Freshman year of college is filled with a lot of firsts. It may be the first time a student is away from home, the first time they are living on their own and the first time they are completely in charge of themselves. With these firsts also come new eating habits, which can contribute to what society coins the “freshman 15.”
The freshman 15 is the idea that most students gain an average of 15 pounds during their first year of college. With the plentiful and diverse amount of food options available on campus, it can be hard to maintain the diet a student once had at home. Depending on the new diet, this may cause weight gain and even negative perceptions of body image.
Laurie Fritsch, assistant director of Hokie Wellness, provides insight into the freshman 15 and its negative impact on body image ideals.
“So the freshman 15, first of all, good news, is a myth,” Fritsch said. “The real average is 7.5 pounds of weight gain, so not nearly the 15 that is coined in the ‘freshman 15’ phrase.”
Fritsch cites a study in which the validity of this societal stereotype is tested. While some students may lose or maintain weight, on average, 60% of students gain 7.5 pounds. For students struggling with the concept of the freshman 15, this may come as a relief.
“Students in college are going to a new environment where they are in control of what they eat and how often they eat it,” Fritsch said. “They are for the first time in control of their menu and their portion sizes.”
When I first arrived on campus, I was overwhelmed by the different food options available on campus. I was looking forward to the late-night snacks at the DX and the all-you-can-eat dinners at D2. Although I may not like to admit it, I began taking advantage of these options because I was in control of my diet for the first time. Depending on what students choose to eat, their weight may reflect this new diet.
“Students are also no longer involved in the same fashion of sports,” Fritsch said.
Some students come from schools where they were involved in multiple sports. When coming to college, it can be hard to find replacements for these activities. With the structure of high school sports in the past, it is now up to students to decide how and when they choose to exercise. This becomes another factor impacting their weight.
Fritsch also cites stress and emotional eating, alcohol consumption and increasing age as contributors to weight gain.
It is no secret that gaining weight can sometimes make us feel insecure about our body image. After about a month on campus, I began doubting my own eating habits and focused more on how my body had changed since arriving on campus in the fall. One of the biggest influences that contributed to this feeling was social media.
“We’re all in this world, especially with social media, where this appearance ideal, whether it’s the very thin, toned, beautiful woman or the buff, muscular guy is fed to us,” Fritsch said. “So when we go into college and we start to see our weight creep up, even if it’s for natural reasons, it makes us feel like we’re not successful; our relationships are not deserved if we do not maintain a certain level of that appearance ideal.”
Social media has become a part of our daily lives. Whether you’re scrolling through a model’s page on Instagram, or watching “what I eat in a day” videos on Tik Tok, it can be hard to feel positive about your body when society constantly compares us to one another. This then causes some to doubt their bodies and even their successes in life.
However, Virginia Tech has many resources available to students who are struggling with body image whether it be a result of the freshman 15 or not. Fritsch, the advisor for the Sorority Body Project Peer Educators, recommends attending some of their sessions.
“That is a group of 20 women who are trained to teach a four-hour program called ‘The Body Project’ to other sorority women,” Fritsch said. “It is evidence-based and has been shown to reduce the onset of eating disorders and increase body image satisfaction in just four hours.”
Fritsch also co-supervises a group called the Health Education and Awareness Team.
“Those students are trained to teach others on a variety of health topics to anyone who wants to come,” Fritsch said. “It is not sorority- or fraternity-specific and they also teach The Body Project classes.”
Hokie Wellness also teaches other classes ranging from nutrition, sleep, stress management and healthy social media classes. These classes are open to all students and are available throughout the semester. If a student is struggling with body image, or simply adjusting to college life, know that there are many resources available to help.
“Weight should not be a value,” Fritsch said. “How we perform in school, how we treat others, how we contribute to society, those are our values that contribute to the fabric of who we are.”
The freshman 15 does not have to be a scary concept. In fact, it has already been proven to be a myth. Although students may gain weight in college, it does not need to be a reflection of who we are as a person or our self-worth. Society needs to normalize weight fluctuation, not use it as a platform to promote negative body image ideals.