Courtesy of Pixabay / TotalShape

Content Warning: This article contains references to eating disorders

While the term “freshman 15” has a nifty f-on-f alliteration, this does not bring it closer to holding scientific accuracy by any means. This widespread rumor is a fear tactic that was concocted by the $60 billion diet industry in the United States, which thrives on Eurocentric, classist beauty standards to hook young, vulnerable individuals into a cycle of self-dissatisfaction for life.

In case you haven’t heard of the dreaded “freshman 15,” it is defined as the belief that going away for college implies a virtually unavoidable 15-pound weight gain due to the general stressors of university life and the lack of structure around eating periods. 

Arriving on campus at Emory University this past August, I was no stranger to the term “freshman 15” and the rhetoric about it. As an individual who had recently gained back far more weight than that due to eating disorder recovery, I was already trying to unlearn so much. I hoped that Emory, with students who were supposedly educated, would be immune to this. Unsurprisingly, I found it to be a magnet.

If you have been on Emory’s campus for at least one day, I’m sure you have interacted with a perfectionist. Perfectionism has been scientifically correlated constantly as being a predictor for the development of eating disorders, and with conversations of looking “your best” for sorority rush and “drinking your dinner” on the weekends, individuals on college campuses seek to perfect their appearances. It’s no surprise that nearly 8% of all college students will encounter an eating disorder by freshman year. And eating disorders do far more damage than what is visible on the surface. They are the single most deadly mental illness worldwide.

Research studies have found that college freshmen typically do gain weight in their first year of college, but this amount averages around a mere three pounds, which is equivalent to what the average 18-year-old typically gains, regardless of if they go away to school or not. Furthermore, the grand majority of research into this phenomenon includes data for both men and women. By age 18, many men are still gaining inches upward, so it would be a concern if they were not putting on weight in tandem. Also, regardless of what the media claims, you truly can be healthy at every size.

Health at Every Size is a holistic definition of health created by the Association for Size Diversity and Health that is being adopted by an increasing number of physicians and registered dieticians. It accepts and respects the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and rejects the idealization or pathologization of specific weights. Yes, while adapting healthy, nutrient-rich diet practices and exercise regimens is a predictor for lifetime health and longevity, the weight loss that could be triggered through these behaviors is not what is linked to improved health. Cue applause from science professors everywhere: correlation is not causation.

Furthermore, research has shown that having a large difference between actual and desired body weight is a stronger predictor of negative mental and physical health than having an overweight BMI. Being overly preoccupied and concerned with your size generates a greater source of stress on your body systems — that can and will manifest itself in dangerous consequences. Trying so hard to avoid the “freshman 15” may actually impact your health adversely.

If you don’t find this information convincing enough, then it may be beneficial to learn about the effects that calorie-restricting diets have on the body. For one, as your body adapts to a restricted amount of input, your metabolism will slow in tandem so that your body can reserve the energy that it still has. If you decide to return to eating the amount you were previously consuming in a method that is not perfectly gradual, your body under stress will attempt to hold on to as many calories as possible. Dieting induces a rapid shift in hormone levels that favors increased appetite, and this effect does not return to baseline even after many months pass. 

This is why regaining weight is so common in the cases of extreme dieters. Modern medical research suggests that roughly 80% of people who shed a significant portion of their body fat will not maintain that degree of weight loss for 12 months. What’s more, dieters regain, on average, more than half of what they lose within two years. The human body seeks to maintain its set-point weight — the preset weight baseline hardwired into our DNA — and it is very often not the weight that we reach in our high school years. Restricting and demeaning our bodies from trying to reach biological homeostasis ensures a disruption in natural functioning.

Different diet companies actively receive grants and funding from producers of processed food and vice versa, creating a cyclic gyre designed to keep the American  public in a state of constant weight management. While dieting is commonly recommended by those involved in the field of healthcare to cut national spending, it has actively skyrocketed into its own for-profit industry. Furthermore, beauty aesthetics being socially promoted by both of these industries can form a money-sucking loop that feeds off of insecurity and shame. Your fear of a false weight gain figure acts as a fundraiser for the diet industry.

Want to stop paying the diet industry money to feel shitty about yourself? Then challenge the norm. Follow radical body acceptance content on social media. Fuel yourself with enough good food to give you both energy and satisfaction. Enjoy eating, in college and beyond, because it is not only a health practice but also a social practice — one that will allow you to come together and blend memories and cultures and laughter.

You can only enjoy your fullest life on a full stomach. Don’t let a multi-billion dollar devil convince you otherwise.

If you are struggling with disordered eating, you can reach the National Eating Disorders Association helpline at (800) 931-2237 or Emory’s Counseling and Psychological services can be reached at

Maddy Prucha (26C) is from Long Island, New York.

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Madeleine Prucha (she/her) (26C) is from Long Island, New York, majoring in economics and human health and minoring in English. She previously served as president of her high school's paper, The Gull, for which she founded a creative writing column. She is highly involved in NEDA Campus Warriors, Emory Gymnastics and Kappa Alpha Pi. In her free time, you can find her baking for her Instagram account, listening to the La La Land soundtrack or threatening to beat people in a badminton match.