There are many things I wish I could tell my first-year self. Sometimes I wish I could take everything I have learned, big and small, and package it up into a neat little box that I could have opened up on my first day of college, at the exact moment when my parents drove away and I was left to face the reality that I was now completely and totally on my own. But unfortunately, that isn’t how things work.
My mom has always said that change is the only constant in life. I don’t know which of her yoga instructors told her that, but she’s said it enough times that it stuck with me. When I think about college, I think about that quote, because every year, the only thing I’ve been able to count on is that things will change. Some changes you expect: You’ll change your major, your class schedule, your dorm and maybe even your friends. But there are other changes that you don’t expect. Maybe there are even changes that you don’t want.
My eating habits and my relationship with food changed when I got to college. In some ways, this was inevitable. I could no longer rely on my mom’s delicious home cooked dinners or the abundantly stocked pantry at my house; I had to adapt. I was responsible for feeding myself. And as simple as that seemed, I still found myself feeling overwhelmed. But it wasn’t food itself that was causing me stress. Instead, it was the relentless symphony of comments from my peers; an insidious narrative of fat-phobia unlike anything I had ever encountered. And it had a name: the “Freshman Fifteen”.
For me, talk of the “Freshman Fifteen” veered its head into almost every encounter I had with food during my first few months at school. What began as a collective joke among my friends quickly spiraled into a regular theme in our conversations. There was always someone at the table who was unleashing a self-deprecating “fat” joke or a sympathy-evoking lament about her jeans being too tight. It was ever-present; an elephant in the cafeteria. Even when my friends and I weren’t talking about it, we were still thinking about it. Our paranoia was as accessible as our 24-hour Frank unlimited meal plan swipes. Slices suddenly didn’t taste as good when the entire 20 minute walk back up the hill was spent complaining about how guilty we felt.
It’s hard to navigate the often treacherous waters of taking care of yourself and being independent amid an all-pervasive culture of girls conditioned to be preoccupied with our weight and appearance. But this culture is not a Colgate-specific phenomenon. And to be clear, it’s not a girl-specific phenomenon either.
Looking back, what bothers me most about the “Freshman Fifteen” isn’t that I forced myself to miss out on Frank’s S’mores Bars or that second slice of pizza. What bothers me is the energy I wasted and the time I threw away worrying about something so insignificant. While I was busy trying to “outsmart” the natural fluctuations to my weight, I was also being complicit in a superficial culture that views something biologically inevitable as a sign of weakness or even failure.
There are so many things you will learn in college. But how to hate your body doesn’t have to be one of them. The widespread myth of the “Freshman Fifteen” is a prime example of the normalization of eating disordered talk among college students and in society at large. The myth is fueled by some combination of society’s instictive fear of weight gain and the assumption that when left to their own devices, humans have no self control and will indulge themselves to an extreme. But in my experience, none of this has been true.
What I have found to be true is the advice my mom gave me growing up: change is the only constant. The “Freshman Fifteen” might be an over-blown myth but your weight is going to change. Your eating habits are going to change. Your relationship with your body is going to change. You may not like it at first; you may feel uncomfortable. But it’s okay. Because after that’s over, things are guaranteed to change again. And that’s something you can count on.