"Freshman 15": An Unhealthy Obsession
by Olivia Evans
While the societal pressures of body image become apparent to young women far before their first experiences even as a high school student, the college years are the time in a young woman's life when she becomes most concerned about her weight. Pop culture seems to shine a light on college freshman, particularly those who identify as women, for their weight. This is apparent to everyone who is familiar with the term “Freshman 15,” but it is most apparent to young women who, on top of the vast amount of adjustments that need to be made in one’s first year of college, are already prone to disordered eating habits.
Img. via Instagram
A viral Instagram post from July by @haleytoch ( The creator did not respond to requests for comments on this piece) brought mass attention to the way college lifestyles seem to propagate disordered eating habits and serious eating disorders. College is the first time for many students to live on their own. Disordered eating habits often come from a lack of control, life stressors and previous issues with anxiety– a perfect storm that hits college freshman. According to the Child Mind Institute, eating disorders among young women and men are on the rise among university students. This post centered around the way college lifestyle fetishizes disordered eating habits, much further than the idea of the “Freshman 15” by including criticisms of binge drinking and the idea of “pulling trig.” In the comments section, many polarizing views were held on this critique, citing the idea of pulling trig as a cure for alcohol poisoning. This post seemed to open Pandora’s box– as many fought for and against age old ideas of what college life is supposed to be like. It seems, however, that it is not the students that bring the unhealthy habits to the campus. The atmosphere of college living is a perfect storm for causing disordered eating habits.
Img. via Instagram.
The infamous “Freshman 15” is attributed to a student’s uptake in alcohol consumption, a heavier carb diet due to limited dining hall options, and lack of athletic obligations that one would have had in high school. While these lifestyle changes are completely reasonable reasons for fluctuating weight (and most “Freshman 15’s” are really only between 2-3 pounds), it is important to recognize the unnecessary emphasis on one’s body during university living. Many articles exist around the Internet geared toward young women for tips on how to “avoid the Freshman 15”– some even written by health care professionals. While it is important to promote a healthy lifestyle for college students, there is a fine line between reminding someone to stay healthy, and helping someone avoid gaining healthy weight– encouraging reckless behavior.
As I entered college my freshman year, I was incredibly conscious of the idea of gaining weight during my fall term. As a result, I returned home for winter break at a lower weight than I entered school with. While I deemed this a success at the time, I was not living a healthy lifestyle. I skipped meals constantly and went for long runs or intense workouts on an empty stomach. Some of my weight loss might be attributed to stress upon taking up college course loads, but I had taken up habits to make certain I would not fall into the stereotype of gaining a Freshman 15. I was not alone in this thought process. Many of my high school friends were similarly hyper aware of their weight during their first term of college. In Haley Toch’s Instagram post, she cites many habits that are normalized among college students (such as not eating all day if you know you are going to a party that night) as instigating disordered eating and triggering those who already struggle with eating disorders. Many of us look back to our high school selves and are awestruck at our skinny bodies, but forget that we were never pleased with our weight during that time either. Our culture, further than the confounds of university campuses, has created a world in which disordered eating is normal eating and the strive for beauty is synonymous with skinny. Unhealthy behavior is deemed normal, as long as you do not take it too far. Being skinny is also pushed as an equivalent to being healthy– even if that means you are not sustaining your body with proper nutrients.
Boulder, Colorado is home to some of the “healthiest” people in America. It is well-known to be one of the most active cities in the United States. However, it is also home to the highest levels of eating disorders. The city is known for its active and skinny residents, and also known negative body image appearing among younger and younger groups of school aged children. The University of Colorado at Boulder has one of the highest eating disorder rates among colleges in the United States. The culture that exists in Boulder is superficially perfect, but is clearly having a negative effect on the city’s mental health. The beauty standards and lifestyle standards that have been laid out for us are clearly not sustainable for us to live and function healthily, and yet we continue to allow this definition of “beauty” as skinny to define fashion trends, control our college lifestyle habits and even our own self worth.
These points and ideas obviously are not original, but given the blow-up of Haley Toch’s Instagram post, it is definitely something that needs to be discussed. Emphasis on weight and body image persists everywhere, even places we do not realize. During the height of quarantine, many people were more concerned about their weight gain than the threat of contracting COVID-19. This mentality should not be normalized. It is important to recognize when our relationship with our bodies and weight becomes toxic; where the line between “losing weight” and “getting healthy” exists. Haley Toch’s recommendations to combat the way college promotes unhealthy eating habits: educate yourself, hold others accountable and understand that eating disorders look different for everyone. Further, we are the force that drives this culture. In order to change the way our society looks at beauty, we must change the way we define beauty in ourselves. This recognition of our unhealthy obsession with weight and eating in college should not be a trend, but a lifestyle change.
Olivia Evans is a Low Caliber co-founder. She is currently studying journalism and film. You can find her trying to be artsy on her low quality Instagram @oliviaevans13