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Confession: I Gained the Freshman 40

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Often, people assume that health and fitness professionals have never had to struggle with their weight. You may think that we love to exercise and must have a natural aversion to all decadent or "sinful" foods, too. But that couldn't be further from the truth—at least for me. I was fit as a child and teen, and I am now as an adult. But college was a different story...

I gained about 35-40 pounds in college. I can't tell you the exact number, because it depressed me to get on the scale, so I just stopped looking. I was a little underweight when I started school, because I was exercising like a fiend and eating way too little. (I thought what I was doing was healthy. How little I knew then.) So when college started and I was living off of dining hall food, barely sleeping, and engrossed in a stressful major at a competitive school, I didn't have time to exercise like I used to, and I started stress eating. After under feeding my body for so long and then eating more, my weight ballooned up quickly—to the point that none of my clothes even fit! Talk about embarrassing. I came home for the holidays and my tell-it-like-it-is grandmother said (in front of everyone), "Nicole sure has gained weight in college!" (Thanks Grandma…I hadn't noticed.)

My weight issues continued for a few years. I remained overweight and unhappy, and was constantly getting ready to start new diets and fitness programs. I'd tell myself "No sweets starting Monday!" or "I'll exercise for 2 hours every day." Each plan would last about a day or two, and then I'd gorge on bags of candy and start skipping my workouts. I struggled with emotional overeating and an obsession with food, all the while hating how my body looked and wanting to change desperately!

So what did change? I learned to accept myself and care about myself. I learned to stop saying no to sugar, carbs, candy, or other "bad" foods. I learned to listen to my body's REAL cues for hunger, to stop reaching for food to cope with bad feelings, even when my body wasn't hungry. I re-trained my brain so that it was no longer "normal" to snack every time I watched TV or went to a movie. And I stopped obsessing with my weight (I threw out my scale). It didn't happen overnight, and I didn't even lose weight for a long time. It wasn't easy. I had setbacks, but I'd keep them in perspective and just keep trying to be better to my body and myself. Even without losing weight at first, I was happier. And I knew that eventually, my body would return to what was normal.

Over the years, I continued to drop weight without even trying, just by eating in moderation (when hungry), exercising in moderation (without focusing on the calories burned), and focusing on my health overall. Now I'm at a point where I'm happy enough with my body. I'm fit and healthy and I can look good enough in my clothes to not feel self-conscious. At the same time, I can enjoy eating without obsessing about the calories or fat, and I can exercise as much as I feel like, without forcing myself to do things that I don't enjoy. Overall, the things that helped me most were:

  • Learning and honoring my body's true signals for hunger and fullness. I don't eat by a clock, and even if I just ate 1 hour ago, if I feel hungry enough that my belly rumbles, I'll eat. At the same time, I won't eat just because food is around (at a party, at the movies, in the evening at home). Also, learning to be satisfied without being stuffed goes a long way.
  • Not weighing in. I never weigh myself. I have a general idea of how much I weigh, but I gauge how well I'm doing based on how I look and how my clothes feel.
  • Exercising because it feels good. I do not pay attention to how many calories I burn. To me, that's just one small factor. Instead, I exercise at the appropriate intensity for me and I pick workouts that I enjoy because they're fun or because I know they keep me healthy, fit and feeling good.
  • Journaling. I turned to my journal to help deal with my emotional eating issues. When I'd slip up, I'd write about what happened, examining what I was really feeling and what I could have done to remedy the situation without turning to food for comfort.
  • Taking care of myself. Instead of hiding in oversized clothes (like I had been), I bought new, flattering and fitted clothes that gave me confidence. I decided that I was worth it just as I was and I deserved to look good, even if my weight wasn't where I wanted it to be.
  • Not comparing myself to others. This was probably the hardest of all, but the more I compared myself to others, whether it was women I saw on campus or celebrities in magazines, the worse I felt about myself. So I stopped. And I learned that variety is what makes the world go 'round. We can't all be size 2's with amazing legs and cellulite-free butts. But we can choose to be fit and happy in the bodies we have right now.

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Thankyou for sharing this story. How we feel is more important than the scale.
Great blog!
Great article! I'm not to the point where I can throw out the scale but I don't go crazy over my weight like I used to. I still have a little way to go where I will fill like I'm where I need to be. Report
Thanks, great article. I can really identify with everything you wrote...but still trying to get to that mental place where I'm comfortable not weighing myself. I will try to actively journal some of my emotional eating issues. Report
Coach Nicole, this was exactly the kind of story I needed today!

Thank you sosososososo much. Report
I'm no longer in college but this is great. Everyone speaks of the Freshman 15 but I gained 30 pounds in my four in a half years of college. Luckily, and shockingly, I lost 22 of those without even trying once I graduated. I guess once I wasn't faced with papers to write and textbooks to read I didn't feel the urge to grab junk food. I am now struggling with keeping the other 8 off, they have been coming off and back on soon. The reason for this is that I indulge during my lunch break at work because the job is now stressful. Old habits die hard. Luckily, I'm really good with breakfast and dinner- since unlike school work, my work is left at work. Whew! Report
Congrats! I think it takes a lot of courage and stregnth to not compare yourself to every person that walks by. I think it is just a human nature thing, especially for woman.

I haven't managed to get that stregnth to not compare myself to others but I am happy to say that I have lost my freshman 40. I never even realized I had that much to lose until I started losing it and my very vocal sister-in-law said "wow you are losing a lot of weight, it is about time because you were starting to get pretty big." Don't you just love family. Report
I wish we could favorite these! I loved this blog. Report
great story. definitely could have written it myself. i've become very obsessed with calories, numbers, minutes, etc and now i'm thinking about doing away with that and just listening to my body and trusting my instincts instead. again, great post! Report
Wow!! You just made me feel great. I am feeling better about myself thru SP. The weight is not moving much. I am adopting healthy eating and exercising habits. Just knowing that your pounds didn't just drop like magic is inspiring to me. Before I gained the weight, I was eating one meal a day and had a job that kept me moving constantly for 10-12 hours a day. Now I am up to 3 meals a day and regular exercise, but unemployed. You give me the inspiration to stick with it even if the scales don't want to move. Thanls!!!!! Report
Wow this reminds me so much of my own story. In high school i was 130 lbs but compared to all the other girls i was fat. So when college rolled around i decided i would do something about it. Every morning i would wake up early and go running around campus. This, along with only eating one meal a day, made me get down to the very low 100s. Then after a while friends introduced me back to fast foods and it felt good to indulge. I slowly put on the 40 lbs that i now have over about 2 years. I'm finally doing something about it, and this article has given me some great ideas as to things that i might try changing. I must admit i'm addicted to the scale and it only brings me down when i see that i haven't lost weight. Report
I think my personal gaining of the "freshman 15" started in high school, when I went from a size 7 to a size 9, then an 11, then a 13. By the end of college I was a misses size 14 (or a tight 12, because I told myself I was a 12). Thanks for sharing your experience -- it's nice for those of us who have gained and lost and are working toward a healthy lifestyle to see that one of our mentors has true personal experience. Report
Congrats to all that have posted and suceeded!!! And congrats to Nicole!

I myself have gained the freshmen 40 since going to grad school. That's what's led me here... Between 3 kids, a husband who works offshore, and not having been in school for 5 years after working in industry it is a wonder how I've made it through the first year!I've just started my second year and am now just taking some of the steps outlined in the article, so this definitely hit home with me!!! Report
I echo the others...thanks for sharing and reaffirming why I started this journey...not b/c I want to look like a model but to change my lifestyle as a whole. Report
Thank you Coach Nicole for sharing your story. Way to go for feeling good as you are and not comparing yourself to others I hope more of us can do that as well.

Sheila Report
Thanks Nicole for sharing your story. Report
Thanks for all the comments so far--I've read through all of them! I'm glad you can all relate to my story for the most part. That's why I wanted to share it--to show that YOU can become a success story, too! Report
This is why we love you!

I think its so important that some of the people working for sparkpeople have had their own struggles with their bodies. My husband is skinny as a bean pole, he's never had to lose weight, and I sometimes feel like he doesn't understand what I'm going through. But you've been where we are and you "came out of it". That's inspirational! Report
Thanks Nicole..I really would like to do as you, don't care about how much calories I am burning, and the major problem I had not weighing my self and don't caring about the number on the scale...Thanks again for this inspiration ^_^ Report
I love this inspirational story! Thank you for the tips on what worked for you, especially not comparing yourself to others. I think that is what gets me down the most. Report
Thanks for sharing your story. I always felt bad because I definitely gained more than the freshman 15...it was more like the freshman 40 as well. It's nice to hear that I'm not the only one! Report
One more reason I'm always inspired by Coach Nicole! Thank you for sharing your story with such honesty. Sometimes people assume someone as fit as you has always been that way. I appreciate knowing that you have personal experience with the same struggle so many of us share -- it makes you more human and, at the same time, makes me realize that my own goal is attainable if I keep working at it. Thank you for sharing your story and your strategies for success! Report
Thanks for the article, Nicole. I like your approach of listening to your body. I'm working in that direction too, so that was reassuring: it's possible! Besides, after counting calories, carbs, fat, and proteins, I can't imagine trying to count calories burned while exercising too. I'm just thrilled if I can get in 20 to 40 minutes of walking (or anything) 4 to 5 times a week. Now I'll have to look for your video.... Report
I think everyone can relate to the comparing themselves and learning to love ourselves as we are. Thanks Report
I also gained a lot of weight in college, especially during my senior year when I was working two jobs and still attending school full-time. I was very stressed and didn't give myself enough time to exercise, eat right, or get enough sleep, so it was a very disastrous combination. I read about this site one week before my college graduation, and started seriously following the plans a few weeks later. It really opened my eyes and gave me the tools and resources I needed to turn my life around. It was just the kick in the pants that I needed and it came along at the perfect time. Report
Even though my 35 was after I had my third child, I can still relate! I really appreciate your focus on emotional and physical health rather than being thin. Your article was very inspiring. You are reaching a lot of people and making an impact, mos of which you will probably never know about. Keep it up! Report
Thank you, Nicole. It's really inspiring. It helps me a lot when I know that someone who is now fit and healthy wasn't always like that. It gives me hope, as I was never fit, but I feel that I CAN be, if I do it right. Learning that you have also dealt with obstacles is very encouraging for me!
Thank you for sharing! Report
Nicole, all your articles and blogs are so good--honest, straight-forward, and very helpful. thanks for being there for us all. Report
Nicole - this really hit home for me. In high school I was about 105lbs when graduating - my first year of college I went to 115 or 120. That's a big deal in a year...I didn't even live on campus. I had my own place, went to school full-time and work two jobs...I never had a chance to sit down and eat a healthy meal. I see now that those decisions have a lot to do with my weight today.

I know exactly how it feels to have a tell-it-like-it-is-grandmother - the words are very hurtful. I have gone to visit my grandmother and walked right back out because it hurts and you know that you've picked up weight. I don't won't sarcasm, I want and need encouragement. Which is why I'm glad I found SP!

Again, thanks so much for this blog. Report
Just like most of the comments...this hit home for me too. Thanks so much! Report
This story really hit home for me. Thank you Nicole for sharing your story and showing us that even fit people and fitness coaches share the same struggles. You have come a long way and I hope that I can follow in your footsteps with the getting more fit part of your story. Report
Thank for the gr8 advice. Just need to keep these thoughts in mind ;-) Report
Thanks, Nicole. Report
Thanks Nicole! I really liked learning your story. It means a lot to know that SP's leaders are real people with struggles who have learned to overcome them. Blessings! Report
I love this blog.

The last one hit home hard....."Not comparing myself to others". I'm still learning and it's hard as heck. Report
LOL on the photo accompanying this entry. Scale Rage! Report
I can relate to the emotional eating. It's been my downfall for a long time. What a terrific story. Thanks for sharing it with us. Report
This is a realy good blog and I would like to Thank you for sharing this story with us it makes you think about the decisions and actions you make and have made in the past. It also make you have a postive outlok on life and dealing with weight loss Report
My last year of high school I weighed 95 pounds and when I graduated university I was 135 pounds. In hindsight I am actually sort of glad I didn't worry about eating or exercising at university because considering the junky food that was available, it would have been a futile and frustrating endeavour. That was 11 years ago, hopefully schools now offer healthier choices to the students... Report
I could have written most of this blog... seriously. I gained 25 lbs in just the first semester of law school; we're talking three months! However by my third and last year, I found sparkpeople and really started getting back on track.

I also think you have a lot of great tips of how to lose weight and live healthfully as a lifestyle. Thank you for posting. Report
Thank you Nicole for sharing your story. It has re-energized and motivated me to keep working at it for the bigger picture and not just for the weight loss. Report
It's good to hear that freshman-anything doesn't have to be forever.. My freshman year got me 15 extra pounds although I thought I had braced myself for the year and not gaining a pound. Now I'm starting my second year and I really wish I could do something about my weight as I don't feel comfortable in my body. I have tried many times but with no results. Maybe I should do as Nichole did and start loving myself instead of beating me up for not being perfect.... Report
Wow, Nicole! I received your exercise DVD in the mail recently and was impressed that you are just a normal person, not a celebrity model who secretly works out 6 hours a day and looks perfect, which is pretty impossible for only doing a 30 minute workout 3 times a week. Seeing you on the DVD is what made me click on your article/blog. I feel like I know you now! Thanks for sharing your story. It is encouraging. One of the hardest things for me is accepting the slow results and not being a scale-watcher. I just keep plugging away at my goals, though. Thanks for all you do for us here on SP! ~Tammy Report
How true! I was so jealous of my friends who lost weight after gastric bypass surgery, but they told me they still felt "hungry." A phrase they used was "Weight loss surgery is not brain surgery." That thought spurs me on still. No matter what, I still have to learn to stop eating when I am physically full, adopt new ways to cope, and move. My newly thin friends still work on those things every single day. The bottom line is that we need to accept ourselves and evolve. Report
This is pretty much exactly what happened to me, and pretty much exactly the mindset and lifestyle I would like to reach!! Report
Thank you for sharing this story! It is hard to imagine someone we look up to so much and learn so much from about fitness having the same issues that we do. So thank you for really puttng it into perspective and allowing us to see that we can come as far as you have! Report
Great article...helpful to me. Though I didn't gain in college (commuter student), I gained a lot as a new teacher (school food) and now in my middle age. Hearing that "Coach" Nicole had to overcome was good for me to see because it proves to me it is all about reasonable lifestyle changes for everyone...not eating till full, not exercising just for calorie burning, etc. Thank you for this article! Report
Here's what my sons experienced.The oldest stayed home,worked,went to college,got his degree in 6yrs. stayed basically the same weight.The youngest stayed home for community college 1yr.He then went 6hours away for 3 yrs.and gained 15-20lbs.They are now in complete control of their weight through healthy eating and excircise.The oldest is a NYS Trooper and the youngest a teacher who runs everyday. Report
I had this story except in grad school - I never used a scale up till then so I am not sure how much I gained except my clothes no longer fit. I decided one day (not sure how exactly) that I would trust my body and eat what my body was truly craving and stop when I was no longer hungry. At the beginning I craved cheesecake and all sorts of things, but eventually my body told me it needed broccoli and all that healthy stuff again.
A variation of this has worked again recently after a weight gain brought on by a thyroid condition. The only difference now is that I find processed foods (which are so prevalent now compared to my college days) don't trigger my hunger "OFF" mode - so if I eat what I'm hungry for AND avoid HFCS, trans fats and too much processed foods, I'm finding I can trust my body yet again. Report
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