Learning to Live with the Freshman 15

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I firmly believe that I could’ve eaten lettuce for every single meal my freshman year and I still would’ve gained weight. But I’m not a rabbit; I ate as I usually do and I fell victim to the infamous Freshman 15. I don’t blame my diet though. I blame the lifestyle changes that came with starting college.

From age four to 18, I could eat whatever I wanted without much worry. As a competitive dancer, I easily spent 20 to 30 hours a week working my butt off at the studio, sweating off any savory treats I might have indulged in earlier. During Nutcracker rehearsal season from August to December, practice time usually doubled. I practically attached an IV to pump sugary lattes into my system to keep me energized during my breaks. My post-dance meals were whatever saucy pastas or rich sandwiches I could find to help me carb up. I’ve never been a stick figure ballerina, but despite my not-so-natural diet, I was in shape.

Fast forward to the summer before I left for college. I had an ambitious vision of how healthy I would be next year despite the end of my rigorous dance years. Working out would be so convenient since the gym was right behind my dorm, the salad bar I’d seen at freshman orientation looked great and my building had no elevators, so stairs were my only choice. Never mind that I’d quit every sport that involved running and suffered symptoms of withdrawal if I didn’t eat something chocolate once a day.

I’m not going to pretend my weight gain was entirely outside my control. I’ve never been one to shy away from a 3 a.m. pizza stop after a night out on the town and school-related stress caused me to down entire pints of ice cream in a sitting more than once. As much as I’d like to say I hit the gym every day, I was lucky if my homework allowed me an hour a week to hate my life on the treadmill.

I joined a dance company on campus that helped keep me active in a way I enjoyed, but it couldn’t stop me from packing on the pounds. My body was used to several of hours of dance every day, not two-hour practices twice a week. I slowly began to notice my toned muscles disappearing under a layer of fat and I knew exactly why it was happening.

Even though I was still active and reasonably healthy, my body wasn’t only reacting to the fattening foods from the dining halls. It was reacting to a complete overhaul of my lifestyle. I used to exercise for four hours a day, now I would exercise four hours a week. I’d always eaten late dinners after dance, and went to bed before 11 p.m. At college, midnight meals and late night studying went hand-in-hand; going to bed before 1 a.m. was laughable. My freshman 15 didn’t signify me going from healthy to unhealthy, but rather my sudden shift from an athlete-in-training to regular college student.

Staying healthy was a great goal to have as an incoming freshman, and one that I’m definitely working on during my sophomore year. But for me to expect to keep my 16-year-old ballet dancer figure for the rest of my life is just plain unrealistic. I’m getting older, I’m staying up later, I’m eating different foods and I’m no longer in constant intense training. Gaining weight wasn’t intentional, but it was inevitable.

Now that school is out, I’m trying my best to adjust to a healthier lifestyle again. I’m back at my old dance studio, taking classes to get my flexibility back and staying in shape for my team at school. Fresh food is now my only option and I’m looking forward to my apartment next year where a dining plan isn’t mandatory. The weight I put on this year is slowly coming off, but I’ve accepted that I’m never going to look like a teenage competition dancer again. If 15 pounds was my only price to pay for an enjoyable freshman year, it was a sacrifice worth making.

Natalie is a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major and Women’s Studies minor at the University of Maryland. If she’s not at the dance studio, she can most likely be found watching comedy shows on Netflix, eating ice cream, or jamming way too hard to showtunes.

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