The Myth of the Freshman Fifteen

Turns out, it's more like the Freshman 2.5. So why do we get so worked up about it?

Ask any college student circling the dining hall salad bar and she'll tell you: She's trying to dodge the dreaded freshman 15, but is pretty sure it's a lost cause. There's just something about going away to college -- eating dorm food, drinking beer and making late night pizza-related decisions -- that makes gaining a minimum of 15 pounds seemingly inevitable.

And with Thanksgiving right around the corner (read: plenty of opportunities to run into your high-school boyfriend), college freshmen all over the country are stressing that their jeans are not fitting as well as they did in August. 

Except, they probably are. A new nationwide study finds, the freshman 15 is a lie.

Scientists at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research have interviewed 7,418 young adults since 1997, when they were between 13 and 17. The researchers tracked the study subjects' weight throughout their college years and found that most didn't gain anywhere near 15 pounds during their freshman year. Women gain an average of 2.4 pounds, while men gain an average of 3.4 pounds. No more than 10 percent of college freshmen gain 15 pounds or more -- and 1 in 4 students actually loses weight during their first year. 

"The freshman fifteen is a media myth," says Jay Zagorsky, co-author of the study. "Most students don't gain large amounts of weight. And it is not college that leads to weight gain -- it is becoming a young adult." This makes sense -- bodies change with age, as well as lifestyle. And for the most people, it's just not realistic to stay your high-school size forever. 

This got me thinking about what other weight gain myths we've bought into: Holiday weight gain, new-relationship/newlywed weight gain, soccer-mom weight gain. And what about the weight loss myths? Brides who must get buff. New moms who must drop the baby weight a nanosecond after giving birth. New Year's resolutions. 

It's like we've scheduled all of these weight gains and losses into our calendars, making yo-yo dieting some kind of foregone conclusion without even considering what's actually going on in our lives or with our bodies. 

And, because we live in a diet-obsessed culture that equates gaining fifteen pounds to losing your job or getting diagnosed with a terrible disease, buying into any one of these weight gain myths very quickly takes all the fun out of life. Your days become a constant battle to workout or not to workout. Every meal becomes a reason to apologize. 

Along the way, you'll also develop a nicely distorted body image, where it becomes increasingly difficult to trust yourself to make an accurate assessment of your body. If you think you've gained fifteen pounds, you're going to feel like you've gained fifteen pounds and you're going to see those fifteen pounds in the mirror -- even if, in reality, you've only gained three. Or none. 

This is where a bathroom scale can actually be a force for good (though please, do remember, it's only a number). If you know what's actually happening with your body, it's a lot easier to avoid getting sucked in to one of these myths.  

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