An Open Letter About The Freshman 15

Dear College Freshman,

You’re about to embark on an incredible new journey. You are probably experiencing “all the feels” right now– I know I did. It’s perfectly normal to feel excited, anxious, happy and maybe even a little sad. The transition to college is a big one. For many of you, this is the first time in your life that you will have complete freedom to do what you want, when you want. You get to decide how you spend your time, who you spend your time with and who you want to be.

As a registered dietitian and recent college graduate, I have one piece of advice for you:

Don’t waste your time dieting or worrying about the “Freshman 15”.

According to a study published in the Journal of American College Health, “The belief that college students gain 15 lbs during freshman year is widespread, yet the evidence for this is limited.”¹

The freshman 15 is just another fear-inducing tactic that our fat-phobic diet culture uses to promote it’s 60 billion dollar industry.

So what if you do gain weight….what if you do gain the freshman 15, or more? Should you be worried? Should you start dieting?

Absolutely not.

Although there is a common myth that our bodies stop developing around the age of 18, this simply isn’t true. In a study conducted on women in their 20s, researchers found that women in this age range are highly active in regards to biological development, meaning that it’s very common (even expected) for women to experience many bodily changes in development during this time, from bone development to brain functioning to metabolism to weight distribution.² If you’re not engaging in disordered eating behaviors or dieting behaviors, it’s very likely that your body is just continuing to grow and develop into it’s healthy set point, in the way it best seems fit.

So what is your set point weight?

Your set point weight is the weight range you maintain when you respect your body’s hunger and fullness cues and are not trying to manipulate your body weight, shape, or size through dieting, excessive exercise, or other self-destructive compensatory behaviors. Your set point is maintained with little to no effort. For adults (who have fully developed) that do not consciously try to control their body size, their weight is remarkably stable over time.³

Dieting will only throw things out of whack, typically leading to sporadic weight loss and weight regain, disordered eating patterns, preoccupation with food, social isolation, or all of the above.

I know this not only from the large body of evidence-based research, but also from my very own lived experience.

In college I fell into the trap of dieting and disordered eating, which eventually transitioned into a full-blown eating disorder. After my freshman year of college, I had gained a couple of pounds and believed the lie that I needed to diet in order to get back to my pre-college weight. I spent hours counting calories, meal planning, and exercising in order to manipulate my weight and body shape. I can’t count the number of times I turned down invitations to lunch, dinner, or coffee all because I was too afraid to eat foods that weren’t “on my diet”. I missed out on many opportunities to build relationships and make memories with other people, all because of one innocent decision to start dieting, to avoid gaining the freshman 15.

Where am I five years later? My set point range is back to where it was before I started dieting. What does this tell me?

I wasted 3 years of my life chasing after a weight that my body would never allow me to settle in.

Don’t waste your college experience on dieting. Take it from me– it’s not worth it.

Instead, embrace the opportunity to develop into the person you want to be. Develop convictions. Pursue your passions. Build relationships. Go on dates. Take road trips. Change your major. Study what excites you. Visit another country. Go on a mission trip. Cheer on your sports teams. Go out to eat. Experiment in the kitchen. Have dinner with your roommates. Don’t let diet culture decide for you who you should be and how you should live your life. And most importantly- have fun!

1. Mihalopoulos N, Auinger P, Klein JD. The Freshman 15: Is it Real? J Am Coll Health. 2008;56(5):531-533.

2. Thorpe JR. How Women’s Bodies Change In Their 20s. Bustle. Published April 25, 2018. Accessed August 15, 2018.

3. Tribole E, Resch E. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works. New York: St. Martins Griffin; 2012.

Photo: Pexels // antas singh–

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