94: The Freshman Fifty

94: The Freshman Fifty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Campus Chronicles

The Freshman Fifty

In order to change we must be sick and tired of being sick and tired.

~Author Unknown

Long before I entered college, I had heard of the “freshman fifteen.” The term usually refers to the extra pounds put on by first-year female college students. I had always written the expression off as more of a joke than an actual phenomenon, and assumed that I had little to worry about. After all, I was in the best shape of my life and, more importantly, a man. So it certainly would not happen to me, right? Wrong!

Like most freshmen, college was my first time really away from home, my first true taste of absolute freedom. There was nobody to tell me what to do. I could stay up as late as I wanted, and sleep in as long as I wanted. I could attend class when I wanted, or skip class when I wanted. And most importantly, I could eat what I wanted, and eat as much as I wanted. And that’s just what I did.

I grew up in a household where I had to ask if I wanted something to eat. Otherwise, with three siblings, the refrigerator and cupboards would always be empty. My family hardly ever ate out, and if we did, almost never at a fast food restaurant. Also, I was a dedicated member of my high school’s wrestling team, which meant that if I wasn’t losing weight, I was probably watching my weight. So for most of my teenage years I was counting calories and had but an ounce of fat under my skin. But then during my senior year, after I had wrestled my final match, I promised myself two things. First, I would never again, under any circumstances, eat another rice cake for the rest of my life. And second, I would never again worry about what I ate.

For a person who had not a care in the world about his food intake, college was an absolute paradise. I had the option of a meal plan that consisted of nineteen meals a week, or one with fourteen. Knowing that I would probably not be up in time for breakfast most days, I chose the latter. I also had the option of eating at one of several vendors that served up quick meals, or an all-you-can-eat style buffet. Not worrying about what I ate, I almost always chose the latter.

The buffet had everything that an American teenager could ask for: a taco bar, a pizza bar, a salad bar, a hamburger stand, a chicken stand, a Chinese food stand, a sandwich stand, and a dessert bar with a wide variety of ice creams and baked goods. If my mouth watered for a double-layered taco with every topping imaginable, I could have it, and I did. If my taste buds desired a triple cheeseburger covered with chili, I could have it, and I did. If my stomach craved a sundae with four scoops of ice cream and a half-pound of hot fudge, I could have it, and I did. And most of the time I had all of those things in just one sitting. Looking back, I spent more time in the dining hall than I did in the library.

When I went off campus I was no better. I frequently ate at the local fast-food restaurants and was constantly snacking on junk food. And I don’t even want to think about the amount of empty calories I drank at the never-ending house parties. In just four months I probably consumed more calories than I did in the first seventeen years of my life combined.

I had gotten fat and hadn’t even realized it. Sure, my clothes felt a little tight, but it was also the first time I had done laundry myself, so I assumed that they had shrunk. It was not until I returned home during winter break that I recognized the truth. I went to a wrestling practice at my former high school and within minutes the jokes started. My teammates were relentless and even my coach asked about my weight. “So I gained a few pounds,” I said. Then they made me step on the scale. I was well over 200 pounds, which wouldn’t have been that big of a deal, except that only a year earlier I wrestled in the 152-pound weight class. In less than a year I had gained fifty pounds. I had transformed from a lean muscular middleweight into a short chubby heavyweight. It was embarrassing. I felt as if I had let myself down. I could only imagine how much weight I would have gained if I had chosen the plan with nineteen meals a week.

When I returned to school for the spring semester I decided to lose some weight. I did not forget the promise that I had made to myself and continued not to worry about what I ate. I just did not eat as much. Instead of three fried chicken breasts with lunch, I would only have two. Instead of two slices of pepperoni pizza with dinner, I would only have one with a salad on the side. Instead of four glasses of soda, I would have two glasses of milk.

Slowly but surely my weight dropped. I never went back to the body I had my senior year of high school, but I came to the conclusion that I never would, and was content with that fact. I did manage to learn a valuable lesson that would stick with me for life — with absolute freedom comes a great deal of personal responsibility. There is a vast difference between not worrying about what you eat, and taking care of yourself. Everybody has a choice between abusing their body with food or being generally healthy. Now, I choose the latter.

~J. M. Penfold

More stories from our partners