The signature Wal-Mart yellow face smiled down on my mom and me as we slowly pushed our buggy through the back to school aisles. I was just a few weeks away from moving out and into my college dorm at Ole Miss.
Most freshman fear the move away from home, making friends or getting into a sorority. Not me. I only had one huge fear. One MASSIVE fear that trumped any other fear:
Gaining the Freshman 15.
I spent the summer compulsively reading every article on how not to gain the weight. As my mom pushed the buggy, I told her my plan for avoiding the dreaded beer weight gain.
“I won’t eat late night and I’ll avoid beer. Oh and I definitely won’t go to the dining hall – they said it is LOADED with calories…”
My mom (unaware of my eating disorder) did what every loving and amazing mom does: she offered advice and encouragement.
“I use a scale to keep my weight in check.” She said, “I hop on every few days or once a week to gauge where I am and know if I need to cut back a little.”
Her innocent suggestion led us to the scale aisle where I purchased my first scale. Before you start judging my mom, remember that we are all doing the best we can – especially as parents. We love our children and often don’t have the tools or education on how to cultivate a strong body image. (See below for parent/body image resources)
The simple white scale became my best friend, my worst enemy and my measure of worth. Every morning the little dial rotated and sprung back and forth until it landed on my
weight worth of the day. My once day weigh-in quickly escalated to over thirty times a day. I once missed class because I lost track of time obsessively stepping on and off of the scale.
So did I gain the Freshman 15? Nope. I lost weight – and it was met with high praise.
“McCall, you look so good. … What are you doing? … You have such willpower … College is treating you well!”
The compliments fueled my obsession. How low could the scale go? I watched with joy as it showed me a lower number every day. But what goes down, must eventually come back up. And when the number crept back up, life really spun out of control.
I was going out and allowing myself to drink and even eat late night. I practiced the college diet rule that many students do: restrict during the day, saving all daily calories for alcohol – also known as drunkorexia, a dangerous and deadly practice that is all too common.
Alcohol lowered my inhibitions and ability to stay away from food. After eating late night with friends, I would sneak down the hall, scouring vending machines and even garbage cans for leftover, thrown out pizza. I would wake the next morning with such shame and guilt, too mortified to ever reveal my secret, my struggle…my ILLNESS.
On the outside, I was your All-American sorority girl. I experienced a fantastic rush, pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma. I had a wonderful roommate and friends. My grades were off the charts amazing.
But behind closed doors, I was literally killing myself. To this day, I still wonder how I didn’t drop dead during college or the years following. The war in my head and the way I abused my body should have caused major health issues – those didn’t come until nearly ten years later. Shame kept me silent. I continued to struggle throughout my college years, bouncing between anorexia and bulimia, addicted to that bathroom scale and playing the picture perfect girl all the way through.
So I am sure you can guess my solution to how you can avoid the freshman 15…
DO NOT BUY OR STEP ON A SCALE!
Often times your roommate or even the dorm or sorority house has a scale. It is impossible to never encounter a scale. (Side note: if your dorm or sorority house has a community scale, stop reading this and email me: firstname.lastname@example.org). While we can’t stop others from purchasing and depending on scales, we can choose to not step on it ourselves. We can choose to measure our worth on who we are as a person not what we weigh.
College is a time to find yourself, to try new things, meet new people and yes, eat late night and drink beer. I don’t know anyone who has discovered their passion or found new friends by standing on a bathroom scale – trust me, I tried.
To all college students, especially you freshies:
LIVE life. Live YOUR life. This is your time. It is going to be amazing, hard, difficult, hysterical and full of new adventures. You can’t fully experience life with lingering anxiety/obsession about the number on the scale. And if you are experiencing ANY type of anxiety – go TALK to someone. Your school has a counseling center on campus. Again, email me and I will help connect you to locals in your area. I lost so much of my college experience to my eating disorder and I will do whatever I can to make sure you don’t do the same.
Whether you’re a Rebel, a Tiger, a Tar Heel, a Bulldog, an Aggie, part of a Wolfpack or God forbid a Gator, Blue Devil or Roll Tide (JK…not really), I am here for you. You are not alone.
Get off the scale and let your freshman year be about YOU, not your weight.
With love (and a Hotty Toddy!),
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