This Dietitian Wants to Tell Every Freshman: Don't Worry About the "Freshman 15!"
While college may look a little different this fall, one message freshmen have to deal with is not to gain the "freshman 15." With all-you-can-eat dining halls, partying, late-night snacking and pizza deliveries, and the freedom to eat what, when, and how much you want, weight gain is common during this exciting and also stressful time. Registered dietitian and certified intuitive-eating counselor Sam Previte, LDN, CPT, who specializes in helping clients make peace with food and enjoy life, wants freshmen to know that they shouldn't worry about weight gain!
As someone who personally got sucked into dieting and disordered eating habits, Previte wants to prevent Freshman from the same pain she went through. Read on to learn why restrictive dieting is harmful, how it can actually lead to weight gain, and to learn ways to protect yourself from diet culture's messages so you can focus on enjoying all the other amazing things happening freshman year.
Why Freshmen Shouldn't Worry About Gaining Weight
Worrying about weight gain means we are giving in to diet culture, Previte explained. "The worry about weight gain is an external thought that is triggered by diet culture telling us that smaller bodies are better bodies, which we know is just not true."
Instead of worrying about weight gain, Previte said, what if we shifted our focus internally to ask, "How do I feel when I eat this?" or "How do I feel when I engage in this movement?" or, "Am I honoring what my body wants and needs?" She said that the more we build introspective awareness, the less we will be worrying about external thoughts and fears that don't honor our body.
Plus, there are so many other wonderful things to think about and experience. So many firsts in this newfound freedom of living on your own in a new place, having independence, and making new friends. There's plenty that will already be stressful or make you feel anxious regarding schoolwork and being away from your family — you don't need worrying about weight gain to add to that!
Why Freshmen Shouldn't Diet
One of the main reasons Previte urged Freshmen not to diet is because studies show that diets don't work! In 2007, Traci Mann, who has a PhD in psychology, conducted a review of every randomized controlled trial of diets and included a follow-up of at least two years. She and her team discovered that one-third to two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they lost on their diets — more weight! Previte explained that this proves that dieting is a predictor of weight gain, which means if you diet, you could end up weighing more than you did before you started.
Dieting can also be harmful to our physical health, Previte said. In this study, yo-yo dieters had a higher risk of heart disease than women who stayed at a consistent weight. She added that disordered eating habits can also affect your mental health, making you feel depressed, isolated, and out of control.
Life was made for so much more than chasing a smaller body, Previte said, and she speaks from experience. "I'm a dietitian and intuitive eating counselor, and college for me was my most prominent time of disordered eating habits that I've ever had. I wish so badly that I knew what intuitive eating was back then," she said. "Social events would be ruined because I was too absorbed and caring what other people thought about my body. I would set strict food rules only to break them and get so mad at myself for not being able to stick to the diet. And I'd end up eating more of those forbidden foods until I felt physically unpleasant."
We know restrictive dieting doesn't work, and we know that it only causes disordered eating behaviors, and she added, "It wasn't until I made peace with food that I was able to honor my health." If you want to improve your health, you can absolutely focus on health-promoting behaviors that will honor your body, but she said that "dieting is not the answer."
How Freshman Can Take Care of Themselves If They're Worried About Gaining Weight
Take the focus off dieting and exercising to lose weight and do things that you actually enjoy, Previte said. Think about what foods make you feel good physically and emotionally, and eat those! Do movement that inspires you and builds your confidence. Focus on behaviors you know will have a positive impact on your health such as getting enough sleep, stress management, eating nutrient-packed foods, and staying hydrated.
"Look at these very simple and small behavior changes as an opportunity to take care of yourself because it feels good," Previte said, and not because you have to, or with the intention to lose weight.
What If You're Surrounded By Others Who Are Dieting?
If you're surrounded by friends or people in your classes who are always talking or complaining about their diet, stressing about weight gain, or engaging in disordered eating or exercise habits, Previte said, "it's very important to find a support system of people who are not engaging in diet culture." This doesn't mean you can't be friends with people who engage in diet culture, but you need to set boundaries to protect yourself so you're not pulled into unhealthy habits.
If friends start talking about diets and weight gain, Previte said you have a few different options: "Change the subject, walk away, explain why you don't enjoy dieting and how it's not only harmful but it doesn't work. You could also share this well-known Intuitive Eating book or an antidiet, body-positive podcast with a friend.
Previte said in order to be successful and stay true to your food freedom ways, find your antidiet tribe! There are other humans who don't want to diet and you can connect with them so much deeper by having this mutual understanding.