When preparing to head to college the most common piece of unsolicited advice you receive is to get ready for the freshman 15, referring to the approximate 15 pounds the typical freshman gains during their first year of college as the begin to acclimate to life on their own and learn that the perpetual availability of Cane’s at 4 A.M. definitely does not mean you need Cane’s at 4 A.M. I could pay for grad school if I had a dollar for every time a well-meaning adult told me to “beware the freshman 15” by watching what I eat and always taking the stairs no matter what floor my dorm was on—though, let’s be real Brenda. Neither of us are walking up 9 flights of stairs in a humid stairwell after getting our asses handed to us by a midterm. That is an ice cream in the elevator situation.
No one warns of the opposite effect. Every adult concerns themselves with your potential weight gain at the hands of the only all you can eat Chick-fil-a in the world, but few, if any at all, take issue with the students either in recovery from or at risk of developing an eating disorder.
Until recent reflection I hadn’t considered just how much easier it is to maintain or develop an eating disorder while in college. Food is expensive, time is scarce, school is stressful, and for those with managed ADD or ADHD, stimulants almost always significantly if not completely deter appetite, a dangerous side effect for anyone with an ED. It’s typically easier to just decide you aren’t hungry, keep studying, and ignore the feeling in your stomach.
Any weight loss visible on trips home from school is usually greeted with a “Wow! College sure is treating you well!” or humorless quip about avoiding the freshman 15, and any weight gain is addressed as simply a symptom of college that will drop after the summer and a few dozen trips to the free gym on campus. Every mention of bodily appearance, especially regarding weight fluctuation, can be dangerous for someone with disordered eating tendencies, and for many students the problem isn’t noticed until it has become a crisis.
Campuses go to such extraordinary measures to prepare freshman for what could potentially be the most difficult year of their life thus far, with the advent of alcohol training and sexual assault awareness courses reaching colleges across the country.
But I think we can do better. For the startlingly high number of college students handling an eating disorder in some form during their freshman year, we can do better than the current 2.5% of colleges offering year round education and prevention programs for eating disorders. There are so many small ways to make students aware of the signs of an eating disorder and provide adequate knowledge of the resources available on or near campus for students who are in need of a little help. At least in my own experience, college students will at least attend just about anything if you provide a free t-shirt and/or some food—As a side note, I can’t even begin to tell you just how many t-shirts I have for organizations I have never been even remotely involved in. As long as it doesn’t have an outwardly offensive message or image on it there is a 98% chance I, and so many others like me, will listen to anything you say, register for emails for whatever extracurricular you’re representing, and then wear the shit out the free t-shirt you hand me, thus providing easy advertising. As I’m writing this I have on a “Relay for Life 2015” shirt. I did not participate in the 2015 relay for life in any way shape or form.
A simple screening of students for eating disorders paired with students having the knowledge of how an eating disorder develops and progresses as well as what an eating disorder can look like can significantly help the hordes of students attending college, especially those attending a university for the first time.
College students have enough to worry about all on their own. Let’s help them only melt into a stress puddle about what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives and how they’re going to pay back the thousands of dollars of debt they have, not if, when, and what they deserve to eat.