The Freshman 15

all woman

(photo from the All Woman Project)

I want to talk about eating, diets, and body image, in college.  

First, I should say, I am recovering (three years strong) from Bulimia and Anorexia -which I am happy to go more into detail about, later-.  But, I come from a body positive perspective… I believe all bodies are beautiful, sexy, and worthy of love.  I also believe all body sizes can be healthy and/or unhealthy (and that it is only the business of the individual… not all of society… to comment on that).  The most unhealthy I have ever been, is at my lowest weight.  I am the healthiest I have ever been (not sick, happy, loved, strong), now, at a weight some people might call “overweight”.  

I believe in the lifestyle of “Intuitive Eating”.  I recommend the book Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, to every person with a body.  It details (these are broad summaries) listening to ones body.  It also helps to deconstruct diet myths.  Few to no people who lose weight, keep it off.  Dieting often increases a person’s amount of fat.  And linking general health to weight is almost completely arbitrary.  

A lot of these ideas might seem radical… they were to me.  I read this book while I was in rehab for my EDs.  I now attend a university.  It ranks somewhere between the middle and the top. It’s competitive.  People who go here are competitive…

The Freshman 15: 15 lessons and observations (about body, EDs, and dieting) I’ve had starting university in America.

  1. Narrow standard of beauty.  The focus on physical perfection pervades every social group.  I haven’t talked to a girl who doesn’t perpetuate bad body ideas.  Saying, “ugh, I feel fat”, or “She’s fat”.  This is beyond toxic.  Obviously, I’m not surprised, our culture has widely accepted the idea that thin, white, feminine, and bubbly are the pillars of beautiful.  But, it saddens me that in a place said to opine free thought and alternative ideas, people so blindly accepts such narrow, racist, and sexist ideals.
  2. Diet talk.  I have heard it in my dorm, in the cafeteria, and in my classrooms.  I wish (especially as someone in recovery) that girls would stop talking to me about their diets.  I don’t want to hear how you’re eating 800 calories to drop back to a size 8 and I don’t want to hear about how you haven’t eaten anything other than carrot sticks in three days.
  3. Sports and EDs.  Too many people are trying to “cut” weight for crew/wrestling/etc.
  4. Celebration of weight loss.  I don’t know when it is ever ok to comment on someone else’s body, but people feel especially ok doing it when someone “drops a size”.  
  5. Education of old ideas.  This one makes me particularly sad… maybe the most sad.  We’ve talked about food, bodies, and dieting in many of my classes.  Two of my textbooks have renderings of the BMI scale (a disproved table made to measure bodies… that does not take into account muscle, distribution, etc).  My favorite professor gave a lecture about eating disorders and a talk in favor of dieting, within the same class.
  6. Exercise as a means of weight control.  Looking at your physical activity as a means of dieting versus general health and happiness.  Looking at working out as a chore in maintaining ones “look”.  Never as something to enjoy.
  7. What a frat boy think about your body, means nothing.
  8. Looking at food only as a means of punishment and reward.  Most people think that if they allowed themselves to eat “whatever” they wanted, they would binge on chocolate cake, every day.  But, this is largely false.  Most people would eat an even mixture of foods based on their inherent cravings.
  9. Gaining and losing weight.  Your body will fluctuate in weight.  You might gain or lose body mass while you’re in college.  And that is completely ok. It might be stress, environment change, diet, maybe it’s just that you walk more.  Without dieting, it will even out.
  10. Comparison.  So, one of your roommates is a size 2 and your other roommate is a size 18.  It doesn’t help anyone to compare your body to theirs.  It’s natural to look different… to be different.  Lets not forget that one of your roommates is a computer science major and one a history major, that doesn’t mean you have to re-evaluate your engineering degree.
  11. The more confidence you have, the better you will do… in school, in your community, and in your happiness.
  12. Your life won’t be better if you look different.  It is a temporary bandage of a solution… it doesn’t really make you happier or more attractive.  It may distract you from your real problems, but it won’t address them.
  13. Everyone likes something different.  Maybe one person isn’t attracted to you, but a million are.  Remember, when you have a crush on someone, isn’t only how they look.  It is their energy, their personality, and the way they carry themselves.  AND there is always a ton of people out there who will find you physically attractive… it is a simple fact.  Everyone thinks they are the exception to this, no one is.
  14. It’s not cool to hate yourself.  It may seem trendy and normal to dislike your body, but you don’t have to.  It is ok to love your body and your soul.
  15. Your body is your only true home.  You left your family, your friends, and your stability.  All you have (forever) are your bones and sinew.  Honor that.

Linda Bacon’s book:


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