Freshmen: There are better things to focus on than weight

Gaining the infamous “freshman 15” is a fear for many first-year college students. It was certainly a fear for me. But this is a stage of life when you are evolving as a person in so many ways. Trusting your body’s natural development process and keeping your focus on other aspects of life instead of weight will make you happier and healthier in the long term.

Developmental research suggests that a person at 18, when most traditional undergraduates start college, is not the person they will be at 23, when most traditional undergraduates graduate from college. An 18-year-old and a 23-year-old are not the same physically, emotionally or cognitively. 

Puberty is not the only time when our bodies change. At 18 to 19, most people are living in adult bodies for the first time. Many young adults face challenges as they settle into their bodies — challenges like “how much food and what kinds of food do I need to eat to keep this body healthy?” and “how much exercise and what kinds do I need to make habitual to keep this body healthy?” These are likely things you’ve thought about previously, but the answers to these questions are different now than when you were 16 and different than when you were 10. Just as you adapted at 16 to a body that was no longer 10, at 18 to 19 you have to adapt to a body that is no longer 16.

College culture has a tendency to fixate on weight. Weight management products, influencers and others who benefit from insecurity want you to feel like you have to do whatever is necessary to keep the body you had at 16. Spoilers: you don’t have to, and it’s not going to work. You are not 16.

And your physical appearance is not the only one that is going through changes at college age. Research shows significant non-physical changes are also occurring between 18 and 23. You’re developing the ability to think more abstractly and with greater empathy, renegotiating close relationships and developing personal values that will shape the rest of your life. Your interests are becoming more stable, your sexual identity is solidifying and your ability to relate well to peers is improving.

Whatever you do now, you are not going to be physically the same as you were in high school. So let that go.

These changes typically don’t come up in memes about freshman year. When you go home for Christmas break, no one is going to ask whether you’ve gained in emotional maturity. And no one is going to profit from you dedicating time and energy to emotional development the way they might from selling you a weight loss product. But you will be happier and healthier in the long term if your goal for freshman year is to become a more mature and empathetic person, not a thin person. When you embrace that you are a person developmentally in progress –– both physically and emotionally –– you will be a counter-cultural force on your dorm floor, in the dining hall, in your gym class and everywhere you go.

Whatever you do now, you are not going to be physically the same as you were in high school. So let that go. Take care of yourself with good food and exercise so that you can be healthy and happy, not so that you can be thin. And dedicate your time and energy to understanding your identity, your values and your relationships, not to counting calories.