The Freshman Experience
This week thousands of students across Canada are slowly but surely getting settled into their university dorm rooms. Campuses across the nation are filled with vibrant colours and activities. Frosh week songs and chants echo across the university neighbourhoods. Soon all the excitement will die down and school will start in earnest. While being away from home for the first time can be extremely exciting and liberating, it can also be very overwhelming and intimidating. Many students will silently struggle with navigating through the process of newfound independence and for some this may lead to a struggle with body image and unhealthy habits.
Mental health awareness is a big topic around university campuses but body image, eating disorders and food and weight preoccupation are seldom discussed. The university environment can have a major impact on an individual’s body image and self esteem. The first year is particularly difficult, as students must learn to juggle school, a social life, extracurricular activities and making healthy choices. Many students will have left the comfort of their own homes including their support groups and friends. With no one watching over them it is easy to fall back on unhealthy options.
With jokes surrounding the “Freshman Fifteen”, fat talk is rampant amongst students. Fat talk lends to the perpetuation of unrealistic and unhealthy societal body ideals. A recent study has shown that among a group of female college students, 43% were dieting to lose weight and 32% were concerned with maintaining their weight.* Many times, living with someone who is restricting their food intake or over-exercising can be extremely difficult and triggering.
Being part of university athletics can be a very rewarding experience. It can also be very physically and emotionally draining. Athletes who are in performance based sports such as dance, figure skating and synchronized swimming might have an added pressure from coaches and teammates to achieve a certain body ideal.
If I could go back in time and talk to my freshman self, I know I would have a thing or two to teach her. Most importantly, I would tell her to be cognizant of the things she says and to stand up against fat talk. University is all about learning experiences and sometimes the experiences you learn outside of the classroom are more important than those you learn inside the classroom.
While the situation I have painted may seem bleak, a little education and awareness goes a long way. A recent study found that a Health at Every Size course that focused on intuitive eating and awareness surrounding anti-fat attitudes led to a decrease in dieting behaviours and an increase in intuitive eating and body esteem among university students.**
If you are struggling with body image issues and feel overwhelmed by the transition between high school and university, please know that you are not alone. Universities offer many different services to help out all students. Seek out your university’s mental health counselling, student health offices and any other groups and clubs that focus around loving yourself and your body. Working towards promoting healthy body image amongst students can really help with your own body image and self esteem. If you are uncomfortable in your living situation for whatever reason, do not hesitate to contact the undergraduate residence and housing services.
For additional support please call NEDIC at 416-340-4156 or toll free at 1-866-633-4220.
*Fayet F, Petcoz P & Samman S. (2012) Prevalence and correlates of dieting in college women: a cross sectional study. Int J Womens Health, 4, 405-411.
**Humphrey L., Clifford D. & Morris M.N. (2015). Health at every size college course reduces dieting behaviors and improves intuitive eating, body esteem and anti-fat attitudes. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, 47(4), 354-360.
Lavinia Tofan is a NEDIC Blog Coordinator and Outreach and Education Volunteer. After receiving her Bachelor of Science in the Life Sciences at McMaster University, Lavinia wanted to raise awareness and start meaningful conversations with students, families and professionals in Toronto communities on topics surrounding eating disorders, media awareness, body image and food and weight preoccupation. Lavinia will be continuing her studies at the University of Guelph in the Master of Public Health program and she looks forward to continuing her work with NEDIC.