Three Steps to Losing the Freshman Fifteen

Oh, crap.

That was the only thought running through my head as I looked down at my bathroom scale. A small number flashed three times, letting me know that I was 12 pounds heavier than what I had been only four months prior.

It was December of 2013. I had just returned home after completing my first semester of freshman year. On the one hand, I came back feeling more confident and more independent.  I had a ton of new and interesting experiences under my belt that I couldn’t wait to share with family and friends.

Despite all the good that had come from my time away, I couldn’t stop thinking about that extra weight I had put on.

I began fixating on my body and all of the negative things I thought about myself. I remember spending a lot of time in front of the mirror feeling really disgusted by what I saw. I had fallen prey to the “Freshman Fifteen”, or the weight gain that college students may experience during their first year at university.

One-and-a-half years later, I’ve shed most of those extra pounds. Beyond the satisfaction of seeing a smaller number on the scale, my overall healthier body image has perhaps been the greatest takeaway from my weight-loss journey. These are the three steps I took to combat the Freshman Fifteen.  If you find yourself in a similar situation, I hope that this method can help you in not only losing those pounds but also fostering a little more self-love.

Step 1: Pinpoint the possible cause(s) of your weight gain

Seems simple enough and kind of obvious. But it wasn’t until I really sat down for a little self-evaluation that I fully grasped just how many different factors came into play with my weight gain.

For one, I realized that I was a lot more stressed out than I thought.  

Though not the case for everyone, stress can lead to an increased appetite as a result of the higher levels of cortisol present in your body. A major part of tackling the Freshman Fifteen means understanding what, for you, might be triggering that stress.

In my case, first semester of freshman year was the longest stretch of time I had ever been away from home. It took me the entire semester to adapt to a new culture and the school’s atmosphere. There were a lot of transitions that were going on and a big source of my stress was the feeling that I lacked stability.

I was also horrible with time-management. I had an incredibly sporadic schedule marked by rushed assignments, a lot of late nights, and very little sleep.  Because I wasn’t wise with my time, I also ended up forgoing activities I used to love. Throughout high school, I took 16-20 hours of dance class each week. During my first semester of college, I considered myself lucky if I could squeeze in a 1.5-hour ballet class.

Two, I wasn’t surrounding myself with the best people.

I hadn’t made close friends until the end of that first semester, which meant that loneliness compounded my ever-present homesickness during those initial months at school. In the process of trying to find my niche, I expended a lot of my social energy investing in relationships that exhausted me. One of the biggest effects: I became more sedentary and a lot less inclined to participate in social gatherings and activities.

Three, the dining hall didn’t have the healthiest choices.

My dining hall had really big portions, a whole lot of processed foods, and very little produce. Yet, with little time and a college budget, the dining hall was all I really had that first semester.  Combined with stress and reduced activity, I saw how food poor choices played a big role in my weight gain.

Step 2: Once you’ve pinpointed those causes, ATTACK

Now that you’ve identified the roots of your weight gain, you’ve paved the way for the changes needed to help you lead a healthier lifestyle and shed those pounds.

If you’re stressed out by all of the transitions occurring in your life, create a routine and stick to it.

For me, the routine I implemented at the beginning of my sophomore year was really simple. I woke up every day at 7:00AM, got ready, and headed to a nearby café where I ordered a coffee and sat down to journal for 45 minutes to an hour. Throughout all of the transitions that were going on, this simple procedure gave me the stability that I felt was lacking.

Other than stability, creating and maintaining this small routine was an exercise in diligence that in turn influenced my academic work. I found that my schedule was more organized and included greater breathing room. Once I had that breathing room, I made sure to incorporate daily exercise as short as five minutes or as long as an hour that in turn helped me feel a whole lot better about my body.

When it comes to meeting new people, understand your social limits.  

It’s always nice to get to know people and expand your circle of friends. In the process of wanting to make friends and be liked, however, I made myself a little too available; hence, my social exhaustion. Throughout the past one-and-a-half years, I began taking periods of time to ‘hermit’.  That alone time was vital for me in stepping back from the quick pace of college life to find my center and recharge my social batteries.

Bad dining hall food? Get creative!

Though difficult to circumvent a poor dining hall menu, there are always other options. Try cooking your meals with friends and splitting the cost of ingredients. If you do a bit of exploring, you might be able to find some reasonably priced places to eat outside of school. If the dining hall is really all you have, try to fill your plate with what fruits, veggies, and protein that you can.

Step 3: In the end, remember to be kind to yourself

Your weight is bound to fluctuate. In the process of shedding those pounds, your body image is going to yo-yo as well. Throughout it all, just remember: Experiencing the Freshman Fifteen, or weight gain in general, is perfectly normal. You’re undergoing so many changes and might be way outside of your comfort zone. If you’re hard on yourself like I was (and sometimes still am), give yourself a little more credit.  College will pass you by in a flash, so enjoy those four years soaking in those new and exciting experiences as much as you can.  You wouldn’t want to let a number overshadow all of the things that you learned and the cool things that you did.

Photo Feature: Rohit Mattoo

Jocelyn Lim