When I was 10 years old, I started swimming. Around the same time, my dad affectionately deemed that I was a “full-force eater.”
“What the heck does that mean?” you may have just asked yourself as you nibbled on your side salad and daintily sipped your glass of water. If that’s the case, I can confidently say that we have never shared a meal together.
Swimmers, ex-swimmers, parents of swimmers and friends of swimmers, you know exactly what I’m talking about when I admit that I am, in fact, a full-force eater. After a difficult practice, it wasn’t unusual for me to down three helpings of dinner and several glasses of chocolate milk without showing any signs of becoming full; I’ve even been known to pregame before Thanksgiving dinner by eating a large plate of spaghetti for lunch the same day.
“Where does all of that food go?!” people often ask me incredulously after watching me consume my recommended daily allowance of calories in one sitting.
For whatever reason, I was graced with the ability to consume large quantities of food without fear that I would gain an ounce. Sure, when I eat a double cheeseburger, fries and a cookies ‘n cream milkshake, I manage to conceive a food baby that, at times, has been known to give me the appearance of an expecting mother. Miraculously, whatever evidence of this monstrous meal that gets left on my waistline manages to vanish overnight; in the morning, I’m left with a flat stomach that reminds me how staaarrrrving I am.
Needless to say, I managed to live 18 years of my life without ever giving consideration to my weight. Bikini season? No worries. Skin-tight shirt? Who cares!
And then college happened.
In your freshman year of college, you are expected to gain three things: friends, knowledge, and fifteen pounds.
For me, these friends were relatively easy to find: They were the ones who willingly agreed to let me have the last of their French fries and the occasional bite of their pizza. (Well, perhaps they were creeped out by my constant staring at their food and fed me just so I would leave them alone.)
It’s been 14 months since I retired my cap and goggles, and while the perpetual chlorine perfume has evaporated from my body, my swimmer appetite, unfortunately, has not. At any given mealtime, it’s easy to distinguish my tray all of the rest—just look for the one that’s bowing under the weight of the four plates crammed onto it.
Despite the 33 credit hours that I’ve accumulated this year, the knowledge I’ve gained that resonates most frequently in my mind is the nagging awareness of my powerful metabolism’s limited lifespan and the potential weight gain that might result from its disappearance. So far, I’ve yet to see more than a pound or two of the dreaded “Freshman Fifteen,” but I know it’s only a matter of time until I sink my teeth into the brownie that sets my metabolism over the edge.
Throughout the school year, I’ve found myself letting the fear of weight gain take over my mind, actions and vocabulary. I’m sure if my roommates had a dollar for every time they’ve heard me mutter the phrase, “I’m gonna weigh 800 pounds,” they’d each have approximately $800 to their name. If I had a dollar for each time I passed up an opportunity to eat ice cream in the dining hall, I could probably buy a lifetime supply of Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s not the decision to choose a salad over a bowl of pasta that’s causing significant harm to my life; it’s the persistent worry whenever I consume the occasional cookie that is eating away at my sanity.
This apprehension has to stop—I have an infinite supply of papers, projects, and exams that deserve more of my mental capacity, and sometimes, these activities require foods with ingredients that include sugar, chocolate, salt, chocolate and… Oh, yeah. Chocolate.
And that is okay.
So that’s why I’m calling on all freshmen (…and sophomores, juniors, seniors, and incoming freshmen…) to put an end to the stigma of the “Freshman Fifteen.”
Granted, you can save a couple dollars here and there by not buying ice cream every time you’re craving something sweet, you won’t feel as bloated if you don’t devour an entire pizza every weekend and you’ll definitely fall asleep faster if you sweat out your stress at the gym.
But what college student has time for that kind of lifestyle?
If you try to tune out your craving for mac ‘n cheese by opting for a salad, you’re going to spend the entirety of your evening focusing on what you wish you would have eaten, rather than paying attention to your paper.
If you pass up on the chance to eat at a restaurant uptown because you’re afraid of the extra calories, you’re going to graduate with a weight of regret heavier than the weight you might’ve gained.
Most importantly, if you spend your mealtimes judging your friends for the food on their plates, you’re going to lose more friends than inches from your waistline.
Bottom line, if eating an apple is going to make you happy, opt for the fruit. But if a brownie is going to relieve your stress about finals, don’t hesitate to dig in. There are greater things in life than the few pounds you may accumulate in college, and your happiness that results from eating ice cream is one of them.
Bikini season? Bring it on.