Don’t Let the Freshman 15 Hype Harm You

Roommate disputes, all night study sessions, and the Freshman 15: one of these does not belong! (Pic is my Freshman year dorm at Ohio U.)

Which of these are to be expected the first year of college:

  1. roommate battles
  2. all night study sessions
  3. an extra 15 pounds+ around the middle
  4. All of the above
  5. 1 and 2 yet not 3
  6. I plead the fifth since it’s the first week of class

Roommate battles and all nighters are a part of the college experience yet weight gain is not a sure thing. I want to spend a few moments clarifying the Freshman 15 myth.

Yes, it is a myth. Started somewhere around 1985 during our nonfat hysteria. And, just like the kidney heist and other urban legends, it now has a feel of fact when it is not.

Adolescent development includes increases in height and weight with corresponding increased energy needs. For many, there are periods of rapid weight gain prior to the height increases and vice versa. For example, most girls gain 30 to 50 pounds during the 2 years before and after starting menarche. This is to be expected and it is very important. Without it, the girl will have impaired estrogen thus impaired bone health, impacted height, and possibly impacted fertility. Lower estrogen can even affect her mood making her susceptible to feelings of depression. Literally, not gaining enough weight affects her mind and body.

Move in day at my Graduate School, UNCG

Surprising factoid: adolescence is through the age of 23. And, during the last part of puberty (18 to 23 years of age), the average adolescent is supposed to gain 7 to 10 pounds. Let’s put this together: typical adolescent graduates high school and transitions to college somewhere between 17 and 19. Adolescent spends 4ish years there. Is college to blame for a weight change if any? Or even more importantly, why are we punishing the college student’s own biology just trying to do her requirements for adequate development?

This is why I make a stink about this: high school students start worrying about the Freshman 15 somewhere between 10th and 11th grade. Worried and panicked because they think their body will spiral out of their control like it or not and there is nothing to do about it. That is what they hear when they read the media’s Freshman 15 articles. Many start to monitor and restrict their foods in preparation YEARS in advance.

I see more new eating disorder clients during July, August, and September than any of other time of year. This transition to college is a huge change and that alone can place someone at risk for developing a mental health concern. Changes are tough! So, combine this tough change with all the food talk and worry POOF! an eating disorder is born.

Let’s put the Freshman 15 panic aside where it belongs. Panic promotes impulsive choices that can often do more harm than good. Instead, let’s talk about how to maintain mental and physical health while you transition to college:

  • Trust your body. Your body has the knowledge to keep your body promoting health.When you experience physical hunger, eat. When you feel fullness and satisfaction, end the meal. For more on how to do this, look into this.
  • You will experience more symbolic hunger with this transition to college. Symbolic hungers (a term I learned from Dr. Barbara Birsinger RD) are your unmet needs. Notice what you need and explore different ways to meet them.
  • Notice how your body wants to move. College offers more choices in movement and what a great time to try yoga, meditation, rock climbing, or zumba. Check in with what your body enjoys and what helps it feel better (more relaxed or more energized). Cool bonus: great way to meet friends!
  • If you feel yourself craving food outside of hunger, consider it a gentle sign of unmet needs. Cravings need not be ignored or shamed away.

Body love promotes health.

Jess Weiner, body image activist, wrote a recent Glamour Magazine article: Jess Weiner’s Weight Struggle: “Loving My Body Almost Killed Me. Earthquake-like experiences flow through the eating disorder and Health at Every Size (HAES) communities with this courageous article. I am an active member within both communities and reading this article has been like learning Dr. Dean Ornish is now following the Atkins Diet. A body image warrior is on a diet.
Part of the debate focuses on whether Ms. Weiner is focusing on health or weight loss or both. This matters significantly because mindful eating experts value health and health promotion without calorie restriction. Mindful eating, a core principle within HAES, also focuses on behaviors that help a body feel healthier. Weight loss can be a side effect of this yet weight loss is not a behavior. It can’t be predicted and it’s not as important as the behavior change.
Ms. Weiner is honestly talking about both health and weight loss. And, although her experiences are her own, I respectfully (I do own her books!) disagree with some of her assumptions based on her own body loving experiences.
Ms. Weiner describes her body acceptance leading to unhealthy eating and exercise choices with proud permission to do so. Further, I am led to believe that in her description, loving one’s body is mutually exclusive with not choosing health promoting food and movement. 
As a strong proponent of HAES, I’m saddened this article equates self acceptance with promoting unhealthy eating, exercising, and living. That sounds more like a teenager rebelling against an over-controlling parental voice. If you’ve met with me in individually, you may have discussed this exact experience. Many people who’ve experienced disordered eating and/or years of diets will notice this teenage-like rebellion message. It is part of the process of healing. And, when acknowledged and sorted through, it is temporary. It is not HAES or loving one’s body. The rebellious teen voice contributes to another external motivator to eat or exercise. Just like a diet.
Loving one’s body is living in the present with it. Mindfulness allows the body to talk to the mind and vice versa. It is being aware of the conversations between the two and how they influence each other. Loving one’s body using a HAES approach seeks to unite mind and body while calmly, in one’s adult voice, letting the teenager and parent in your brain know they aren’t needed right now. 
I hope Ms. Weiner experiences health while she loves her body. At the same time. Listening for her adult voice, she can experience both.

Airborne remotes and projectile shoes: Watching TV with me

Watching TV with me can be a scary event. I often throw things plus you may hear an f-bomb or two. Common experiences include:

“What!?!? What the f*#$??? (Husband quickly ducks missing airborne remote and projectile shoe.) I wanna kick their a&&es and punch them in the face! How dare they tell us not to trust our bodies. Give me a f*&%$ing piece of paper…I am going to write them a letter.”

These outbursts stem from commercials lurking for their prey: the vulnerable woman’s psyche. They all seem to have a few common themes:

1.) We all need to lose weight. I realize our country is experiencing an obesity epidemic and half of the country is overweight or obese. What they fail to realize is half of the country is not overweight or obese. Maybe the diet industry does realize this yet they would miss out on profits. Very sneaky to try and convince otherwise intelligent women their bodies are not OK.

2.) Shame on you if you are not dieting. I wish the advertisers would consider the research: shaming those who need to lose weight has been proven to be ineffective. Instead, it is damaging and promotes over eating. Oh wait. Eating more would make women buy more diet products. These diet industry folks are smarter than the credit I give them.

3.) Do not trust your body because it is lying to you. Many diet focused commercials lead us to believe hunger is similar to the calm before a tornado. You are asking for trouble if you choose to sit on a porch swing sipping iced tea in the calm before the tornado. Commercial messages teach us responding to hunger patiently and calmly will lead to a never ending binge ruining all the effort put into the day’s diet thus rendering us plump victims of our own desires. One currently on my sh@! list demonstrating my point:

This commercial paints a dreadful picture of a woman’s fate during the night: predetermined bad luck as demonstrated by the black cat crossing her path to the kitchen as well as her victimization by her biological hunger or cravings. Allowing a person to connect with the physical craving for a food would clearly ruin everything, according to Special K. They seem to point out how we should be fearful of what is hiding from us in the kitchen since it is eagerly awaiting our arrival.

I stopped believing in things like the Boogie Man when I was nine. Imaginary creatures are not waiting to pounce on us at night and this includes food. We, as humans, do not need to fear food. Nor, do we need to fear our hunger. Franklin Roosevelt’s famous quote, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself” seems to hit home the point I am trying to make. The more a woman fears hunger or food, the more fearful it becomes. I believe the diet industry plays with and exploits this fear to pay for their yachts and Ferrari’s.

Our bodies were designed to let us know when we need fuel. This may happen at normal meal times or it may happen at 9:13 pm. Do not judge this. Listen to it. Give it what it needs. When the hunger is gone, you will know you have fueled appropriately.

Any commercials bug you? Any send you mixed messages pointing out your food weaknesses in order to sell their product? Vent here: your remote control and shoe will thank you.

I Feel the Power of the Pen!

I admit it. I am a junkie. I just cannot stop and I am not ashamed to finally admit: I am addicted to writing letters to the editor.

I feel passionate about healing food relationships as well as reconnecting the mind-body-food connections. I work tirelessly from my soul to help those who live life disconnected to their body’s accurate food fuel tracker. My clients spend many hours trying to undo their feed-like-dieting wired mind.

I think it is understandable then when I blow up after reading, seeing, or otherwise experiencing pro-diet ads including commercials, commentaries, and stories. Since I am limited to spread my message to those who voluntarily walk through my office door, I have found the power of the pen as a means to vent my disgruntled and anti-diet zealot message.

I feel overwhelmed at times by the saturated diet obsessed media. I probably write a letter to the editor to someone every week. Of course, January and the start of summer push dieting more…I write one per day then.

I realize most of my letters were destined for a trash bin. They were not flashy nor did they promise 24-hour weight loss. I got over it as I found the letter writing therapeutically helped me to release my built up tension fighting main stream culture and society.

I am grateful to note that one of my letters to the editor will finally be published. I feel so heard and finally little less misunderstood!

The letter will be in May 2007’s Marie Claire magazine. In case you do not get a chance to pick it up, here it is:

A woman once told me each of her diets ended with 3 emotional blows: she became a failure, a quitter, and she was still fat. Thank you for the enlightening interview with Susie Orbach and sharing her view of a diet’s physical and mental damage to women. I think it is unfortunate the diet industry disconnected a woman’s trust in herself and love for her natural shape. My hope is to see more empowering articles like this one and less that shame a woman into starvation and self punishment.