The Freshman 15: Myths and Realities

The freshman 15 is a myth, so recent research shows. According to this article in the  New York Times, freshmen actually gain an average of 2.5 to 3.5 pounds, and the weight gain has little to do with college attendance.

I’m not so sure that was the case when I was in college years ago, though admittedly that was a long time ago! Regardless of national averages, for me, weight gain looked something like 25 pounds, at least by the time I graduated. My friends today question whether or not I really did peak at 145, but indeed I did. As a reality check, I weighed the same during my senior year in college as when I was about to give birth to my child.

Tempted by the fruits beer, sweets and pizza of another

It was a double whammy. I stopped playing basketball and participating in other high school activities at the same time I was introduced to beer and Dominos.  I could down 4-5 beers before “going out” and eat an entire pizza in one sitting. And when I joined a sorority during my sophomore year, I couldn’t resist the temptations of those Chi Omega cooks. Particularly their home-made desserts that called my name in the wee hours of the evening when I was studying.

Even when I started running, my eating frenzy continued. And the more I tried to lose weight, the more I became obsessed over what I was eating.

It was a vicious cycle that I couldn’t break. Not until years later when I changed my eating habits altogether and adopted the concept of moderation.

It’s the end of the world and we know as I once knew it

Substantial weight gain is traumatic for anyone at any age, but I think those college years are particularly vulnerable. They certainly were for me. Though all my friends laughed when I totaled my car while checking out the flavors-of-the-day at TCBY, it was no joke that I’d developed some pretty unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. The poor choices I made resulted in:

An oversized wardrobe. Almost overnight, my clothes’ size doubled, and it was depressing to gaze at my high school wardrobe that no longer fit even part of me. I dreaded those rare moments when I shopped for new clothes as the sizes grew larger and larger.

Ballooning beauty. Some people can handle weight better than others. I’m not one of those lucky souls. I wear my weight in my face and hips (and breasts, the only upside to this affliction). There was something about seeing my face nearly double in size that wasn’t particularly inspiring.

Lackluster living. For a gal with naturally long-lasting batteries, I experienced a noticeable decline in my energy level. (Admittedly, the beer consumption didn’t help!). I can’t remember how many naps I took on my desktop while studying, and even after college, how often I wanted to sleep the afternoon away. Whatever the culprit —a less healthy diet to fuel the day or a slowing metabolism—it was no good to feel bad.

Waning self-confidence. I still remember that night years ago when I was out with friends and a male colleague stopped me in a bar to say, “You might actually be pretty if you lost some weight.” Comments like this, coupled with an absence of dates for football games or formals, sent my self-confidence plummeting. And I can tell you, with all the beautiful women who filled the campus in Chapel Hill, NC, the effect was even more damaging. Feeling bad about yourself is equally as discouraging as feeling bad physically. And the two fed off of each other.

Beat it

I’m glad to hear that average weight gain in college is not as severe as once thought, welcome news amid obesity stats. It’s healthier for kids in more ways than one. As I think back on my college years, what stands out so vividly is that I did my body a disservice. Eating and drinking way outside the limits of moderation was simply not good for me – physically or emotionally.

If I had it to do over, it’s easy to say I’d eat less, drink less beer, and avoid the sorority house after dinner time, among other things. But the reality is that temptations were there – and still are. This is a transitional time in someone’s life. There are new people and places and freedom from parental control. There are pressures from peers and pressures to perform academically. The high school routine is thrown upside down. Each of these makes healthy lifestyle choices all the more difficult.

Weight gain is merely the eye of a storm from which other life consequences emanate.

Hopefully, college kids today make smarter choices than yours truly. But even as we all make mistakes along life’s journey, it’s possible to turn things around, just as I have done.

Healthy choices are within reach, whether we’re 20 or 40 or 60. It’s never too late to beat the bad habits and start again.

Credits to titles of some of my favorite college songs by REM, Squeeze and Michael Jackson.

Melinda Hinson