When I was packing for college my freshman year, my grandmother (only half jokingly) told me to “watch out for the Freshman 15!”
I grew up relatively isolated from the worst of today’s diet culture, so this was a bit of a shock. According to this rhetoric, the biggest thing to worry about at college was not hard classes, navigating the social scene or avoiding peer pressure. It was gaining weight — the infamous 15 pounds from eating dining hall food. I’ve always been considered a healthy weight and “in shape,” particularly due to being involved in athletics my whole life. However, despite the fact that I was committed to swimming competitively fifteen hours a week, my grandmother wanted to make sure I would not eat too much.
Diet culture was pervasive in high school, but the messaging is almost worse in college.
Free to do what they like with their time and money, many students gravitate towards the snack and candy aisles at Fred Meyer and forgo Fields Dining Hall’s’s limp vegetables for the significantly-less-slimy crazy cake. The efforts the Bon exerts to try and offer healthy options get left to go cold while we grab cereal, white rice and grilled cheese.
It is really hard to eat healthy in college. Budget and time constraints, combined with many of us lacking experience in cooking for ourselves, mean dinners of mac and cheese and ramen are go-to’s. Yet, exacerbated by conventionally beautiful influencers on Instagram and TikTok, the image we see as ideal is thin, white and effortlessly stylish, as well as probably trying to sell us something.
The result is disordered eating for college students. At Lewis & Clark in particular, many students came from middle and upper-class homes where home cooked meals were the norm. Some adapt to the lower-quality food, but some simply skip meals. Combined with how difficult it is to get off campus to get groceries or restaurant meals, particularly for first-year students, this is a difficult and unhealthy problem.
LC as a whole is fairly body-positive and many students who do follow diets do so for environmentally-conscious reasons. I have heard very little about the “Freshman 15” here compared to friends at other schools, however we are not exempt from the societal pressure to stay thin.
College students as a demographic are susceptible to such messaging, as we are figuring out how to live adult lives, spend our money on the right things and navigate the dating scene. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the propaganda pushed by diet, cosmetics, sports and other industries looking to profit off of college students’ unrefined personal budgets.
As much as we complain about the Bon’s food, it has tried hard to counteract the diet culture college students are subject to. We are presented with a fully stocked salad bar, balanced meals, fresh fruit and thoughtful soups. Despite the many undeniable issues, an honest effort has been made to offer LC students healthy options and counteract the idea that there is no way to eat healthy in college.