of worries, it is better to live a healthier lifestyle by eating more food groups, exercising, and developing healthy habits that make you feel good about yourself.