Editorial: Shed the fear of The Freshman 15


The current first-year students have made it through move-in, orientation and their first round of midterms. And while some may feel acclimated to life at Lehigh already, others may find settling into a routine more difficult than anticipated, expected or hoped. 

We all know the adjustments of the first semester of college, like navigating a new campus, living with strangers and taking exams are all difficult at first. But even simply applying your old routines to your new environment is a challenge for some that cannot be overstated. 

Taking care of yourself, nourishing your body and staying in shape is an important, yet challenging task for all people. But for first-year students, the idea of staying healthy can transform into a hard-to-shake obsession. 

“The Freshman 15” refers to the idea that first-year college students gain about 15 pounds throughout their first year on campus. Whether or not it’s true is up for debate, and studies have found myths and truths about the notion. Some studies show that first-years are likely to gain weight, but it’s less than 15 pounds. 

According to an investigation by The Atlantic, Seventeen magazine was the first to use the term 34 years ago in 1989 in an article titled “Fighting the Freshman 15.” 

Its effects may be particularly troubling at Lehigh. 

Our institution is notorious for its mountainous terrain, steep stairs and daunting hills, which are an added stressor in escaping the assumption that students here are in stellar shape. 

It’s a running joke that Lehigh students will have “killer calves” by the end of their first year. Or that, thanks to the everyday up-hill trek, they don’t have to worry about excessive weight gain.

But this rhetoric is only funny for a short while, until a student who doesn’t fit the Lehigh stereotypes or is seriously struggling with their health is made to feel out of place, insecure or ashamed. 

The recent changes to the dining halls at Lehigh have made it even harder for students to nourish themselves with ease and reliability. 

Without the dining options of the now-closed University Center, healthy food options are so limited that the only “healthy” thing you can find at Lamberton Hall is a salad prepackaged in plastic. And for those with allergies, finding anything to eat, let alone a balanced meal is practically impossible without hiking to Rathbone Hall. 

Our rebuttal against the term Freshman 15 has little to do with the availability of food options against subsequent weight gain. Instead, we look to criticize the obsession caused by this toxic rhetoric. 

The obsession caused by this harmful expression manifests in several ways. It can conjure dysmorphic thoughts about weight gain or loss, even leading to harmful habits in either direction. Those 15 pounds can go either way, and frankly, it may never be 15 pounds to begin with. 

The issue is far greater than gaining weight, losing weight or the concept of weight at all. The first year of college nor the concept of “healthy” are one-size-fits-all situations.

Weight struggles extend beyond first-years, and the undying notion of the Freshman 15 is emblematic of all food problems college students experience. Ultimately, it boils down to fatphobia and universal struggles with body image. 

The evidence that first-years gain 15 pounds is not clear, but the worry and fear that it instills very much is. 

For those who are having a hard time settling into a healthy routine, take care of yourself and pay special attention to your mental health in these trying first few months. 

In all aspects of your life, do what makes you feel like you’re at your best both physically and mentally. Shed the fear of gaining weight and allow yourself the grace to be your most comfortable, confident and balanced self during this turbulent era of growth. 

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