In the months leading up to my freshman year of college, I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement. I couldn’t wait to decorate my dorm, meet new people and start a fresh chapter. While I was eager to start a new adventure, all the uncertainties of the year ahead also made me anxious. On top of this, I kept hearing about the dreaded “freshman 15,” the 15 pounds new students supposedly gain once they enter college.
Though I had never worried about weight in the past, hearing people talk about the freshman 15 made me nervous. Friends posted elliptical sessions and plates of vegetables on social media to advertise their strategies to avoid weight gain. With all this social pressure, I started to feel like gaining weight simply wasn’t acceptable.
“Weight does not define value, worth or even health,” said Anna Marie Oglesbee, a UT graduate and registered dietitian. “When we make the freshman 15 something negative that should be avoided, we reinforce the idea that gaining weight is bad. Until age 20, the body has not fully developed, so some weight gain may be normal and even necessary.”
Students should focus on improving their overall health instead of obsessing about the number on the scale. We should take the freshman 15 out of the conversation altogether, replacing it with more productive discussions about sustainable healthy habits.
While working out and eating well are important facets of a healthy lifestyle, anxiety about the freshman 15 can quickly spiral into disordered habits. This prominent focus on weight is particularly concerning for college students, who are most at risk for developing eating disorders.
Removing the freshman 15 from our conversations will help prevent students from feeling discouraged or insecure about weight gain. Though studies show the average student won’t gain 15 pounds during their freshman year, most students will gain weight at some point during their time in college.
Weight gain can be a serious health concern, but it isn’t for all students. Being underweight is actually deadlier than being overweight. Many factors contribute to a person’s health, and weight is only one of them. Because of this, we should start emphasizing overall health instead of perpetuating the toxic fear of weight gain.
Things like keeping up with doctor’s appointments, eating a well-balanced diet and getting enough sleep are more beneficial than desperately trying to keep up with a number on the scale.
“So much of what we believe about ourselves is influenced by our peers,” said Brittany O’Malley, assistant director of prevention at the Longhorn Wellness Center.
O’Malley oversees the implementation of the Body Project, a peer education program teaching students to resist the pressure to conform to unrealistic body ideals. The Body Project is a strong example of students taking initiative to shift the conversation away from destructive vernacular, such as the freshman 15, so they can begin to discuss weight and appearance in a less harmful way.
Replacing negative language about weight gain with body positive ideals will give future college students a better shot at developing healthy relationships with food and their appearance. Considering how many students suffer from eating disorders and how frequently these disorders end lives, this change in our rhetoric is long overdue.
Waltz is a radio-television-film senior from Dripping Springs.