Gaining more than we bargained for

March 19, 2010

If you attend college, chances are you’ve heard about the “freshman 15.” Though some say it’s just a myth, for many college students the freshman 15 is a very real problem.

What else could we expect? With unlimited access to junk food at anytime of the day, it’s no wonder that some college students are noticing an increase in their waistline.

As a college first-year, I remember being terrified of gaining those extra pounds. Growing up on a strict organic diet, I did not really anticipate Brandeis’ food to be that different, but I was definitely wrong.

On my first day of orientation, I ate at Sherman Dining Hall and came back to my table with something like six plates.

My mother stared at me in disbelief but I was ecstatic at the thought of all the variety. Now, almost seven months later, I’ve seen the results.

For months I thought that I was just “temporarily bloated,” but after getting weighed at the doctor’s office, I could not deny that I’d become heavier. I even made the nurse weigh me three times. I could feel my face getting hot and I felt like I was going to faint.

Dramatic? Yes, and in retrospect, I don’t know why this was such a shock considering I’d been eating junk, but still, it was disconcerting. Would you like to know what I did afterwards? I cried to my friends and then went to Chipotle.

This phenomenon is not limited to Brandeis alone. Raviv Legmann, now a junior, experienced a 20 pound weight gain during his freshman year at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. Like Sherman, his cafeteria was the “all-you-can-eat” kind. His favorite meal was the buffalo chicken wrap with ranch dressing, and he and his friends would eat several a day. However, after a while, he had to get larger jeans and he began to feel lazy and sluggish.

In an attempt to shed the excess pounds, he started eating more vegetables and stopped eating after 8 p.m. Legmann also incorporated exercise into his daily regime, saying “You gotta work to get there, you know?”

But “all-you-can-eat” buffets are not entirely to blame themselves. Brandeis student Kevin Hwang ’10, gained up to 30 pounds his freshman year. He recalls the days of munching on three bags of giant Doritos, and going to Usdan’s Boulevard for the Asian chicken wrap drenched in sauce.

After moving off-campus, he is now back to his normal weight and he attributes his former weight gain to sensitivity to changes in his environment.

This is one of the problems that stimulates the freshman 15. People are not used to having the “all-you-can-eat” option and not having a parent hovering over their plate with a disapproving eye. Ultimately, what students eat in college is entirely their choice, and that’s the main issue.

However, thinking of health alone is not enough to keep you on track. Sometimes, thinking in terms of what weight gain will do to your vanity is a more successful motivator to eating well. As Daphne Oz, author of “The Dorm Room Diet,” writes, “Sometimes with young people you have to play on their vanity.”

An article in The New York Times called “15 Pounds: Part of Freshman Meal Plan?” addresses Oz’s book, saying it occasionally associates fat not only with being unhealthy, but also with being unattractive.

Oz begins her introduction with a fable about two students, one at “Fat U” and the other at “Fit U.” The student at Fat U eats junk food and has dark circles, pimples and a belly “hanging over the pants that used to be your ‘fat jeans.’”

But the student at Fit U, that is to say, the seemingly more desirable one, avoids pizza and candy bars like the plague and has bright eyes, no blemishes and no problem getting dressed in the morning because every outfit fits.

If you want to ignore attributing the vanity factor to weight, just follow what Oz suggests about planning ahead what you are going to eat at study sessions. She recommends snacks like pears and soy crisps “so that the midnight munchies won’t propel you to a vending machine.”

However, if you are as fortunate as Sarah Kim ’13, there’s no need to worry about those extra pounds. Kim can proudly say that the freshman 15 has not affected her. In fact, she is the exception to the rule whom we all envy.

Upon arrival to college, Sarah realized how much more walking she would have to do.

She jokingly attributes her weight loss to the hill next to the Goldfarb library. Back home, she would drive to most places, but because first-years are not allowed to have cars, she had to resort to walking as her main form of transportation.

Although many people speak of it quite lightly and even mockingly, first-years should ultimately, be aware of the freshman 15 because unless you happen to be the exception, college food is going to bite you in the butt.

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