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.

The Anti-Diet Zealot.

Spending time this week at the IAEDP (International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals aka my people) conference. I will be back soon with many more tools in my toolbox. In my absence, please note what I think about diets:

Shaming NEVER Promotes Health.

Shaming a person NEVER promotes health. Or, anything good.

So why do people keep shaming others to “help” them lose weight?

You probably have heard about Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta’s campaign to fight obesity (overview here and discussion here.) I was outraged from the start of this campaign because my large clients tell me their experiences in our world where shame has led them to promote self hate not health.

Now, Disney has thrown in its influence, money, and cartoonists to promote body shame and bullying. They just started this Habit Heroes online campaign and interactive Epcot exhibit to fight obesity. I am close to tears reading what this campaign has to offer although thankful that blogger Yoni Feedhoff brought it to my attention. The eye-opening post can be found here. This is just another campaign showing the skinny heroes saving those dumb enough to be fat (please read my pissed off sarcasm).

There is no way this campaign or any like it will promote long term health. Even more, those who are not large can be harmed by this message too. They are taught skinny people are better, stronger, and automatically healthy. These campaigns lay the foundation for bullying and a negative relationship with food.

Those in the fight against obesity often admit, although a tough pill to swallow, maybe shaming is okay because it will get people to make changes. I want to provide some insight as to why this does not work.
What shaming leads to:

  • not wanting to move one’s body because one wants to hide it (thus less exercise)
  • not wanting to fuel one’s body in a way that feels good during and after eating (thus less fruit, veggie consumption and eating more forbidden foods)
  • more negative self talk and then more depression
  • weight gain

After practicing as a dietitian for a few years, I witnessed smart, strong, beautiful, brave large people trying to attain health although the world kept calling them fat, lazy, and stupid.  Such a challenging task! Imagine trying to work toward health when the world keeps telling you that you are too stupid to realize something is “wrong” with you.

After consulting with experienced colleagues and finishing a master’s degree in counseling, I have learned empowerment promotes health. Empowering interactions help people find intrinsic motivation to encourage a healthy life.

What empowerment leads to:

  • moving one’s body more because one enjoys it and it feels good (thus more exercise)
  • wanting one’s body to feel strong and able to do this movement; also wanting food to make the body feel good during and after eating (thus more fruits, veggies; “forbidden” foods eaten with less frequency)
  • more positive self talk and less depression
  • healthy bodies and minds

I am now off to configure a way to prevent my almost 4-year-old from experiencing this Disney campaign. I want her to love her body and want to promote health; I also want her to appreciate health comes in all shapes and sizes. I will teach her all bodies deserve love and respect. Although now, Disney just made my job so much tougher.

Before you start blaming yourself for eating Valentine chocolate…

Chaotic around food since Valentine’s Day?

If you are feeling a bit out of sorts around abundant chocolate sources, you are not alone. And, it is not your fault.

Not. Your. Fault.

Guilty party: new year’s resolution diets. The National Dieting Month promotes weeks of deprivation. This experience sets us up to feel uncomfortable and obsessed with banned food. It is our physiology. When our body is deprived of certain nutrients especially calories it will be obsessed with foods. Especially yummy quick acting fun food. Especially chocolate.

Need help believing this? Check out the research.

Want to stop the chaos? Stop dieting. Stop fighting. Call a truce.


Have you heard of an artist who goes by the name Bone Sighs? I encourage you to check out her website and let it speak. Amazing inspirational work that literally moves mountains. I love this piece and it goes out to all of you who struggle with disordered eating. Know this fight is worth it and in the end will help others do the same.

Amazing art via