In the months approaching September, besides the chatter about rushing and dorms and tailgates, two words seem to jump out at me in every college conversation: freshman 15.
The conspiracy that the second you step onto campus grounds, your waist grows 10 inches and people stop talking to you was a fear instilled into many first-years, including me. I had an expectation that I could not trust myself at the enormous open-buffets on campus and that I'd have to buy new clothes from my three-size weight gain.
But as most students can tell, this isn't a reality. Small changes are normal, and if so, people are able to handle it. However, many students' scales are going in the opposite direction, and for the wrong reasons.
Skipping meals may not be intentional at first, especially with a busy lifestyle and less-structured schedule. But it can easily spiral into something sinister. Compliments of "you look great!" or "you look so skinny!" or "do you even eat?" can give students the wrong idea about their disordered eating habits, which can be just as unhealthy as the overeating that everyone vilifies. People love talking about shaming people from gaining weight, but immediately stop short before having a discussion about mental health and body image when it comes to over-exercising and under-eating.
The striving for perfection by young adults is exacerbated by magazines, expectations from social media, and our culture. From articles about what Kylie Jenner is eating to the social media appearance of advertisements of ultra-thin models, where else are students supposed to develop their standards from? To speak to our society, one study points out that 33.6% of college women participants responded positively to "Do you believe yourself to be fat when others say you are thin?" And of those who had answered "yes" to questions indicating an ED, only 5.4% have actually received a diagnosis. This is terrifying because if no one is being diagnosed, we could have a much more widespread problem than we may realize.
Another study done by the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that focusing on the way that you look may prevent you from being able to listen to your body's hunger/fullness cues. And this is something that many in the ED (eating disorder) community had already picked up on. One ED activist, and author of "Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too," Jenni Schaefer commented that "you'll hear people with eating disorders say they're like a walking head. There's really no connection to their hunger and fullness cues." All of this, in combination with the uncertainties of being away from home and distant from close connections, can cause larger problems than the weight gain that many people focus on.
If you feel that you or anyone you know would like to speak to a mental health helpline, either through messages or calls, here are some helpful links: