Fear of the Freshers’ 15

Credit: Creative Commons

Chloe Waterhouse
Deputy Culture Editor – Music

Chloe Waterhouse discusses the concept of the dreaded “Freshers’ 15″

The phrase “Freshers’ 15” has been around for years. It has been thrown around in fear, despaired about in Student Room threads, and plastered on student union posters as a red flag. The expression, which describes the average weight in pounds that a university student will gain in their first year, is a rather narrow term for what is a far more complex matter. In all honesty, “Freshers’ 15” should really be called “Freshers’ weight fluctuations and frustrations”. It’s not as set in stone as people may assume (pardon the pun) and not a simple case of gradual weight gain over a set amount of months; it’s all relative to the individual.

In my experience, to move away from a controlled living environment where meals are generally prepared and set for you by parents gives you a frightening dose of freedom. It gives you the freedom to consume a full packet of chilli heatwave Doritos at 4am, or to munch through a full packet of 44p custard creams whilst you lie in bed, three seasons deep into Celebs Go Dating. It’s the freedom to cook for yourself – which in my case involved a lot of potato waffles and beans on toast concoctions. It also offers the added bonus of not having the stress of waking your parents up in the dead of night after a messy Kokomo trip as you drunkenly spill greasy chips on their carpet. This initial novelty contributes towards the “Freshers’ 15”, alongside the newfound freedom of legal alcohol consumption at 18.

On the other hand, this freedom can also have adverse effects. With students moving to university from homes hundreds of miles away, this departure from normality can cause mental health deteriorations from stress and homesickness.

Jasmine, who moved up to Glasgow for university last year from Cambridgeshire, kindly shared her story on Freshers weight gain with me:

“When I came to uni, I noticed a dramatic change in my mental health. I was around 350 miles from home, missing my friends and family and just generally experiencing Freshers’ blues. But, it lasted longer than Freshers’ Week. I had my first panic attack and had constant anxiety. I was nearly doing the same amount of exercise that I did the year before, but weirdly enough I actually lost weight and this was all down to my mental health. I did enjoy being slightly slimmer, but I was in the worst place I’ve ever been mentally. When I came back for second term I felt much better. I had a secure group of friends, I planned my meals and started going to a few more societies. My weight then went back to normal and I felt much better; but then exam time came and I stopped doing the regular exercise I’d been doing before (swing dancing and boxing). This was when my anxiety flared up again and I started gaining weight. Interestingly, the times my anxiety got worse was when I wasn’t doing exercise. However, after I got some medication for my anxiety, I had stopped doing sports and was just working, I still gained weight, and in the final semester I ended up going up a whole dress size. But when I came home, I realised that I didn’t really mind. And at uni I was actually eating healthier than I do at home.”

I was curious to gain an opinion from a stay-at-home student on the matter, and Lucy, who commutes from Paisley for university, stated that “my weight has fluctuated slightly this year, but nothing particularly major which I think is due to still being made healthy dinners at home.” This suggests that perhaps moving away is the largest contributing factor towards the perpetuated “Freshers’ 15”.

The normality of weight fluctuation when starting university is apparent amongst everybody I know. Why should it be demonised with a phrase that connotes negativity and fear? My weight gain, like many others, came from adapting to a new lifestyle. I used to be extremely conscious about my weight, and counted every calorie I consumed, driven by the paranoia of scales and numbers. Before I started university, I was borderline underweight and relatively miserable in my food habits. When university began I was thrust into a healthy environment where people were eating hearty amounts without a single care for the demoralising figures on the back of food packets. I became more carefree, I made friends from all backgrounds, shapes and sizes, and gradually gained my “Freshers 15” through alcohol consumption, larger portions of food and late night snacking whilst I socialised. It’s a learning curve.

Overall, should we really be putting ourselves down for this? Weight gain at university is entirely situational and sometimes, in my case, can be a welcome change. It should not be scrutinised as intensely as people think, for we are all young, new to adulthood, and adapting to university life in our own individual ways. Pint of Tennents, anyone?