Bittersweet Love: A Personal Memoir on Overindulging

July 21, 2011
By elianna cohen BRONZE, Mill Valley, California
elianna cohen BRONZE, Mill Valley, California
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Emma Carron loves food. She recalls her first bite at Harvard University’s Annenberg Cafeteria. Prior to meeting its “all you can eat” buffet, Emma was a slim blonde from New York City who wore a size zero. Just as impressionable as your average newcomer, Emma became one of the victims of the dreaded Freshmen 15; the fifteen pounds that freshmen are expected to gain. She managed it with a surprising method of self esteem and confidence.

Carron still recalls the moment when she eagerly entered Annenberg. She still remembers a smile spreading across her face. “I love food! Food is always on my mind, so if Harvard doesn’t work out for me I’m becoming a chef.” Emma chose a self-made grilled cheese sandwich for her first meal. “Shredded mozzarella stuff on panini. There’s really no words to describe it,” she said. After building her first meal, Emma went on a compulsive pastry-shopping spree with her roommates.

Along with overindulging, she adapted other habits during the college transition. “I was used to walking forty-five minutes [from my house in New York] to school everyday. Here it only took me a couple minutes to walk to my classes, so I wasn’t exercising at all.” Nutrition experts such as John Grey from G.N.C. recommend that one should exercise twenty minutes per day, a commitment Carron soon abandoned. There’s a widespread consensus that exercise controls weight and promotes a psychological well-being.

Carron was among the 20 percent of incoming freshmen who suffer the Freshmen 15. The Freshmen 15 is attributable to lack of exercise, drinking habits, and up to 52,500 calories total in supplement to their normal diet.

In a society endlessly preoccupied with image, many are driven to hysterias about their weight gain. “I would friggin’ drop out of college if I gained that much weight,” High school senior Suzie F. from N.Y.C. said when referencing the Freshmen 15. As magazine readers are greeted with a parade of ultra thin models, teens are subjected to these images.

According to a survey by Gallup University, 62 percent of teens concerned about these issues resulted from the media’s influence. 90 percent of teen girls are not happy with their appearance. Teenage girl Irina Baek believes that someone who has confidence would not be affected by the media’s promotion of thin models. Emma Carron possesses this confidence and self-esteem, as the excitement of transitioning towards an independent lifestyle overcame any possible weight concerns. “I was happy freshmen year. It definitely was worth it, enjoying myself,” said Emma.

Emma also drank freshmen year. When college freshmen get freedom away from their parents, alcohol plays an increased role in their lives. Beer has a low alcohol content compared to other drinks, so freshmen who want to get wasted have to drink more. “Emma chuckles, “Beer counts calories too.”

As she fulfilled her food and drink aspirations, she did not check up on her weight gain. She knew she was getting a little chubbier, but she didn’t really care at the time. “I always thought, “I’d rather not look at the scale,” she said. Nonetheless, she continues living in a world of food.

“I read 500,000 food blogs. There’s Food Porn Daily, Serious Eats, Delish,” Emma said. However, Emma’s food interests aren’t uncommon among other Americans. America has countless food magazines, as well as three full time networks including The Food Channel, The Cooking Channel, and the Food Network. “They show tempting pictures. Food is constantly on my mind. There’s a kitchen in my mind.” Another student says that it reminds him of the movie Ratatouille, in which food is everywhere.

The world is like Ratatouille’s because readily available food is sold everywhere you go; throughout restaurants, cafes, and delis. College freshmen Jacqueline Lopes reports on the responsibilities of eating in a college setting. “Here there’s no control on how much we eat,” she said. The student might absentmindedly go eat a chocolate bar and forget and later eat something else. “[Compared to] at home, there’s a fridge to see all the food that our parents buy, which makes it easier to not eat everything we see,” says Lopes.

The more food is talked about, or around, the more temptation gives in.
“If it’s readily available, I’ll eat it,” Emma said. “Imagine a medieval Christian, who was lured by the enticements of the flesh—food, drink, sex—even as he was told that such things were sinful,” said Max Larkin, a Harvard student who likes cooking. “This is the situation in which the modern weight conscious food lover finds herself.”

In a society with so much emphasis placed on food, magazines and government organizations respond by advising the same tips to the American nation. The crash dieting advice sold in magazines, which contributes to detrimental results, are tested by one in every four college girls (American Research Group on Anorexia Nervosa). Fortunately, Emma’s love for food did not take her on this path.

Skipping meals—a strategy promoted by magazines such as Cosmo Girl, actually impedes weight loss. John Grey from G.N.C. says, “Crash dieting is harmful because it removes fat and muscle.” Muscle is incorporated in the process of metabolism. When you lose the lean muscle part of your metabolic system, your body’s metabolism slows down.

Another result of skipping meals includes that you are hungrier for the next meal. Consequently, you eat more to satisfy your hunger and overcompensate for what you missed. As your metabolism slows down from fasting, it is easier to regain any weight you lost after starting to eat again. This occurs in 90-95% of crash dieters.

Other recommendations, such as how much food to eat, cannot be generalized. People live all sorts of different lifestyles—from the exercise nut who burns calories, to the social drinker that counts them. While a recommendation for Emma to consume 2,000 calories would work if she exercised, it would not be healthy for her when she lived a sedimentary lifestyle.

That leaves people wondering, “How much food should I consume?” As a purely beneficial rule, Marya Eragon, a worker at a vegetarian restaurant called Café Gratitude recommends, “People should eat small amounts of food throughout the day.” This allows you to improve and maintain a fast metabolism, gives your brain energy to function, and prevents the detrimental effects resulting from crash dieting.

Instead of eating food that is readily available, one should evaluate how your body feels and what your taste buds want. “[Knowing how your body feels] may be difficult to describe, but it’s quite the natural feeling,” said raw foodist Colleen Filler who lives solely off plants.

As research shows skipping meals does not result in desired weight loss, and generalized recommendations do not work for everyone, the torrent of these mainstream recommendations would have only hurt Emma both physically and mentally if she had heeded them. Physically her body’s metabolic system would have been negatively affected, and psychologically her well-being would be suppressed due to her love for food. At least Emma lives as a happy eater.

Avoid the roller coaster of food related woes, as happiness and eating good food relieves stress caused by the rigors of college. According to a survey on 683 colleges and universities led by the University of California at Los Angeles, around thirty percent of students reported to feeling especially overwhelmed and stressed out. As stress is most prevalent among freshmen, they will seek mood-improving behaviors, through foods such as chocolate. “Chocolate makes me happy,” Carron says.

There is a reason for this—even as chocolate adds calories it releases endorphins, stress relieving neurochemicals, to your brain that inhibits worry and triggers happiness. However, when one is concerned about weight, eating produces more stress. Since Emma was not concerned about her weight, she enjoyed the stress-relieving pleasures that chocolate brought.

As freshmen year ended and Emma went home, she went back to her normal life—a balanced life style of eating and exercise. Emma reflects back, “I knew I had gotten a little heavier, but I didn’t realize how much until [out of curiosity] I checked the scale.” How much weight did Emma gain? Emma beat the expected 15 pounds, and gained 30. “I didn’t really freak out, because I knew I would go back to my normal life [walking many blocks in New York City].

Emma lost the weight she gained during the summer, and designed a new lifestyle of food and exercise for when she started school again in the fall. She began going to the gym and joined the Harvard Polo Club. “I learned the value of working out, and continue to enjoy food, just at balanced levels.”

The author's comments:
After reading endless articles in teen magazines that promote dieting and weight loss tips, I was shocked that I couldn't find one article that balances a healthy appreciation for food with the harmful effects of overeating on a person's health. With many articles that teens read that criticize their eating habits, which leads teens to feel bad about themselves, I think there needs to be an article that is accepting of reality and that is also fact-filled. As many high school graduates begin college this fall, this article will be a perfect and timely addition to the monthly Teen Ink issue.

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