The “Freshman Fifteen” Fallacy

The “freshman 15” was something I dreamed about in the days leading up to Colgate. An unlimited meal plan, drawers stocked full of my favorite snacks and late-night pizza runs were certain to do the trick. Hamilton was the perfect place for me to pack on the pounds, hibernate for winter and come out in the spring, ready to jiggle my way to class. Nearly eight months later here I am, sitting at my desk amid Kudos bar wrappers, emptied bags of caramel corn and residue from my night of downing large quantities of buffalo chicken with no discernible sign of a “baby bump”, “beer belly” or “pepperonis”. Where has the infamous “freshman 15” gone?

Curious as George, I quickly typed “freshman 15” into Google news, half expecting the little correction notification, “Did you mean: first-year 15,” to pop up. The most recent article published was from Monday, so I browsed through it to find clues as to where my love handles could be found. According to the authors, who teach at Auburn University in Alabama, the average college student goes home for the summer weighing only 4.8 pounds more than when they departed eight months before. As I read through the article, my heart seemed to perk up at the prospect of a new generation made of individuals with clean arteries, single digit body fat counts and demolition of the word “obese”. Realistically, though, how applicable was the Auburn study to the rest of the country, or the Colgate freshman population, for that matter?

To put the whole “fresh five” into a relevant perspective, I sent out a four-question survey to the entire Colgate class of ’11. After approximately 305 anonymous responses, my results were wholesome, hearty and more surprising than the persisting lack of digestible food at Frank. My first question asked how much weight, if any, the freshmen had gained over the course of these past two semesters. When comparing to the national average, it was not surprising that 45 percent of students gained between zero and five pounds, but what was shocking was the fact that 25 percent actually lost weight! Another 20 percent gained a token six to ten pounds, while only ten percent gained over ten pounds. Overall, the average weight gain of a Colgate freshman is lower than the new national average, a noteworthy statistic that has earned us the title “Second Fittest College” by Men’s Fitness magazine in 2006.

As a student in the “I lost weight!” demographic, I can speculate endlessly as to why I shaved off what the average student gains in a year, but, according to my survey, one factor that effectively counters the bloat is participation in a club, intramural or varsity-level sport. A whopping 6 percent of first year students at Colgate have been members of a sports team, while a majority of the minority works out on a semi-, or regular basis. While being on a sports team can keep you toned, it can also lead to weight gain, which some may accidentally perceive to be the frosh 15. Of surveyed students, 15 percent said that part or all of what they gained was muscle, while factors like “lack of exercise”, stress, and “the unlimited meal plan” each hovered in the 20 percent range. Not surprisingly, alcohol was to blame 22 percent of the time, proving that the “beer belly” is still alive, rampant and vindictive. Typed responses contributed seven percent, and included “unhealthy dining options”, “binge eating”, “Slices”, “boredom” and “Frank”. Some of the more creative responses were “my mommy wasn’t here to tell me what to eat”, “Frank’s evil conspiracy to keep the freshman 15 alive at Colgate and counter balance the healthful benefits of walking up and down the hill” and “weed”. With all of these delectable, calorie-laden temptations around us, what caused the dreaded “15” to so abruptly transform into a measly “five”?

In a world where five-year-old girls are more afraid of becoming fat than dying, it is no surprise that our generation has deflected the ever present, very real threat of weight gain in college. We’ve matured in a society with embarrassing statistics on teen obesity, redundant proof of the link between health problems and being overweight and the damnation of television, processed foods and McDonalds. That pressure, in addition to the overbearing portrayal of the “ideal man/woman” by the media, makes for a tough environment for a socially conscious human being to persevere in stagnation and chubs without repercussions. On a micro-level, Colgate is not a “be-comfortable-in-your-own-skin”-friendly community as perceived by soon-to-be sophomores, 85 percent of who feel that there is noticeable pressure to be thin or in good shape. Only seven percent deny feeling pressured, while the remaining eight percent could not tell. With numbers like these it is impossible to deny that the cliché, “beauty is only skin-deep,” falls time and time again on ears that, although not deaf, may have forgotten what individuality sounds like. Despite the recent glorification of “normal” sized people (i.e. Queen Latifah, Jonah Hill, Dove soap women and Jack Black), our pervading thoughts are still on the elimination of what we might be naturally inclined to have.

So where has the freshman 15 gone? Its lost in the world of monitoring carbs, feverish exercise and sub-par dining options, reduced by the push for double-zero-sized models and left in the dust by a society that wants to run from deathly heart conditions. As we reach finals week and the promised pizza prize is awarded, do not think about my article, go crazy and live the last few weeks of this year as if calories are the new oxygen – after all, we will be deprived of Frank for the next four months.