Health Matters: The Freshman Fifteen

By
September 30, 2011

When I first entered Mills, I promised myself I would not gain the freshman 15. I ended up gaining the freshman 45.

The combination of stress from school, plus feelings of depression, isolation and boredom all led me to seek comfort in food. I religiously read health magazines and tried numerous crash diets to no avail. Ironically, I managed to lose most of the weight when I gave up reading weight-loss magazines and counting calories. I moved off campus and attempted to live a healthier and a more positive lifestyle, and I promised myself to stop letting any shame about my appearance stand in the way of my happiness.

In my time at Mills, I have met numerous women who have had, or still have, a similarly unhealthy relationship with food. It is shocking how many seemingly confident women have turned to starvation diets, binging and purging, overeating, drugs and other physically and emotionally destructive habits.

When I was struggling with my weight, my friends would always tell me to “stop focusing on losing weight and embrace (my) body for how it is.” While their intentions were good, I wanted to let them know that loving your body is easier said than done for most women. Living in a society that has an unhealthy and unrealistic standard of beauty, it is all too easy to project these unrealistic expectations on our own bodies.  This leaves us even more conflicted when we are expected to accept our bodies unconditionally, whether or not they fit these standards. For many of us, the battle toward acceptance of our bodies is lifelong, and the only way to maintain our sanity is to strike a balance between keeping up a healthy lifestyle and appreciating the body we have.

I’ve come to realize that the first thing to figure out is exactly what you want to do. Are you trying to lose or maintain your current weight? Are you trying to make amends with body issues that are affecting your happiness? Once you know what you want to achieve, then you can effectively figure out how you can reach that goal. Make sure to be realistic. Changes need to be gradual or else it becomes all too easy to sabotage our plans, leading to feelings of guilt and failure. I’ve made a commitment not to eat past 8 p.m. because I know that, by that time, my body is not actually hungry, but it’s craving food to supplement for my stress and late, night cram sessions. But I do treat myself to some sweets, like dark chocolate, to keep me going.

Although I’ve developed my own routines and regimens that work well for me, others have found their own strategies that work for them. Eating breakfast is an important routine for Eliza Sibal, a junior at Mills College.  However, she uses another method to check in on the status of her stomach.

“A lot of times, thirst can be confused with hunger,” Sibal said. “To stop from overeating I drink, a full glass, sometimes two, of water before eating my meal. It makes me feel nearly full before even eating.”

Sibal carries her re-usable water bottle wherever she goes.

However, at least for me, water cannot replace some of my mid-day cravings.

The academic day can be very long and, sometimes, the time between lunch and dinner is a block of cravings, which can lead to binge eating or consuming food very quickly. Eating small meals or having a consistent healthy snack can satisfy your urge to overeat.

“I eat small but frequent snacks and meals,” said freshwoman Erika Bareng. “I always bring a piece offruit or a small bag of almonds to every class.”

Bareng said that, by always having something healthy like almonds to snack on she does not feel starved and does not overeat once dinnertime comes around.

According to freshman15.com, a website dedicated to providing college students with advice and tips to avoid college weight gain, the nature of our eating habits depends on a variety of factors. Our emotions, social and family influences and cost and availability of food are just a few of the many components that determine our eating habits and relationships with food. Understanding the reasons why you want to eat is important. If you are physically hungry, rate the level of your hunger on a scale of one to 10, with one being famished and 10 being stuffed. It is best to eat a meal when you are at a two or three and stop when you begin to feel full at around an eight.

Also according to the site, the way we distribute our meals throughout the day is important, but it is different for each individual. Those of us who prefer the traditional three square meals a day instead of several snack-sized meals may run into the problem of not always having a healthy meal there when we need it.

As a commuter, Sibal maintains better control of her diet by packing her own meals on weekdays.

“I’m able to control what ingredients go into my salads, i.e. staying away from fatty dressings and extras,” Sibal said. “I drink water only. I stay away from ‘bad’ carbs such as pasta, white rice and breads and eat fresh vegetables and organic, free-range meat and eggs.”

Getting into the habit of packing your own food may seem time-consuming at first. However, bringing your meals to school just a few days a week can make a difference, according to Sibal, and it will allow you to feel more in control and be less likely to spend money on something less favorable for your body.

The “nothing in excess” principle is very important to me, and I try to abide by the “everything in moderation” rule of thumb.

Reflecting on why you’re eating is very vital. Whether your body is, in fact hungry, or you’re eating because you’re stressed out is very important to identify.

While trying to maintain my health and weight, I’ve discovered that food is not the only thing that you should be aware of when avoiding the freshman 15. Regular exercise is not only a good way to keep in shape, but your body will appreicate regular activity. I like to plug in my MP3 player and have a personal dance session. Dancing puts me in a good mood and I work up a sweat.

Realistically, not everybody has the time or willpower to sweat it out at the gym every day. Making small changes in your daily activities, like taking a study break to walk around the block a few times or opting to take the stairs, is what will help you in the long run, according to freshman15.com. These changes may not give you  toned thighs, but they will rev up your circulation and make you feel better than if you spent that time sitting at your desk.

This work is a challenge faced every day, but I’m beginning to understand that, at the end of the day, your happiness is more important than the number on the scale.  Using your weight as an indicator for your health status distorts your perception of what it means to be healthy. Instead of stressing over small changes in weight and counting calories, pay attention to your body’s signals. If your pants feel a little tighter, don’t feel depressed or ashamed but instead focus on the positive changes you can make to get back on track.

Health Matters is a column written by the second-year nursing students participating in the Nursing Leadership Class.


Health Matters: The Freshman Fifteen was published on September 30, 2011 in Sports & Health

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