SCHMIDT: Forgetting the freshman 15

Josh Hamburger

I wake up 20 minutes before I have to leave for class, showering so frantically that I almost forget my shower shoes (a cardinal sin when you’re talking Gillette bathrooms). On my way out of my room, I stick a green apple into the side pocket of my backpack. Just in case.

By the end of my second lecture, calculus, my stomach is quietly reminding me that I haven’t eaten anything yet. The apple sits still in my backpack, untouched, elbowing up against chapstick and spare highlighters.

I haven’t worked out today. I have a headache. I’m twitchy in class, and snap at the few people who try to sit down and strike up a conversation with me.

Eleven o’clock means that I should go to my Developmental Psych lecture back on Commons, but I start to think — I have a lab today. Then, a meeting. Then, a rehearsal. There’s no time for me to run, and I need that. Yesterday, they were giving out pizza on Rand Wall. And I got cheesy bread as a side at Leaf. And I’m stressed. I should work out. I’ll feel better. Just 30 minutes on the elliptical.

Forty-five?

An hour later, I step off the machine and look down at my hands. They’re trembling, just a little bit, and I feel cold, even though I’ve been working out at a “Kanye”-by-the-Chainsmokers-fueled pace. I enter the workout into an app on my phone, and watch the amount of calories I have remaining for the day increase by a few hundred.

I try to put my phone into my backpack pocket, but that uneaten apple stops me.

And I am so tired.

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I know a lot of first-year students at Vanderbilt and other institutions, and as a tour guide, I spent every day of this summer interacting with prospective students who are asking all kinds of questions about what life in college is like. One of these questions, I hear shockingly often:

“So, the food here is good? Does that mean the Freshman 15 is something I should worry about?”

Okay. Here goes:

To all incoming first-year undergraduates, especially young women:

Forget. The freshman. Fifteen.

Do not enter the best four years of your life terrified that you’ll lose the physique you had in high school. (Spoiler alert: Nobody looks like they did in high school except high schoolers.) Do not allow anyone, whether that’s friends, parents, or your significant other, to insinuate that you have weight to lose or that you should “watch the scale.” Weight doesn’t tell you that much about how healthy you are. Since starting college, I’ve gained about 10 pounds… and I’ve also run two half- and two full marathons. I’m healthier — and stronger — now than I ever was when a compliment I regularly received was: “You don’t weigh anything. I could pick you up and throw you over my shoulder.”

For that matter? Don’t buy a scale. They weigh you at Student Health, and trust me, you’re gonna get the Commons Cold at least once your first semester. You’ll be there. What’s the point of staring down every morning, hoping for some illusory number to appear? What’s the difference in your day if you leave your dorm weighing 130 pounds instead of 129?

For the love of God, do not download any of those inane calorie counting apps. There is no quicker way to start feeling like a human math problem than to track the quality of your days by calories in minus calories out. You are so much more than that.  Do not punish your body for needing energy to survive. Do not test it to see just how little fuel you can get by on.

I want you to know this because I spent a good part of my freshman year trapped in limbo. This surprises my friends and family, and this article will surely surprise more. I kept it hidden beneath a guise of involvement and academic excellence and college Thursday nights, tired all the time but never allowing myself to rest and never really getting anywhere. I would stand in front of the mirror on the back of my door and scrutinize myself, my stomach, my collarbones, my legs, for minutes at a time.

I’ll let you in on a secret: that’s a waste of your time.

You are a Vanderbilt student — you’ve worked so hard to get here, and you deserve to be here. You are an actor, a poet, an athlete, a future doctor or lawyer or political scientist or anthropologist. You are here to grow and learn and change, to be dynamic and to move. You are not here to stagnate in your own self-disgust.

It’s better this way.