I’ve been in college for two weeks now.
I’ve already lost track of the number of times I’ve heard girls bemoaning the Freshman 15 — worrying about gaining weight, apologizing for their choices in food or berating themselves for not eating clean and working out enough. I too have been a part of these discussions, and each time I’ve participated, I’ve left the conversation feeling enormous amounts of guilt.
I feel guilty both for submitting to my own anxieties about my weight during a time when I really should be focusing on all the new experiences at hand, and for encouraging others to do the same by even continuing the conversation.
College is meant to be a time for rigorous study, meeting new people, trying new things and adjusting to new surroundings. It is also a starting (or tipping) point for eating disorders. Eating disorders typically develop during the college age years, 18-21, and affect between 10-20% of women in college. For some, the newfound independence in college, as well as the added stress of adjusting to a new place and more difficult academics, is the perfect start to an eating disorder.
Eating disorders are also about gaining control, something that a turbulent college environment often lacks. When you can’t control your grades on upcoming finals, or the big paper due next week, it’s may be easy to turn that anxiety and attention to your own body. Bulimia and binge-eating disorder are especially prevalent on college campuses. It’s hard for me to strike the right balance between eating clean for the sake of having a healthy body, and not completely hating myself when I choose pizza over a grilled chicken breast.
It’s not that I, or the girls I head to the dining hall with, want to admonish ourselves for what we do or don’t eat, it’s just difficult to refrain from negative self-talk when it’s echoing through the dining hall buildings.
For me, (and this is coming from someone who does not have an eating disorder), the best way to keep myself from sinking into self-hatred after a late night junk food run, or yet another day day of skipping the gym, is reminding myself that I’m still adjusting. I’m adjusting to a completely new life, a life across the country from my hometown, with people I’ve never met before and classes much more challenging than those I’m used to. I remind myself that I am already predisposed to developing disordered eating habits, and that allowing myself to say no to a couple meals has a very strong, and very fast, chance of spiraling into something much more serious. Most importantly, I remind myself that even if I were to gain the “Freshman 15,” those extra pounds wouldn’t change my personality, my intelligence, my ambitions or anything else that I know is right to prioritize in life.
The Freshman 15 is nothing but a buzzword to add to the laundry list of stressors that already come with college life. The only thing these words have in common is that they detract from the fun new experiences college students are supposed to be having.
If you or someone you know on a college campus seems to be suffering from disordered eating, please go to your health center, or check out the resources below.