I still remember the moment when my parents dropped me off at my dormitory three years ago. When I stared at my improvised snack, a bowl of pretzels, and a glass of peanut butter, my only thought was: Maybe tonight I'd have to do without dinner.
More than missing out at home or trying hard hours, I was worried about earning a freshman 15 – which, it turns out, is a myth. Studies show that the average freshman in his first year of school earns less than this amount. (You can see the exact numbers here and here.)
In my first year, I lost weight due to a poor vegetarian diet. I've tried to convince myself that for ethical reasons I've abstained from meat, but all I really cared about was not gaining more pounds – so I became anemic too.
The side effects of tiredness and drowsiness were obviously not worth it. After raising my iron level again, I decided not to restrict my eating habits any further. And I was about the same weight for years.
I recently noticed major changes in my body. My face is rounder. My hips are wider. I had to donate clothes that I have worn since middle school. A few weeks ago, I finally stepped on the scales and found that I have gained significantly in weight since the beginning of my studies.
I know there's nothing wrong with being heavier, and that size does not say anything about the value of a person. But reading that number reminded me of my venomous mentality at the age of 17. My first reaction was to panic and plan on how to "fix" myself through another diet. So far, I have tried very hard to resist this impulse.
College weight gain was not only the worst thing she could remember, but the only thing anyone would remember.
According to a survey conducted at the University of Utah, many college women like me live with "strong fears of weight gain". For some, the freshman 15 is "the greatest fear or worry in their lives".
I became very aware of Freshman 15 During high school, when alumni returned to graduation parties and choir concerts. I nodded politely as the weight of female college students became an occasionally hot topic among parents, students, and sometimes teachers.
"Someone could not avoid the freshman 15."
"She filled in some, did not she? you? "
" Look what happens if you drink too much beer. "
Then I learned that it does not matter what kind of girl a major is or what clubs she joined. Gaining weight in college was not just the worst thing she could remember, but the one thing anyone would remember. It would be the only thing anyone would remember to me .
While articles on the fight against freshman 15 tend to be gender neutral, it is not the shame associated with college weight gain. A study by 2013 students found that "weight gain increases body dissatisfaction and negative eating habits among women," but not in men – although men in four years of school have on average gained more weight than women.
The increasing pressure on women not to increase is another way in which society seeks to keep women small both literally and figuratively.
As soon as a girl can read, she learns from supermarket tabloids: "HOW DO I LOSE? POINTS IN X DAYS! "At eight, she will most likely want to be thinner. She will watch her friends and mothers cycle through diets like Atkins, Keto and Paleo. And once she's grown up, she's more likely to worry about her appearance than anything else – including her career success. It is no wonder that some women fear weight gain after lifelong conditioning with obesity.
Despite the article about the "beating" of the freshman 15, which make you believe weight gain after puberty is incredibly normal. At the age of 17 to 23, people attending college take about as much weight as people who do not attend college. This is partly because most people's lifestyle changes after high school. They are less likely to exercise and may not be used to preparing healthy meals themselves. Instead of training, they go to school or to work, often both.
As a woman, taking up more space is not an obstacle that needs to be overcome.
And the natural aging process can have an impact. Women had their highest metabolic rate in their late teens and early twenties. It is normal for this rate to drop gradually in the following years. Much of the weight gain that college women are afraid of is just a natural part of growing up.
I was eleven years old when Kate Moss notoriously said, "Nothing tastes as good as it feels thin." A long way since then. Other brands offer oversized models and Photoshop. Celebrities such as Jameela Jamil are vocal against fat burning and the diet industry.
But it is one thing for the body-positive movement to expand the close medial definition of beauty. It is another thing to believe that watching TV and movies will automatically improve our self-image and our movements in the world.
Offscreen has not changed much.
It is not superficial to worry about gaining weight when we live in a society that punishes larger bodies. But we have to break the cycle of fear for the good of our health. Fear of weight gain can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Even if the anxiety is not so high, mere stress can trigger headaches, increase depression, and weaken the immune system.
Women are weight-discriminated more by employers than by men, even if they have a "healthy" BMI. Doctors' bias towards obese patients leads to late diagnoses and misdiagnoses – and this bias is heightened in women, especially those with skin color, who are already finding it difficult to be taken seriously in the medical field.
We must resist the tendency of our culture to be. "What happens when women's emotional energy is so strongly linked to what they see in the mirror that makes it harder for them to see other aspects of their lives," said Renee Engeln, a professor at Northwestern University That weight gain is never a sign of a health problem or harmful habits. (Weight loss can be a similar red flag.) But the idea that gaining weight in itself is a problem misleads "good" and "bad" sizes. The bait of hard headlines about weight loss only reinforces this stigma.
My initial reaction to weight gain forced me to reckon with how I value myself. I started celebrating my body for everything it did for me rather than how I can control it. During my studies, I created the deanery list, won prizes for writing and got used to living with a chronic disease. I can be proud of that, no matter how much my weight fluctuates.
Like many women I know, I would never talk about the body of other women as I have criticized my own. It is time for us to be as friendly to ourselves as we are to others. Our value does not depend on how well we are on a diet while we go to school, refuse a job, or raise children.
Taking more space as a woman is not an obstacle we must overcome.  To put it simply, we have more important things to do.
Isabella Rosario is a freelance writer living in Iowa. You can follow her on Twitter @irosarioc .