College Mental Health Eating Disorders

College Weight Gain: Don’t Fear The Freshman 15!

Let’s not fear college weight gain—let’s normalize it!

College students throughout the US are heading off to their first year of college. Most are excited and also a little anxious. Among the common worries: Will I get along with my roommate? Will I make friends? Will I be able to keep up with the academics?

Unfortunately, because we are in a fatphobic society, young adults heading off to college may also be worrying, “Will I gain the freshman 15?” It is such a sad commentary on our society that this may be at the forefront of our incoming college students’ concerns.

Aleksandra Sapozhnikova, Unsplash

The “Freshman 15” is a Myth

In 2014, Olga Khazan, in an Atlantic article dispelled the myth of the “Freshman 15.” The “Freshman 10” was first referenced in a New York Times article about Jodie Foster in 1981. In 1989 Seventeen Magazine re-coined it as the “Freshman 15.” However, research has not even supported that the freshman 15 actually happens. Not all college students gain weight. 

Weight Gain in College is Expected

What none of these articles fail to mention is that all humans are expected to continue to gain weight until at least age 21. Even after reaching adult height, young men and women still gain weight as indicated by the below growth curves. What these demonstrate is a continued upward trend between ages 18 and 20. Your body is still developing. 

In fact, worrying about the “Freshman 15” has been cited as a contributor to eating disorders and disordered eating. This is much more serious and consequential than gaining the expected 3—or even more—pounds.  

Instead of fear-mongering around weight gain, we need to normalize that this is important critical weight gain that one needs to become a healthy adult. We need to lean into body growth and development instead of avoiding it. 

Eating Disorders in College Are the Real Danger

College is a common time for eating disorders to emerge or reemerge. Thus, it is important to be vigilant and guard against the development of an eating disorder. This can be extremely challenging when the college environment reinforces fatphobic messaging. Diet Culture messages are all over college campuses, especially in Los Angeles

A Better Course of Action for the College Student

So, the freshman 15 is not a real thing. Rather than focusing on avoiding weight gain, focus on eating enough. Regular eating for a college student should be 3 meals and 1 to 3 snacks per day. Meals should comprise all the food groups. Don’t restrict or diet. If you do, you risk missing out on the joy of eating and socializing. 

Ensure you fuel enough for any additional activity and take rest days from sports or exercise. Ensure you get the full college experience. This includes meals with friends, drinking responsibly, and late-night pizzas. 

Be aware of messaging that you need to control your body and try to remain the same weight or smaller.  These messages may come from peers, institutions, and health professionals. Educate yourself about diet culture and how to stand up to it. 

Focus on appreciating your body for its current abilities and what it allows you to do. Fight for acceptance of all body sizes so that people in all bodies are free from stigma and know their value. 

When your body changes, embrace it. Our bodies change throughout our lives and this is normal. Remember your inner child who wanted to be grown up. 

Watch for Signs of An Eating Disorder in College

If you notice that you are becoming increasingly preoccupied with your shape or size, what to eat, and how much to exercise, please seek help. Don’t wait for things to get more serious. Eating disorders can progress quickly. Early intervention can help.

For Parents of College Students

If you are a parent of a new college student, talk to them about the expectation that they will gain weight in a positive way. Normalize it and help them embrace all the things their grown-up body will be able to do. Discourage them from dieting and let them know their body size is acceptable where it is now and where it might go—wherever that is. Watch for signs of an eating disorder developing in your college student.

Help for College Students in California

Our eating disorder specialist therapists provide counseling for college students with eating disorders. We can provide therapy in our office in Los Angeles or online counseling to college students throughout California. Contact us for more information or to get started on your therapy journey.

Join our College Process Group

We are also running a process group for college students with eating disorders.

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