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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

McKay: Flirting With the Freshman 15

As the year begins, freshmen have had to adjust to various aspects of living away from home, in many cases for the first time. One of the biggest adjustments involved in being on one's own is learning to be in charge of one's own food intake. Instead of having a family dinner or a school lunch prepared for us, as many of us had growing up, we now have a variety of options available at every meal.

People often talk about the phenomenon of the "freshman 15" is it real? If so, how do you avoid it? While these concerns about unwanted weight gain are valid, they can manifest themselves in some very unhealthy patterns of behavior. It is important to be aware that anxiety about the freshman 15 can lead to eating disorders and a lifelong struggle with food, so we can learn how to avoid them.

Of course, it is easy to gain weight in college, but that outcome isn't inevitable. Some people see the freshman 15 as unavoidable and therefore just let the weight gain happen. Others don't buy into the notion that college freshmen will gain weight. Some of these people gain weight without realizing it, while others stay the same or some even lose weight, depending on their eating habits (as well as their drinking habits). The subconscious decision to, say, get a cookie on the way out of FoCo at every meal, pick up a pastry at King Arthur Flour every night or drink a few extra beers can really affect one's caloric intake. Not everyone gains weight, however, in that way the freshman 15 is a dangerous myth.

The danger is that in the midst of such anxiety about potential weight gain, there are people who become so concerned that they develop a dangerous pattern of unhealthy behavior. The freshman 15 is an especially prevalent concern for women, who unfortunately feel a large amount of pressure to look a certain way namely, thin. This anxiety about one's appearance and the general fear of weight gain can cause girls to count calories, skip meals or even develop serious eating disorders.

People who gain weight often do so because they are not being mindful, but there is also a potential for hyper vigilance, which is a more insidious concern. I went to a boarding school for high school, where I watched people develop incredibly unhealthy attitudes toward food. Many people gained weight because they were not used to having so much autonomy over their diets dessert or pizza whenever they wanted and multiple plates at one meal. However, I have also noticed a variety of unusual, and often unhealthy, eating patterns begin to form among Dartmouth students. Some girls have developed a major fear of weight gain and have struggled to get enough nutrition. While some people are just more disposed to developing an eating disorder, a fear of the freshman 15 combined with a new autonomy over one's diet can led to serious problems.

While the freshman 15 may be real, it should not be given so much attention. Gaining some weight at the beginning of college is natural life changes often result in changes in one's appetite and diet. However, beginning a potentially lifelong unhealthy relationship with food is a big deal. Instead of fixating or obsessing over weight gain, freshmen should simply remain mindful of both what they consume and how active their lifestyle is but also keep in mind that a couple of pounds either way is not the end of the world.

Even if one personally does not feel at risk for unhealthy behavior, bystanders play an important role in either assisting or further harming friends at risk. Students, male and female, should make an effort to avoid "food talk," as it can provoke further obsession with one's caloric intake, as well as comparing meals. In addition, if you feel concerned about yourself or one of your friends, it is important to reach out talk to a friend, or use one of the many resources here at Dartmouth.