Not every new college student is packing on the pounds
By Hannah Turner
The ubiquitous Freshman 15 is dead.
While the lifestyle of college students still lends itself to high stress, overeating, and excessive partying, and while some students still do gain weight in college, many are fighting the trend of gaining 15 pounds or more in freshman year. Some are even replacing it with a Freshman Minus 15.
One of them is Haverford College sophomore Maria Johnson, whose name has been changed at her request. She said “wanted to avoid the Freshman 15 at all costs and possibly lose 10 of my own.” Surrounded by her family’s obesity and her friends’ eating disorders, the athletically-built Johnson had been trying to lose weight for years.
“I thought, when I get to college, my mom won’t be there to tell me to eat so I will finally be able to lose weight. Plus, I will have close access to a gym. It’s the perfect opportunity,” she said.
When she arrived as a freshman, Johnson planned to exercise regularly and minimize snacking and ice cream consumption in order to lose weight. “Some mornings I didn’t eat breakfast but then I would be shaky and weak so I stopped doing that,” she said, but she met her goal and did lose weight._
Haverford freshman Allie Kandel had a similar strategy upon beginning college. Kandel, who called snacking a “dangerous habit”, said she lost six pounds in her first six weeks of college simply by making healthier choices.
Fellow freshman Anna Russell echoed the anti-snacking sentiments, but didn’t know if it had led to any weight loss. “I know that I eat less than I did in high school, simply because I don’t have snack foods available to me,” Russell said. “It’s a set-up that I deliberately created for myself…but…I haven’t been exercising like I did in high school.”
Avoiding the stereotype
Although there are plenty like Johnson, Kandel, and Russell who see college as an opportunity to lose weight, other students simply wanted to avoid the traditional college weight gain.
Haverford sophomore Kelly Lively said that she “didn’t enter college thinking of achieving a Freshman -15. However,” she said, “being aware of the more stereotypical Freshman +15, last year I made sure to stay active…and eat relatively healthy… so that I could stay at my normal weight.”
Haverford freshman Farida Esaa, like Lively, is comfortable with the stability in her weight. Still, her body image and mindset are not immune to the atmosphere set by those who do want to slim down. “I haven’t noticed a change in my weight this semester,” Esaa said. “I do feel very conscious of what I eat though, more so than I did at home.”
The reason behind this silent social pressure may not be clear cut, but many have offered explanations for why some students lose weight. Haverford sophomore Zach Smith cites social psychology as a possible cause. He explained that people tend to notice less differences among everyone else than when they compare themselves to everyone else. It is possible that the fact that 33% of Haverford’s student body that are varsity athletes could make this ‘everyone else’ seems particularly fit or thin, Smith said.
Johnson agreed that the presence of these athletes made her feel worse about not being in shape. Esaa, however, sees their presence as a positive influence on the non-athletes.
“I see people going to the gym, I hear people talking about working out, and a lot of people are involved in sports,” she said. “It makes me want to exercise or be involved in a sport too. This might not be the cause of losing 15 pounds, but it might prevent gaining weight!” Esaa recently joined the Haverford College Triathlon Club, which holds group workouts four times each week.
Mimi Murray, Nutrionist for Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges, said that she has heard students say “it’s hard not to run at Haverford” and voice sentiments like, “I’m not a varsity athlete, but I better look like one because I’m at Haverford.” While exercising more and managing unnecessary snack intake can be healthy ways tp ;pse weight, this peer pressured mindset can extend beyond the realm of fitness into academics and often causes stress for students.
Murray explained that “when stress level goes up we move to a less healthy place.” This place may include increased maladaptive thoughts about food, food restricting, and for some anorexic or bulimic behaviors.
For many students, the combined stress of being away from home and the challenging college academics can add to the impulse behind these negative thoughts, Murray explained. She imagined that students see eating, unlike grades, as an area where they can exert full control.
While the stress of college has a negative impact on many students, but some have used it to their advantage. Haverford sophomore Chris Tyson explained he uses exercise and healthy eating as a release from the mental stress of his academic work.
Esaa said that losing weight in an unhealthy way, like overstressing and undereating, might be “an issue of not taking the responsibility to feed yourself. Since my [period of eating pizza every day],” she said, “I’ve been able to make myself decent meals in the dining center, and I feel like it is a part of the ‘growing up’ thing that freshman have to do. Learn how to feed yourself and be healthy.”
So, while the traditional Freshman 15 was not healthy and the new Freshman Negative 15 is not always healthy, there is evidence today’s college students are working to reach a happy middle ground.