By Bentic Sebastian
The first time my dad and I went to the PAR dining hall, we were both astounded! I could eat whatever I wanted. My dad was amazed at the stir-fry counter, the burrito corner, and the dessert options. When I asked him what he thought about how frequently I should eat, he replied “As often as you feel like”. I loved the dining halls but I wasn’t prepared for how I would face the idea of a buffet almost every single day. And that was the beginning of my Freshman 15!
If you haven’t heard of Freshmen 15, this is an important phase that freshmen or other new students go through, especially in the United States. Freshman 15 refers to students getting overweight because of the abundance of food in dining halls. When some freshmen (including me) see a lot of food options available to them, it is so common for freshmen to have large meals that the phrase Freshman 15 is commonly used on all US campuses.
I had decided on a 10 meal, 15 credits plan. That’s roughly two meals for five days, and 15 credits to spend at the a-la-carte locations. My university meal plan really changed my eating patterns. Before I came to university, I used to wake up at 7am, have some coffee and perhaps cereal, and go to school. We had a snack break at 10am, where I usually had a sandwich. After classes ended at 1pm, I would go back home and eat lunch,which was the heaviest meal of my day. And at around 10pm, I would have dinner, which was usually light;maybe a salad, or some bread.
At university, I woke up at 7am for a big breakfast; orange juice(with calcium!), an omelette,two or three slices of toast, and a slice or two of chocolate chip marble cake. I didn’t have a break at 10am because I had a lecture to rush to. On some days, I also didn’t have a break between 12pm and 2pm, because I didn’t really think about lunch breaks when I made my schedule. After 2pm classes, I usually had to wait until at least 5pm for grilled sandwiches at the sandwich counter, or 7pm for more wholesome food. This meant that between 12am and 2pm, I had very loud hunger pangs. Many other freshmen shared the same plight as me, because my stomach pangs weren’t the loudest in the lecture hall!
At around 6.45, I would make way, eagerly, to dinner. I went early so that I could avoid the big lines. It also meant that I could save time on getting my favorite dishes. Usually I would go over to the stir-fry counter first, because that counter filled up fast! I always ended up having dessert too, something that I usually never did back home. My favorite dessert was the caramelized chocolate walnut brownies. I would heat them in the microwave before adding vanilla ice cream on top to have a delicious way to end dinner!
Meal-times were a very social time for me. We had a “breakfast club” which was composed of all my floormates who had “8am”’s just like I did. It was fun to eat together, because we got to catch up on what was going on in each other’s lives. During dinner, there was a larger group of people at the dining hall, and we would sit together and have long conversations even after our plates were empty!
Despite the large variety of food, and the fun conversations I had at the dining hall, I felt the consequences of this lifestyle soon enough. My diet for the next four months, although plentiful, was not balanced. I ate heavy breakfasts,composed of sugary drinks and sugary foods, which made me tired and lethargic,instead of refreshed. I skipped lunches, and I would suffer through hunger pangs,because I usually wouldn’t think about packing some food into my bag. Between 5pm and 7pm, all I could think of was food. My stomach distracted me from getting some useful work done. At 7pm, since I hadn’t eaten for about seven hours, I would end up eating more than I needed to. This binge would eventually make me feel lethargic again, and I wouldn’t be able to do any assignments or study efficiently during the night.
This cycle of binging and starving led to me gaining about 20 pounds over the course of my first semester at the dorm! I was frequently tired, and my face looked tired all the time. I tried sleeping longer, but that still didn’t solve the problem, as my body had to work hard to digest all the food I was eating and get used to eating less during lunchtime. There were times when I would look at a university event, and think ”Would adding this event still allow me to get dinner?” because food was so critically timed. This kind of lifestyle did not help me to be energized.
The gym is a great way to combat Freshman 15 because it’s open to all students. I started going to the gym when I felt I couldn’t muster the energy and the willpower to complete my assignments. I spent about an hour at the every week, and I spent about 30 minutes running, rowing, or cycling, using the remaining time to try other exercise routines. Going with friends made it easier and fun to go to the gym. Although it was difficult initially to complete laps around the indoor running court at CRCE or the ARC, eventually I was able to regain enough strength and stamina to become a productive college student again.
I feel that a healthy body is required for a healthy mind capable of the high memory and analysis abilities required for success at college. I still go jogging about thrice a week around Chambana(Champaign-Urbana). It’s fun, it’s refreshing, and most importantly, it’s healthy. I have stopped feeling sluggish, and I am getting better at being a productive college student. As long as you leave some space in your schedule for lunch, and maintain a balanced diet with regular exercise (the doctors were right!), Freshman 15 will not interfere in your college life! Enjoy your meal options at the dining halls around the university!