By: Charlotte Miller
The Freshman 15.
Spring break body.
Looking skinny in a dress.
I’m not going to eat dinner today.
These are just some of the many phrases I have heard throughout my time in college as a woman. When will it stop? Does it ever stop? As senior year is coming to a close, I could only hope that the people I surround myself with are body-positive by now. Unfortunately, this is not entirely true, and it has been this way for over four years.
Now, this isn’t meant to call out people I know, and I don’t want to sound like a hypocrite when I know I have said body negative phrases before and personally struggled with unhealthy eating habits in the past. What this piece is meant to do is open people’s eyes to the harmful ways we talk about our bodies, body image, and beauty standards on a daily basis in college.
I believe that this toxic diet culture starts as soon as we get to college. We have access to so much more food at all hours of the day & are experiencing new levels of freedom. And thus the ‘freshman 15’ phrase is born. Whoever made this phrase up has some serious explaining to do. How are women, and men for that matter, expected to maintain our high school bodies when we are no longer the same person we were in high school? And no longer in the same environment, or on the same schedule? We are in a new place with pressures to make new friends, fit in, do well in school, and everything else that comes with being a freshman in college. Oh and on top of that, don’t gain any weight? It’s a ridiculous expectation that can lead to so many body image issues that last far beyond freshman year. Women feeling ashamed that they have gained any weight during their first year in college is a product of the societal issues we face with diet culture.
We are no longer getting fed by our parents or playing after-school sports for hours. Freshman year is an adjustment phase where a woman should take care of her mental and physical health, without feeling the pressure to fit into a size 0. This is not only unrealistic, but it is disheartening. Feeling badly about your body after gaining weight freshman year can lead to a constant and persistent battle with food throughout the rest of college. It’s time to recognize, acknowledge, and change that.
No one wants to have a bad relationship with their body, their temple. No one should have a bad relationship with food either. This is much easier said than done, but the first step in this process of self-love and body positivity is recognizing that weight fluctuation is normal. Gaining weight freshman year of college is normal. SO normal that over 60% of people gain weight freshman year of college (Vadeboncoeur et. al, 2015). I am not here to convince you that weight fluctuation in college is normal though. I am here to remind you that the way you talk to your body and the way you talk about your body matters.
There is no such thing as a perfect spring break body. There is no reason you should turn to nicotine to suppress your appetite to lose weight.
Yes, you read that correctly, unfortunately, people do that.
And there is NO reason you should not love and appreciate the body that you are in.
Toxic diet culture in college needs to be canceled.
Not just for our current well-being, but for the future generations of young women entering college. There is no reason you should restrict the number of calories you eat in a day just to fit into a certain size dress society deems as ‘acceptable’. No more skipping meals, no more skipping breakfast, no more only eating one meal a day.
Who taught women that that was healthy?
While I am at it, let’s quickly discuss where drinking fits into this. One thing I have seen so many women do (which I have stupidly done before) is not eating before going out or only eating something small. The thought process behind this is to 1. Eat less to look skinny going out 2. Get drunk easier because of the lack of food in your stomach and 3. Save the calories for the alcohol. This is the epitome of toxic eating habits and disordered eating routines that simply too many women in college participate in. PSA, a piece of toast is not a substitute for dinner before a night of going out and drinking. Your body needs nutrients and vitamins to function, especially when alcohol is involved. By not eating, you are depriving your body of what it needs to be healthy. These toxic eating habits are where it starts. First, you’re skipping a meal before going out, next you’re skipping lunch regularly.
We need to deconstruct the framework that society has taught us about diet culture and create something healthier and more reliable for our mental and physical health. The conversation starts with us. We must rebel against these toxic thoughts that have been ingrained in us, especially in the age of social media. We, as college women, can break down the walls of instilled body dysmorphia and become aware of the way our vocabulary promotes toxic eating and negative body image. I am a huge advocate for healthy living and people being on their own health journey. What works for one person may not work for another. But we know that calorie counting, restrictive eating, and skipping meals works for no one.
As a health-conscious person, I make sure to support my body with love and food, rather than starve, criticize, or hate my body.
What’s my advice? Be kind to your body. Eat nutritious foods and drink a lot of water. Indulge in your cravings! Avoiding eating something that you’re craving just because it is unhealthy is silly because you will never be satisfied.
Do not compare yourself to others. Not every body was built the same, and we should praise the body that we were given. Not everybody has the genes to have a flat stomach or a six-pack, and that is okay.
How can you strive for perfection when perfection does not exist? What exists is you. Your real, authentic, genuine body that does so much for you every day. Let’s change the narrative in our heads that we cannot love our bodies the way they are. You have to choose self-love every day. Once enough people are speaking to themselves kindly and compassionately, the conversations about eating, body image, and beauty standards will shift as well.
Resources for Eating Disorders:
Also, Check Out:
- Hol3health article: Eating Disorders: Shifting the Conversation by Katie Abramowitz
- 10 principles of intuitive eating https://www.intuitiveeating.org/10-principles-of-intuitive-eating/
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(1). doi:10.1186/s40608-015-0051-7