A couple nights ago while pouring over contemporary American poetry, I poured myself nine servings of Lucky Charms and proceeded to chug them down in half an hour. (Before you panic, no, I did not eat all of the marshmallows, and have plenty left to compliment the remaining three servings of uninspiring, cardboard-esque, cereal pieces in my box.) To address your lesser concerns, yes, I am a biologically female first-year college student, and no, I am not a victim of the dreaded “freshman fifteen.”
I don’t mean I haven’t gained weight since I moved into my dorm (I honestly have no idea what I’ve weighed since my freshman year of high school) because I probably have. Up until this fall, I danced 20 hour weeks and conditioned my body regularly. Now, I read textbooks and wait for my mattress to one day absorb me. I don’t have many vegetarian options at school (other than salad which is… salad) so I eat mostly starchy foods slathered in cheese and, well, cereal. So yeah, my self-care extends to showering and sitting in front of an artificial sunlight machine because it’s cold and dark outside 90% of the time I’m not in class. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’ve gained five or ten pounds, or even the “freshman fifteen”; in fact, I’m certain I’ve put on weight. But am I unrecognizable? Turned to a gelatinous blob of worthlessness and incapability? Experiencing the worst college tragedy known to womankind?
I mean, my stomach kind of hurt after eating all of those Lucky Charms, but no, I’m not.
Thanks to the bidding of the universe, I missed being swept up in the tide of senior year, buzzing through hallways with my peers and speculating about what college would be like. I missed fussing over dorm decor, powering through applications, and confessing fear after fear after fear while appeasing none. I know, from what college students consistently relayed down to their high school and even middle school juniors, that weight-gain would be one of those fears. How would unlimited access to pizza, chips, and ice cream change me? I feared the love-handles, the double-chins, and the drawers of too-skinny jeans donated to Goodwill. I feared my reflection and other’s opinions. The lifelong label, “dancer’s body,” ripped from my sausage fingers.
God, I was angsty.
Let’s stop emphasizing size when we discuss healthy living habits in college. Eating salad to conserve image alone is unsustainable and unproductive. While yes, fear can effectively motivate people to lose weight or improve their diets, fear can also dominate their minds and impair their mental health. Universal sex appeal is societally constructed and unattainable, and most people don’t notice an extra fifteen pounds (it’s really nothing—just a little padding on your bones). Plus, if you’re exercising regularly, that cereal can fuel your workouts and help you gain fifteen pounds in muscle (and people will notice, and you will want them to).
Eat kale for your health, not for your size 2 skinny jeans. Cut back on ice cream for your health—the health of your heart, bones, brain, muscles, and other organs. Sleep for your concentration; go to the gym for your immune system; go to the sauna to sweat out toxins. I can’t emphasize the importance of exercising regardless of how many pages you have to read in your super boring psychology textbook. Exercise because your professor assigned 3 extra chapters for Thursday. And yeah, I’m pulling the “make sure you exercise in college!!!!!!” card, but in case you couldn’t guess from the stress-eating a box of Lucky Charms in one night, I didn’t really pay attention to the memo. And guess what? I suffered.
My mental health suffered, in particular. Funnily enough, flipping through pages of philosophical jargon isn’t great for optimism or any general state of positivity. It’s better for lying face down on your bed and muting all of your senses because if you see or hear one more categorical imperative, you might just break them all (research Kantian ethics in your free time if you don’t love yourself). And kill me because I’m a lame, aspiring anthropologist, but I’ve researched this stuff. America’s obesity epidemic isn’t all McDonald’s fault; mental illness contributes to weight gain, too. Depression can cause you to overeat and perform poorly in classes, among other things. Endorphins can help naturally combat depressive thoughts and feelings, and they’re just a daily workout away. Exercise wards off mental and physical illness while shredding excess fat. It can be a fun excuse to spend time with friends outside of classes, too.
The freshman fifteen isn’t the end of the world, but poor eating and exercising habits can be. Cereal makes me happy, and maybe I’ve gained a couple pounds at its expense, but I don’t care. Going to the gym for just an hour a day has already drastically changed my college experience. It’s more fun than existential crises, and it keeps me healthier too. While I’m at it, here’s a pro-tip and sort of the point of this article: the desire to squeeze into a size 00 dress won’t get you through a circuit workout, but the feelings of growth and energy following that circuit workout will drive you to the gym again, tomorrow. The Lucky Charms are there to get you through the night, but the burpees are there to get you through the semester. Get through that semester, and get a degree that weighs more than fifteen pounds. The weight you carry in society and life is determined by your physical health and mental capabilities, so make sure they’re in tip-top shape.
(This author does not endorse the mass consumption of Lucky Charms. Please don’t puke at my expense.)