In college, you do not control your eating habits. No matter how determined you may be to maintain a steady diet, there are an endless array of forces which are bound to ruin your resolve and cause your dietary patterns to take on a life of their own. There is a reason that everyone over the age of 20 will feel the need to warn you about the “Freshman Fifteen.” It’s real and it comes for us all. It seems easy enough to avoid in the beginning. After all, you are the one who chooses what to get from the cafeteria and how much you eat. But unsuspecting freshmen get ambushed by the silent attack from the real way that college fattens you up: Friends. Before you start to form relationships, the cafeteria is the last place you want to go. No one wants to be the loser sitting alone, trying to ignore the pitying looks coming from all directions. You may as well wear a sign that says, “YES< I’m ALONE IN THIS WORLD< NOW LET ME EAT IN PEACE!” But as soon as the first acquaintance asks if you want to go grab a snack with them the caf instantly transforms into a shiny happy place where friendships blossom and new adventures await.
Once this begins to happen, you’re stuck. Because now you have a caf buddy. And even if that one doesn’t stick, don’t worry, plenty more will come. You will find yourself constantly living in uncertainty, never knowing who your next meal is coming from. Let me illustrate the struggle. It’s 11:00 and your next class starts in an hour. You know you should eat before then, but you don’t have anything planned. Sometimes you meet up with your class friend but you two haven’t talked about it today. But what if she is counting on you? Should you text her? Or does that look too desperate? Maybe you should just wait a few minutes and see if she texts you? Is it supposed to just be understood that you eat together now? And just as all this is going on in your head, your roommate walks in and asks if you want to go to lunch with her. You’re relieved that the decision has been made for you. After all, you can’t say no to someone who just wants the same thing you do, to not be alone.
Every meal brings the same uncertainty and internal conflict. But soon enough, you will establish enough meal buddies that if is no longer the question, but who and when. Should you wait for someone to ask you to go? Should you ask someone to go? And who is the right person to ask this time? You don’t want to ask someone too much and look clingy, but you also don’t want anyone to forget about you in the constantly fluctuating evolution of college friendships. But there is a way to have it all. My solution is to eat your heart out. You don’t have to turn anyone away and you don’t have to wait on anyone either. Go to lunch with your roommate. And when your friend texts you five minutes after you get back if you’ve eaten lunch yet, lie. Or cleverly avoid the truth, it’s your call. Go back to second lunch to be a good friend. And then when someone asks you if you want to get lunch after class an hour later, go for it. Relationships live and die in the college cafeteria.
This obligation to socialize is how I came to realize that the Freshman Fifteen is no joke. Because while I only gained five pounds my first year of college, I felt like I ate twice my weight every day. Between classes, you have to eat when you can. But then when someone is considerate and/or brave enough to invite you to join them, it is almost impossible to refuse, no matter how convinced you are that your stomach is about to explode. When someone thinks of me as someone they want to spend a meal with, I don’t have the heart to reject them. I don’t eat breakfast. I never have. But I did at least a couple times my freshman year because wanting to feel wanted is a powerful force that can make you face almost anything, including the most important meal of the day.
Once you have a solid friend group, you may look back with confusion remembering the eclectic combinations of people who you stumbled into sharing meals with in those early days. But even when you have figured out who is available for what meals at what times and you have a relatively reliable schedule, that does not mean you will eat less. Because the caf will still be the place where you figured out who your friends were. It will still probably remain a staple of your circle. Because no matter what the food tastes like or how many times they failed the health inspection, everyone eating there shares the same experiences and connections. There is a certain air of community which accompanies that. Plus, who doesn’t want to be where the cookies are?