I Gained the Freshman 15 — Here's Why You Shouldn't Beat Yourself Up If You Do, Too

My weight was never an issue before I went to college. Maybe it was due to my active lifestyle; I participated in so many sports and clubs, I rarely remember being home other than to sleep. Never in a million years did I think I would have to worry about the "freshman 15." Honestly, I wasn't even sure what that term meant when I moved into my first dorm room. But by the time I returned home for Thanksgiving break, it was obvious that I wasn't immune to gaining weight.

Like most college freshmen, those early months at school were the very first time I'd ever been on my own for more than a night here and there. That meant for the very first time, I was making all of my decisions solo, including decisions about what to eat. Before I went off to college, my mom did all the grocery shopping and cooking. If I was hungry, I looked in the pantry; that was about as close to food shopping as I'd really ever come. Dinner was always ready and waiting when I came home from babysitting, play rehearsal, or baton squad practice. Not that my family was a model for healthy eating. Plenty of times, my mom fixed lasagna or meatloaf. Back when I went to college (muffled) years ago, healthy eating wasn't as big of a topic as it is today. But growing up, I practiced portion control no matter what was served, if for no other reason than there was only so much to go around with two other siblings. And, I was so busy, I didn't sit at the table long enough to overeat.

College life was a different story, however. Although I had a shocking amount of reading to keep up with in between classes, I also had a lot of downtime. Which meant my roommate and I would go to the cafeteria and eat. Or watch a movie and order pizza. Or both. I also, ahem, drank a lot of beer. When I did try to try to eat healthy in the cafeteria, I think portion control was my biggest hurdle. You could load up your tray with as much as you wanted. After all, mom and dad were paying! And I'll admit exercising wasn't very high on my list of things to do, either. Instead, I was logging long hours in the library, lounging in my bed until noon, and partying well past a respectable hour.

Soon, my clothes were getting tight, so I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw a photo taken at a party and barely recognized myself. When I saw my parents for the first time at Thanksgiving, I'm sure they noticed the 15 pounds I'd put on since the Summer. Thankfully, they didn't make a big deal about it, because that might have hurt my feelings. Perhaps they'd been more prepared than I was that I might gain some weight freshman year as I adjusted to life away from home.

I was young, having fun, and working on figuring out how to take care of myself, away from my parents' guidance.

It took me about a year to fully adjust to college, and figure out how to eat mindfully and fit exercise into my routine. By sophomore year, the weight I'd gained was starting to drop off. Sure, I still ordered pizza with friends sometimes, but it wasn't fun anymore to pig out every single night. I also stopped stockpiling rolls and desserts on my tray at the cafeteria, and since my new dorm room had a mini-kitchen, I could now shop for some meals off campus, which helped, too. As far as the drinking, um, well . . . I probably still had the "occasional" beer at a party. But those calories were offset by my visits to the on-campus fitness facility, and jogging with my new boyfriend.

I finished out my college career without excess pounds. But if I'm being honest, I didn't mind all that much when I was sporting more weight. I was young, having fun, and working on figuring out how to take care of myself, away from my parents' guidance. So what if I didn't realize how quickly all that pizza would add up? I recognized the issue, and the important thing is that I course-corrected, and took stock of my choices before 15 pounds turned into 50 and I damaged my health.

To anyone who is struggling with having gained the freshman 15 — or is worried they might — I'd say, just relax. It's totally normal to experience weight gain as you learn how to take care of yourself on your own. No, you may not be perfect at mastering a healthy, balanced lifestyle from day one, but you'll figure out how to thrive in your new environment with some time. And if you find that losing weight becomes a goal of yours, have faith you can make it happen with a little patience, discipline, and um, perhaps a few less nighttime pizza deliveries.