Failing your first test, getting lost on campus and making new friends are all things that worry freshmen. But for some, the “freshman 15” tops the list.
“Freshman 15” is a colloquial term that refers to the weight gain most students experience during their first year in college. While seemingly harmless, the term can bring up the negative view that looks are the most important part of someone and pressure many students to maintain their weight to an unrealistic extent through huge life changes.
Students who get caught up trying not to gain 15 pounds can end up developing poor eating habits. Dependent on home-cooked meals for most of their childhood, many students might face difficulties in knowing what foods contain and whether they are truly healthy or not. Students rely on diets and working out which seems like a good plan, but a bad diet could be detrimental to their emotional and physical health down the road.
Nutrition professor Marissa Burgermaster said a new environment can affect your weight. In college, students eat out more than they are used to and are thereby exposed to more processed foods.
“These foods are engineered to be tasty and have lots of added sodium, sugar, and fat – often when you least expect it,” Burgermaster said.
Burgermaster said diets are marketed to sound appealing but don’t get the job done in the long run. They get rid of weight quicker than is natural, but it does not stay away.
“This leads to the ‘yo-yo diet’ phenomenon of weight loss and regain.” Burgermaster said.
One ends up gaining more weight than they started out trying to lose. These trendy diets can be frustrating for students because they don’t see positive results with what seems like healthy eating, as one ends up gaining more weight than he or she started out trying to lose. When their plans to stay fit backfire, it affects how they view themselves.
Psychology sophomore Elena Pucceti opened up about experience with weight change during her freshman year. Trying to stay on track with weight was hard to do among the changes of college.
“I went in with a plan to work out,” Puccetti said, “And I did that until I didn’t.”
When she went up a couple of pounds, it was hard for Pucceti to stay positive. She did not feel confident in herself and worried about what people might think of her.
“It ruined my self confidence and self esteem,” Pucceti said. “I felt like going to the gym was not enough.”
The emotional stress that accompanies weight gain can seriously affect students’ mental health. Worrying about their physical appearance and what others may be thinking about them can lead to a downward spiral towards more serious problems.
Local Austin therapist Dianne M. Arnett said because our society is so focused on body image, a change in physical appearance makes one more susceptible to depression and anxiety. This affects college-aged people the most because they are still trying to understand their own bodies and minds.
“If a male or female thinks they are physically unattractive, they can be devastated for a long period of time,” Arnett said, “It is a true syndrome.”
The reality is that gaining weight in a new environment is normal, and negative comments and slang like “freshman 15” add pressure on students to look a certain way. It creates internal and external judgment that pushes expectations and anxiety on students.
“Judgment is something we do all day,” Arnett said. “It helps keep us safe and helps us evaluate what we are doing.” The downside, Arnett said, is that judgment from others can be harmful to someone who has low self-confidence and is already their own worst critic.
Pucceti’s final remarks are the most important. She said students would benefit from not beating themselves up when they gain weight, in order to avoid hurting their emotional health.
“Try to work out, but if you can’t, don’t be too hard on yourself,” Pucceti said.