College Pendulum: Can the Freshman 15 Cause Eating Disorders?

Weighing in treatment is crucial but nerve-wracking for many patients

According to a recent study from Ohio State University, the so-called “freshman 15” is really just a myth. The average weight gain faced by students during their first year of college seems to be 2.5 to 3.5 pounds. However, the study did show that students do gain weight steadily over the course of their college years and throughout their early adulthood. And while this may be the average, it isn’t the case for everyone. Still, the fear and worry attached to the freshman 15 may play an even more significant role than the actual weight gain experienced by some.

Whether it’s the stress, the late-night snacks, or an increase in alcohol intake, this “myth” affects enough freshmen to make it a serious issue. College comes with a lot of changes and adjustments to students’ schedules and lifestyle. It is a time in young people’s lives when their body goes through some drastic changes as well, and their body image and awareness is heightened. If it goes unchecked, it can spiral into an eating disorder. It is important to recognize that eating disorders are not simply the result of a desire to look thin.

Emotional and psychological issues are at play. Self-esteem and the ability to cope with issues related to stress and self-image can become difficult to manage. When faced with these issues and changes in their lives, turning to an eating disorder gives them back the control they desire—or so they think.

The freshman 15 has given birth to a new trend known as “the reverse freshman 15.” When students notice the eating habits of others and become “concerned” about whether they will fall prey to the same habits, the fear that helps feed an eating disorder can take hold. Sometimes these are old fears taking root again, and the battle with an eating disorder will resurface. Other times the fear of weight gain, along with all the other changes students are facing, plant the seed for the disorder. Either way, the myth has real consequences and cannot be ignored. Just because most freshmen aren’t gaining the 15 pounds studies claim, doesn’t mean that its existence isn’t causing problems.

The line between having an eating disorder and not can be thin. It is important to recognize that just because individuals may overeat or restrict their diet, it does not immediately signal an eating disorder. Increased frequency and duration of these patterns are the indicators to a more serious issue or problem with food.

When these behaviors dominate an individual’s life or take precedence over everything else, there is cause for concern. So even if the weight gain signified by the freshman 15 is a myth, the fears and issues related to it are very real.