The Freshman 15 and the Stigma Behind College Weight Gain

The Freshman 15 and the Stigma Behind College Weight Gain

College can be a stressful time for people. The overwhelming workload, being in a new environment, and adhering to an unfamiliar routine can be a difficult adjustment, especially in the first couple of months. All of these changes can lead to a drastic shift in eating patterns, causing unhealthy eating habits to form. The stigma surrounding gaining weight in college is incredibly detrimental to students, because students feel pressure to compare themselves to others and look a certain way, and these unhealthy habits can have adverse long-term health consequences.

The term “freshman 15” is often associated with excess weight gain, roughly about 15 pounds, that students tend to gain during their first year of college. However, this phrase is merely an umbrella term; some students gain more or less weight, and some even lose weight during their freshman year. The wide variety of choices in campus dining halls is a significant contributing factor to some students’ weight gain, as they are exposed to more options than they have ever had before (Scott, 2020). Furthermore, having more dining options means students are more prone to snacking or eating during late-night study sessions, which can also contribute to weight gain (Scott, 2020).  This idea of the freshman 15 puts “a label on the possibility of weight gain,” which can lead to “an unhealthy thought process that can then lead to concerning behaviors, such as disordered eating and excessive exercise,” (Woodall, 2018). The idea of the “freshman 15” ties weight to self worth, which puts pressure on students to not fall into a stereotypical category. As a result, any sort of normal weight gain becomes a negative thing to that individual because of this stereotype. Contrary to popular belief, eating disorders are more than just choosing to skip meals at certain times throughout the day. It is a thought process that can affect everyday life.

Gaining weight in college is often a result of stress brought on by acclimating to a new lifestyle, which is a normal part of the college experience. Stigmatizing that puts unnecessary stress on students. Some students develop eating disorders as a way of maintaining control over their life, while others fall prey to the unrealistic expectations of diet culture that exist at their college campus. On the opposite end of that spectrum, some students are overwhelmed with the vast array of choices at college, and eat due to stress or comfort, leading them to gain the aforementioned “freshman 15.” Oftentimes the warning signs of an eating disorder can go largely unnoticed due to the lack of parental influence and the newfound freedom that a student has (Kuhn, 2018). It’s important to recognize that eating disorders can vary from person to person, and there is no way to physically tell when someone is struggling with disordered eating. 

Since college can be an overwhelming experience, it’s especially important to prioritize self-care. This means listening to your body’s needs, prioritizing mental health, and staying active are crucial to having a successful first year at college. Finding healthy outlets for emotions and stress is important for students if they find themselves practicing unhealthy eating habits (Ekelman, 2019). If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, contact the National Eating Disorder Hotline, or speak to a licensed counselor or therapist. There are many resources in college that are designed to help students, and taking advantage of them is the best way to get the most out of your college experience.



Ekelman, R. (2019, June 18). “Freshman 15” – breaking the stigma of 1st year college weight gain. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Scott, E. (2020, October 03). Is the ‘Freshman 15’ due entirely to stress? Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Staff, S., & Kuhn, S. (2018, October 14). The weekender: Fearing the freshman 15: CONFRONTING body image issues and eating disorders in college. Retrieved February 22, 2021, from

Woodall, G. (2018, August 29). Rethinking the “freshman 15”: Talking about our bodies with kindness. Retrieved February 21, 2021, from

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