So, the time has finally come! You’ve packed your bags, you’ve picked out your cute dorm accessories, and you are ready to embark on one of the most exciting journeys of your life – your freshman year in college in finally here! You can’t wait for your newfound independence and the friendships you are about to make that will last a lifetime. There’s only one problem – the dreaded “freshman 15!” There’s no doubt that you have been warned by many that there’s nothing you can do to avoid the weight gain of your freshman year – and these stories are passed down throughout the generations like clockwork and are simply accepted as fact. As you approach your freshman year, maybe these stories are beginning to worry you a bit or making you think about how or what you will need to do to keep this from happening to you!
Well, we want you to ask yourself what would change if you found out that everything you have heard about the freshman 15 was a myth! Yes, you heard us correctly, we are suggesting that everything you have heard about the inevitable 15lb weight gain in your freshman year is a simply a myth and there is some strong data to back up what we are saying!
In contrast to popular belief, there is little to no sound evidence behind the theory of the freshman 15. In fact, one recent studies examining the concept of the freshman 15 found it to be a complete myth, with no significant weight gain shown in freshman completing their first year in school (Graham & Jones, 2010)! In addition, a large meta-analysis reviewing many studies on the freshman 15 found that less than 10% of all college students actually gain 15lbs in their first year (Vadeboncoeur, Townsend, & Foster, 2015), which means that over 90% do NOT have this issue we have all been made to fear! In addition, another large meta-analysis of 49 studies exploring weight changes throughout the entire college experience, showed an average of minimal weight gain of only 1.55kg (about 3.5lbs) in all four years of college (Fedewa, Das, Evans, & Dishman, 2014). However, what’s even more concerning is that researchers have shown that those students who were worried about the freshman 15 myth were found to have more problematic body image, more worry thoughts about their weight and more likely to think they were overweight than those who were not worried about the freshman 15. As body image experts at the Conscious Coaching Collective, this is particularly concerning for us, as we see the devastating effects that poor body image has on women in our daily practice!
Being overly focused on body image and weight has a definite negative impact in all areas of college life, including ability to focus in school, ability to be present in social relationships, and possibly setting a person up for negative outcomes in romantic relationships, and of course, potentially dangerous to one’s health as eating disorders and other such issues sometimes develop out of body image issues! When working with young women, we always challenge them to consider that the way we view our appearance on the outside is very much influenced by the way we feel about ourselves emotionally on the inside. Therefore, if you find yourself not liking what you see on your outer appearance, we challenge you to consider how this might be influenced by the internal uncertainty you are feeling about this new experience in your life.
In addition, if you do notice yourself gaining weight during your freshman year, do not panic – instead, we recommend checking in on some of the following possibilities:
Assess the type of hunger you are experiencing – At the CCC, we like to encourage people to consider hunger in terms of mouth hunger vs. stomach hunger. Ask yourself, are you eating out of “stomach hunger” (ie., you are listening to your body cues and you are having a physical sensation of hunger coming from your stomach, not your mind, that is at about a 7 out of 10 – this is actual physical hunger) vs. “mouth hunger” (i.e., you are craving the taste or the feeling you get from eating a certain thing rather than feeling physically hungry – this is not physical in nature, but rather emotional in nature).
Handle your emotional hunger in emotional ways – When you realize you are trying to solve emotional issues through physical means, such as food, ask yourself what else you need that you are not giving yourself. Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling scared? When you identify the emotion or thoughts behind the craving, tend to that emotional need directly instead of using food. Try asking for support, taking a break from studying, resting from the “shoulds” in your life, etc.
Practice regular self-care – Recognize that college is a very exciting, yet taxing, time with lots of new stressors to learn how to manage. This means that you are going to experience more stress in reaction to the stressors and therefore, you need to compensate for this by learning to practice regular self-care. Simple things can help with this, such as balancing downtime with academics, talking to family and friend supports about stressors, engaging in moderate physical activity, or just taking a minute to brief deeply in a relaxing environment, etc. The more we practice self-care, the more capable we are to handle the on-going demands of the college environment.
Utilize campus resources – Many colleges have amazing resources available to students and these resources are often under-utilized. If you are feeling overwhelmed and noticing excessive weight gain or other concerning symptoms, we recommend making an appointment with your campus counseling center, health center, and/or dietician services. These resources are there to guide you and can be extremely supportive in making the most of your freshman year!
Finally, if you find yourself becoming overly focused on weight and shape and see that it is impacting your daily living, it may be time to make sure that you are really seeking professional support. Body image concerns can easily morph into eating disorders or disordered eating during stressful times, such as college, and catching those issues early is key to a successful outcome! Remember, you are more than a number on a scale or a grade on a paper – reminding yourself of this can go a long way!
For more information, tips, and help, you can visit The Food Shift!
Article by HNS Advisory Board Members:
Ariane Machin, PhD, Co-founder, The Conscious Coaching Collective
Kelsey M. Latimer, PhD, Co-founder, The Conscious Coaching Collective
Fedewa, M., Das, B., Evans, E., & Dishman, R. (2014). Change in weight and adiposity in college students: A systematic review and meta-analysis. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 47(5), 641-652.
Graham, M. & Jones, A. (2010). Freshman 15: Valid theory or harmful myth? Journal of American College Health, 50(4), 171-173.
Vadeboncoeur, C., Townsend, N., & Foster, C. (2015). A meta-analysis of weight gain in first year university students: is freshman 15 a myth? BMC Obesity, 2(22),