Daniela Wise-Rojas

Cocoa Pineanna Yogurt Smoothie from Crossings Café, located on North Campus in Toni Morrison Hall.

March 23, 2022

The Lie of the “Freshman Fifteen” and How To Navigate Eating on Cornell’s Campus

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Content warning: this article contains content relating to eating disorders and relationships with food.

Walking through the dining hall, I contemplate what to eat; the pizza looks good, but I don’t think that’s healthy. Ice cream, obviously, is delicious, but then I ask, “am I just using this as a way to cope with my emotions?” I decide to get a salad, wondering how some people around me just eat whatever and don’t gain weight. I wonder why I care so much about what I eat — it’s because I always have.

However, there’s a fine line between caring about what you eat in a way that’s helpful and paying attention to your intake in a way that’s obsessive. I doubt I’m the only Cornell (or even college) student who has struggled with this dilemma. Cornell students’ relationship with food can become problematic because of a lack of education about eating disorders; every student comes from different backgrounds and parts of the world, each with a special diet.

Shifting to dining hall food and consuming new kinds of food at a different pace can interrupt one’s body’s “norm,” mentally and physically; some refer to this as the “freshman fifteen.” Furthermore, Cornell students are set back further by being overworked combined with social perceptions that elite institutions like Cornell are wealthy and predominantly white. Such leads to more stress on minority and middle-to-lower income students without the knowledge of healthy coping mechanisms, or at least knowledge of resources to help them.

At this point, “freshman fifteen” is a socially accepted term regarding college weight gain; Healthline wrote, “the ‘freshman 15’ is commonly used in America to describe the weight students tend to gain during their freshman year in college, which is believed to be around 15 pounds.” An article from the Journal of American College health titled “The Freshman 15: Is it Real?” addresses that there is actually limited evidence proving that college students gain 15 lbs during their first year. The average weight gain is only 2.7lbs, and around half of the students gained weight, 15% lost weight, and men gained more weight than did women.

So, no. The freshman fifteen isn’t real. Nevertheless, what might spark this belief is their finding that freshman weight gain is about “5.5 times greater than that experienced by the general population.” Any weight gain feels different; my heart dropped to the floor when I was at a doctor’s appointment at Cornell Health, seeing the numbers increase rapidly, stopping at a number higher than I last remembered.

I was alarmed. I expected my doctor to be, too, but he wasn’t. He just looked at me, took notes, and looked confused when I asked him about it. He explained that weight and BMI are just a number that does not indicate your health — what mattered more was actually how I was eating and how I was feeling. He proceeded to offer if I wanted to follow up with a nutritionist. I did. She basically told me the same things but with more detail and fancier charts. Your body is simply not used to dining hall food, the occasional junk food, midnight snacks, and even more so, your body’s sleeping patterns and eating habits.

I felt a little idiotic when I explained how I eat and don’t know where to get the healthiest options sometimes, and she replied, “aim for balance and three meals a day!” It’s not that easy to do in practice. However, it is true. It’s all your body needs to be “healthy” along with exercise. There are ways to find “balance,” whether you’re eating at a dining hall on campus, somewhere in collegetown or ordering from a campus cafe. Hence, here are my recommendations for non-junk food that can be balanced depending on what you eat throughout the day:

Dining Halls: Morrison Dining and Risley Dining

I hope that Morrison stays one of my favorites and won’t stop making fresh food after it’s been around for long enough. Morrison makes all its noodles, pasta, pizza and other similar dishes entirely from scratch. It’s one of the few places where I eat carbs and don’t feel heavy with regret afterward. There’s a large variety of options, including chia pudding at the fruit bar. Risley Dining, another one of my favorites, has some of the same options. What makes Risley unique is its commitment to gluten-free food. Some may argue that food without gluten doesn’t taste great, but Risley makes it taste pretty tasty. Furthermore, not consuming gluten does reduce inflammation in your digestive system, regardless of whether or not you’re allergic to gluten.

Campus Cafes: Crossings, Libe, Mann, Goldies, Temple of Zeus, Terrace, and Cafe Jennie

Obviously, all of these cafes on campus will have pastries and other not-so-healthy options. They are tasty but work better when eaten in moderation and balanced with proteins, veggies and carbs. Crossings and Libe have delightful fruit and yogurt-based smoothies; they’re great for when you’re on the go. Mann, Crossings, Goldies and Cafe Jennie have an array of sandwiches and other deli options that are all made fresh to order. Any pre-packaged York Street salad sold at a cafe is fulfilling and convenient. Temple of Zeus, although it doesn’t take BRBs, does have a hummus sandwich that’s probably the best one I’ve ever had. Mann, Goldies and Temple of Zeus all have handcrafted espresso drinks that are delicious and made-to-order; just maybe don’t get a sugary drink every day. A little is more than enough (this comes from someone who orders Americanos regularly and drinks most of her coffee black, but I digress). Terrace is a little more on the pricey side, but does have tasty options like burrito bowls, gyros, and pho that are hot, fresh, and keep you filled.

Collegetown: Oiishi Bowl, Fushia Bento Bar, Collegetown Bagels and De Tasty Hot Pot

Collegetown Bagels is a classic. They do have plenty of pastries, but they also have an abundance of bagel sandwiches made with egg whites, greens and other tasty ingredients. Their pre-made chia pudding and parfaits are some of the best I’ve ever had. Oiishi Bowl, Fushia Bento Bar and De Tasty Hot Pot are all places where you can find something resembling comfort food when you want something warm that isn’t just instant ramen. It’s a college student staple, I know. However, if you’re going to have something with a lot of sodium, might as well let it be a meal that has veggies and tasty proteins alongside it.

Places to shop for groceries: 7/11, Wegmans, Bear Necessities and Anabel’s Grocery

The Collegetown 7/11 is more like a mini grocery store than a typical 7/11 store. Conveniently located across from Schwartz Performing Arts Center, this 7/11 has fresh fruit, small ethnic grocery sections and any other grocery item you can think of. And, the prices are lower than Bear Necessities and Anabel’s Grocery. Bear and Anabel’s are both on campus with plenty of grocery items but can quickly fall more on the pricey side. Lastly, Wegmans has anything you could desire. Maybe if you find an item at a cafe you love but want to save money, recreate it yourself, make it last a week. Eating balanced food doesn’t have to be scary and strict. Be as creative as you desire!

Bear in mind that these are just my personal opinions and recommendations. I am not a medical professional or a nutritionist, nor am I studying nutrition. I’m just a college student who gained some weight and no longer berates myself for it because I’m eating well and finding what works for me. I still eat desserts, just in moderation. There’s no point in trying to hide your body from a particular food because it will simply end up being more destructive than helpful. You are not what’s on a scale. Although a college with plentiful amounts of junk food, Cornell also has generous amounts of healthy foods. Same for Ithaca. The only number that should matter is a number rating how you and your body feel every day.