A lot of graduated high school seniors worry about the dreaded weight gain in college: The buffet-style dining hall, the nearby (sometimes in walking distance) restaurants, the free food provided at numerous parties and club meetings, and although not applicable to all, the calorie-laden drinking that many college students partake in. That’s all good and fine, but since I have parents who fear that I will starve in a college with a notoriously bad meal plan, I am very aware of the Freshman Negative 15.
Humans naturally gain weight as they age, so the typical Freshman 15 that we associate with gaining weight in the first year of college is to some extent “natural.” On the other hand, the Freshman Negative 15 is exactly as it sounds: losing a notable amount of weight within the first year of college. Losing 15 pounds (or any amount of weight) is a much rarer occurrence that has far less of a social stigma and focus than gaining weight does. Even after I googled “losing too much weight in college,” a majority of hits were on how to lose weight in college with some forums on weight loss sprinkled throughout. On Pinterest, the “[Negative] Freshman 15” board seemed to don a health halo along with the most colorful assortment of natural food recipes that I’ve seen, from no-pasta zucchini salad to avocado hummus.
But the reality is that losing weight can have negative impacts on your academic performance and social life, arguably even more so than gaining weight can. While losing weight is in no way synonymous with an eating disorder, it is also not entirely out of the realm of possibilities to slip into eating habits that closely resemble those associated with an eating disorder.
College also possesses a different social environment that can foment pressure to be beautiful or attain a degree of perfectionism while also adjusting to the transition of lifestyle. It makes sense that college students are vulnerable to eating disorders; some of the more alarming statistics: 25% of college students have partaken in behaviors linked to bulimia nervosa and nearly 91% of female college students use dieting as a weight-control mechanism.
Greek life has the most public notoriety as being superficial, and while media portrayals may not be entirely true, sororities and fraternities continue to place a large amount of attention in members’ appearances. One 2013 study measured the effects of sorority membership on measurable weight outcomes (underweight, obese, and BMI) and found that there was a negative, statistically significant relationship between the two factors. Minus the statistics jargon, the study revealed that there was indeed a relationship between the two variables. Just remember that while the pressure to conform to a certain ideal body type is particularly strong in Greek life, that does not mean it fails to exist in the general student body.
Imagine having the same type of mindset throughout college, supposedly one of the greatest, most important moments of your life. Imagine thinking about each and every morsel that will be your the next meal while taking a multivariable calculus exam. Imagine your brain, which demands 20% of your resting metabolic rate, cannibalizing itself instead of the sufficient amount of nutrients it demands. Slight overstatements aside, losing 15 pounds can easily spiral into losing more weight just as gaining 15 pounds can turn into gaining far more.
But of course, not everyone is going to get an eating disorder from losing 15 pounds; there are far more factors including genetic predisposition and medical history that play roles in that outcome. Nevertheless, losing weight in college should not be easily brushed aside. Weight loss does not always have to be an outcome; it can be a symptom as well. Stress, lack of social engagements, and overall unhappiness whether due to academics, peers, or homesickness can all lead to lessened appetite. The general craziness of college life doesn’t help much in the meal-skipping department.
This is no mantra to maintain your weight no matter what in college. College is a complete change in lifestyle, and students should expect that to manifest in some way or form. But regardless of the change, health is still a prerequisite to achieving ambitions, performing well in class, and enjoying life—so do try and pay attention to your body.
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