Opinion: Stop saying the phrase “Freshman 15”


Jean Holman

According to the Eating Disorders Coalition, 30 million people in the United States have had or currently have an eating disorder. An eating disorder is a mental illness where a person has unhealthy eating habits that affect their emotional and physical well-being. People with eating disorders may deny they have an issue. This is seen in many college students who struggle balancing their meals and fitness. There is evidence that freshmen gain weight during their first year. 

This is often referred to as the “Freshman 15.” This phrase distorts how people view health and body image. First-year students may gain more weight than upperclassmen, but that does not mean students should view weight gain as inevitable. Keep in mind, your weight does not define who you are. Using terms like “Freshman 15” implies weight gain is part of your identity when it is not. The phrase normalizes eating disorders, essentially making them seem OK and “normal” to experience. 


Based on a study about college weight gain, freshmen usually gain two to four pounds during their first year. Why does this happen? Stress and the freedom to eat whatever you want can change eating habits. Many students do not know how to maintain a balanced diet and healthy exercise. Some people may not even try because they think “Well, all freshmen gain weight anyways, so it’s bound to happen to me.” “Freshman 15” needs to stop being used in college because it may pressure students to restrict themselves or develop a binge-eating disorder


One report explained that “only about one third of people with an eating disorder ever receive treatment.” Another article described a female who was previously treated for anorexia nervosa in high school. When she filled out an athlete evaluation concerning her well-being, she implied she was healthy. However, once at college, she returned to restrictive eating habits and over-exercising. This not only affected her physical health but also her social life; she rarely spent time with friends and performed poorly in classes.  

“Every 62 minutes,” one person dies from this illness. Eating disorders are not something to make fun of or be ashamed of. People with eating disorders may be embarrassed to admit they have one due to the stigma associated with the illness. Making comments about how much food someone eats for dinner, how they dress, telling someone they should work out, etc. may cause them to develop an eating disorder. Similarly, saying phrases like “Freshman 15” may cause students to restrict their eating.


“Freshman 15” may seem like a silly expression, but it may be doing more harm than good by undermining body positivity. Yes, colleges should promote a healthy lifestyle consisting of eating well-balanced meals and exercising regularly. “Freshman 15” does the opposite, proposing that freshmen gain weight and that gaining weight is bad.