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3 Things to Remember If You’re Worried About the ‘Freshman 15’ Weight Gain

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced emotional abuse or an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741, or “NEDA” to 741741 for eating disorders

Did you ever consider that the “Freshman 15” was supposed to happen, and that it was diet culture, and a fatphobic society, that demonized our naturally changing bodies and led us to believe that we were doing something wrong? Or, maybe, that the body change we may experience in college was even, maybe, a result of young adults being so hungry from the deprivation that they underwent in high school, incited by a plethora of reasons? Have you thought about that? I have.

I was 20, in my junior year at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, and I was living off-campus at my first apartment. I remember being in the galley kitchen, with the wall of mirrors to my right: mirrors that I found myself looking into just as often as I had avoided. Ah, that apartment was so sterile and bland, much like the food I was eating those days. Egg beaters. Yeah, that’s what I was preparing. Who actually likes them?! Not me, and yet here I was, making my egg beaters to be put on my sorry excuse for bread. Why? Because that was what would tally the least amount of “points.” That’s what would “save” me more points for the alcohol I would be drinking later. Not too long before, I had been offered money to join a weight-loss program and lose the weight I had been gaining for the last two years. My eating and my body had changed since moving from Buffalo, New York, and I was ashamed. Look at what I had been doing wrong: eating the wrong foods, the wrong amount of food, not exercising and letting my body go. (I have to note that I have reclaimed the phrase “she let herself go” for myself and I look forward to sharing about it in a future post.)

My whole life, I have looked back on this time with shame, guilt and embarrassment, sticking to the old story that I was a “bad eater” who was just too high all the time and had no self-control. And then, when I tried to become “healthier” and lose weight, I was “bad” because of how hungry I remained all the time. I had to have been “bad” because “normal, good people” cannot possibly be this hungry, right? It must have been my fault, and a character flaw, that I did not have enough discipline and willpower, right? Wrong.

No. It was not and it is still not my fault.

It’s only been through eating disorder recovery, extensive trauma therapy and difficult body image therapy that I am now really seeing the truth of those years. At 36, I have now realized that none of the body change or hunger was my fault.

So, here is some self-validation that I give myself now…

1. Bodies change.

It makes sense that my body changed because that’s what bodies are meant to do. As I grow and age, my body will always be changing. I gained fat on my body, which is necessary for so many bodily needs: for example, insulating organs or, ya know, making the brain work! (Side note: In my disorder, I was always so cold. Yeah, I never connected it to the fact I was deficient of necessary fat on my body.) Then, there’s when my hips expanded and my breasts grew; yep, becoming a woman! And, it makes sense I didn’t know these changes were supposed to happen because all of the media I was taking in was showing this privileged, thin, unreachable ideal.

I mean, even the fact that the “Freshman 15” exists should give us all validation that we were set up to fail in our own eyes from the beginning.

2. Hunger is natural.

It makes sense that I was hungry because hunger is what all bodies feel in order to communicate that they need to be nourished, and all bodies communicate they need to be nourished in order to survive. And, I was hungry! It makes sense that I was so, so hungry because I had spent the prior three years before college in a constant state of deprivation. As a high school athlete, a central focus was working on my body to make weight for boats. After all, I was a rower and this was the way. How crew (rowing) works, for those of you not in the know, is that each boat is a part of a weight class: heavyweight, lightweight and flyweight. (These names are super problematic, and I will go much further into that, and the rest of this crew and weight nonsense, in future writings.) Each girl on my team was expected to be a certain weight so that the mean weight for the boat shell was reached. This meant that our bodies became projects. Not only were we training to become stronger and faster, we were also taught deprivation in the pursuit of weight loss to make the assigned weight. Cue the onset of restriction and dangerous forms of overexercising.

It is a scientifically proven fact that binging is a natural response to restriction. Therefore, of course, I was starving. What I thought was me just being “bad with food” was actually a very “normal” response to years of adult sanctioned, restrictive behaviors. I was weight-restoring and I didn’t even know it.

3. I don’t blame the people in my life who promoted weight loss; I blame diet culture.

It makes sense that others wanted me to lose weight because that’s what happens in a society built on weight stigma. I have been there myself, promoting a disordered lifestyle in the name of health. Whether it was me sharing “skinny” recipes with friends and family on social media, insisting I had to go on a run despite not having seen my daughter or husband all day, or judging others for their food and/or lack of exercise choices … I have been there too. Just as those who taught me, I was teaching others. I have compassion for them, as I do for myself. It was diet culture that taught us all; it is diet culture that did us wrong. I hope you can have compassion for yourself too.

It makes sense that I felt dissociated from my body during these college years of weight gain because I was in a long-term relationship with a man who made me feel shame for wanting to put time into my appearance. Please note: the time of restriction that came before was in no way a healthy or positive way to put time into my appearance. And yet, being with a man who would get angry if I even wore makeup (because, if I loved him, why would I intentionally wear anything that would cause other men look at me), I found myself vulnerable to unexamined binge behavior. As I gained weight, I felt myself become more secluded. This, I now know, was one of his tactics to control; control that would later morph into something much more dangerous.

So, yeah, long story short: the “Freshman 15” wasn’t my fault, and it wasn’t yours either.

Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

Originally published: March 10, 2020
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