There are certain mythos surrounding the first year of college. These legends normally begin to cloud eager freshmen minds, but not with positive thoughts.
Fears of making it past the first semester intermingle with thoughts of trying to balance relaxation and studying. All of the negative thoughts feed into the inevitable one thing weighing down on millions of college students every day.
The dreaded “Freshman 15.” It can be unnerving for some to look at, even in text. The "Freshman 15" refers to the supposedly inevitable gaining of 15 pounds every freshman must endure during their first year of college. But it is about more than just the weight.
It is the embodiment of paranoia, self-consciousness and, above all, it is the one thought most students feel on their entryway to college. Over thinking can impact a person on a serious emotional level, and in some cases it can even influence actions.
Olivia Daley, a sophomore biology major, says the “Freshman 15” and its notoriety was something burned into her mind her freshman year.
“After my freshman year and avoiding the ‘Freshman 15’ like the plague, I was in a solid routine of going to the gym everyday and not eating out and stuff like that,” Daley said. “It made going home hard because there, I didn't have a gym membership and my parents tended to eat out a ton, so that was a struggle.”
While she believes the "Freshman 15" exists, Daley says its power has grown strong enough to cause other reactions.
“I think it is definitely a thing,” Daley said. “You move away from home and all of a sudden you determine your eating habits. I think people either aren't really concerned about it and eat, drink and exercise as they want or they get so concerned about it that they end up losing weight.”
Daley’s assumptions seem to carry some weight. In the past couple of years there have been more studies not only disproving the existence of the “Freshman 15,” but these studies have shown a trend in increases eating disorders in college students.
According to a blog post from Center for Discovery (CFD), an organization focused on providing care and advice for young adults with eating disorders and abuse history, the “Freshman 15” is nothing more than a myth. The company says the college urban legend, while managing to have some information backing it up more than 10 years ago, has lost many of the statistics holding it together.
“An Auburn University four year study on weight gain during college was published in the Canadian Journal and found that students on average only gained 12 pounds during their entire four years in school,” the CFD blog post said. “The perpetuation and longevity of this myth has only contributed to the anxiety felt by incoming freshmen in college.”
The CFD blog also went on to expand on what the "Freshman 15," or lack thereof, means in regards to the psyche of college students everywhere.
“The stigma, and consequently the danger, surrounding the term ‘Freshman 15’ can lead to the development or triggering of an eating disorder before a student even steps foot on campus,” the CDF blog said. “Obsessing over not gaining the ‘Freshman 15’ can inevitably result in anorexia, bulimia, orthorexia (a condition where a person obsesses over healthy dieting) or a selective eating disorder.”
Information related to the debunking of the “Freshman 15” is not exclusive to statistics and research though. Thanks to the increase in use of social media in the past decade, college students especially get the opportunity to see through small window sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram present when it comes to body image.
Social media is a place where millions post best-case scenario pictures and statuses, creating false perceptions for many of what life should be like.
These perceptions create incidents everyday where regular students go through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
Alaina Anderson, a St. Mary’s college alumna, saw the effects of the “Freshman 15” on her roommate. Anderson shared the story about her friend on College Magazine’s website.
“She refused to go to the dining hall because the food wasn’t healthy enough,” Anderson said. “She chewed gum and ate ice all the time to trick her brain into thinking she was eating. Her spunky attitude was gone, replaced with constant fatigue. She worked out at least two, if not three times a day.”
Anderson eventually realized the “Freshman 15” and eating disorders in general are related more to the mind than many like to believe.
“My beautiful friend was losing herself and I had no idea how to help,” Anderson said. “Anorexia is a physical and mental illness that is very hard to reverse. My mind couldn’t understand her logic for being anorexic, but then I realized her mind couldn’t understand it either. It took me a while, but I finally learned how to handle the situation.”
Miranda Klabunde, senior elementary education major, is a Bearcat who experienced the effects of the “Freshman 15” too.
“I also have a friend who ended up losing more weight than normal and was trying to eat so healthy that it led her to having an eating disorder,” Klabunde said. “Before I came to college I heard about the ‘Freshman 15,’ but I did not think too much of it. I thought people mostly gained weight when they went to college because of drinking.”
For those who fear they or a loved one may be dealing with any type of eating disorder can check out some of the many resources available to the public. Through the campus website, there is a site, called Body U, dedicated for individuals to learn more about potential diagnoses. The website will even show how to build better and healthier eating habits with a specialized app.
According to Body U’s website, the program offered by St. Louis Washington University is proven to build better eating habits, improve body image and has even shown to reduce disordered eating behavior by 50 percent.
On a larger scale there is also the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), an organization focused not only one eating disorders, but mental health too. Campuses offer resources like these to combat things like the “Freshman 15,” as it is a massive offender when it comes to the battle against eating disorders.
The “Freshman 15,” as fearful as it is, has a catalogue of information against its existence. Eating healthy foods and staying active is a great way to keep the body in shape, but there are limits to everything and eating less is not going to help anyone either.
It’s mostly a battle of the mind when it comes to one of the most infamous college myths of the last two decades.