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Why You Shouldn’t Fear the “Freshman Fifteen”

By Erin Gilbert, RDN, CSO, LDN Freshman year of college comes with many changes & challenges– starting a new school, adjusting to more rigorous studies, dorm life, making new friends, living away from home & more! Another common concern is the “Freshman 15” – the idea of gaining weight freshman year. Here are some reasons why that should be the least of your worries & how to prioritize your health & wellness instead.

  1. Gaining weight freshman year is normal, but the “Freshman 15” is a myth

With the typical college freshman being 18 years old, bodies are still growing & developing. Research has shown that a few pound weight gain is healthy & normal, with the fear mongering claims of “freshman 15” not being totally accurate. Regardless, everyone’s body is different & weight changes will vary for individuals during this stage of physical maturation. Rather than worry about the number on the scale, trust that your body will do what it needs to do to keep you healthy during one of life’s biggest transitions.

  1. Trying to prevent body changes can be harmful

Freshman year is already a huge adjustment, leaving many college kids vulnerable to the harms of diet culture. Truth is, by focusing too much on trying to prevent weight gain, this can easily lead down a slippery slope of restrictive diets, obsessive calorie counting & rigid exercise routines. Instead, the focus for you or your loved one entering college should be learning how to eat an adequate, varied diet (this means a mix of balanced meals in the dining hall AND late night study session pizza with roommates) & finding a joyful movement routine that feels good (this can mean being on an organized sports team, trying a new dance class, or simply walking around campus!). Don’t know where to start? Learn more about meeting with one of our HAES aligned dietitians here.

  1. Losing weight won’t heal negative body image

Anytime there is a big life transition, it is so normal to feel insecure or worried about body image & how you are perceived by others. After all, when everything is new & unknown, sometimes it may feel like your body is one thing you CAN control. We’re here to tell you that you losing weight is not the answer. In fact, an over emphasis on looks & appearance tends to lead to increase in body dissatisfaction overall. You are more than your body. The number on your scale doesn’t show your caring nature or eagerness to lend a helpful hand. It doesn’t show your sense of humor or smile that can light up a room. It doesn’t show if you are an amazing roommate, a talented artist, or an inspiring teammate! These are the qualities the people you meet these next 4 years WILL notice– not your pants size. If body image is causing you a lot of distress or leading to harmful eating disorder behaviors, we encourage you to reach out to the campus health center who can help you get set up with a team to support you. Okay, so we’ve debunked the “Freshman 15” myth. How can you prioritize your health & wellness instead?

  • Eating adequate, balanced meals at the dining hall

  • Gaining new friendships & trying out new socialization activities

  • Building a “self care toolbox” – coping skills & stress management techniques to get you through the tough times

  • Trying out new forms of fun, enjoyable movement (especially if you were a high school athlete & chose not to continue playing your sport in college)

  • Getting 8-10 hours of sleep nightly

  • Being mindful of caffeine intake

  • Being safe with alcohol use

For more tips & tricks to navigate college life from a HAES approach, as well as lots of delicious, budget-friendly recipes you can prepare in your dorm room, check out our “Minifridge to Microwave” resource book:


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