The Freshman 15

The Freshman 15 – a 15 pound weight gain associated with lifestyle changes during one’s first year in college.

While I have yet to choose a college campus to call home for the next four years, I have already started my college experience while living abroad in Brazil. Since arriving in September, I have gained 7 kilos — that’s 15 pounds. I have literally fallen victim to The Freshman 15.

And honestly, it doesn’t feel too great. I came into this bridge year knowing that my mind would change, that I would become more globally aware, fluent in a new language, and develop long lasting relationships. But I didn’t know my body would change so much.

I didn’t know that my thighs would grow to rub so uncomfortably against each other as I walked through the beating Brazilian sun to the bus stop, to language class, at work, at every walking and waking moment. Nor did I know that I would grow out of most of the clothes I packed. I struggle to button up my jean shorts and have to fight my way into my work pants. My clothes don’t look the same on me, or rather, I don’t look the same in them.

In the same way, my body looks foreign to me. When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize my legs. They look shorter because my thighs got thicker. My arms are chunkier, but I still lack muscle mass. My waist-hip ratio is different. I’m… Fuller. My tummy sticks out more than I like. Am I constantly bloated, or do I now look like this? My chubby cheeks that got me teased in middle school are coming back, slowing filling themselves in again.

But I also know I shouldn’t be complaining. I went from hovering over the line of underweight and normal weight (according to BMI calculations), to being solidly “normal” weight. I’ve been told I look healthier than I did before, as well as older and wiser. Good things, right? It’s just that the quick and dramatic increase in weight is a lot more visible than I could have expected. And it’s also weighing down my conscience.


At least I’m not alone. This meme popped up on our cohort’s Facebook page, and it perfectly sums up my attempts to justify my weight gain and the weight of it on my body and mind. So, here are a the 15 pounds of food related knowledge I’ve gained so far this year.

  1. I chose this. Before coming to Brazil, I had been a vegetarian for 5 years. When team leader Belkis asked me my eating preferences or necessary food accommodations to relay in Portuguese to my host family, I said I would eat anything, that I wasn’t picky. I had decided that I would trade my vegetarian values for values of cultural immersion and experience. I wanted to try all the foods that Brazil had to offer, and I also didn’t want to burden my family with changing their eating habits because of me.
  2. I am eating more often. Many Brazilians, my host family included, eat 4 meals a day: café da manhã, almoço, café da tarde, e jantar. Back home, I was used to eating a small, hurried breakfast before school, a packed lunch, and a plate of dinner.
  3. That being said, I am eating at different times. I have dinner at around 8pm, which is very late. Back home, I used to eat dinner around 4 or 5pm. The fact that I’m eating right before bed doesn’t help.
  4. Rice and Beans contain all the essential amino acids. So we ate them everyday. Sometimes, very often actually, twice a day.
  5. High Fructose Corn Syrup does not exist in Brazil! Or if it does, I haven’t found anything with it. Sodas here are made with real cane sugar!
  6. I only eat fresh foods. The bread for breakfast is made and bought either the morning of or the night before, and we only buy enough for the day. Our fruits and vegetables come from the sacolãoa store somewhat like an indoor farmer’s market, and it’s all local. The only packaged items we buy regularly are beans, rice, pasta, and sugar which all come in bulk. (except for the occasional kit kat bar).
  7.  Milk is boxed. And it’s ultra-long lasting. It doesn’t need to be refrigerated until you open it. And when it is open, you have to consume it in 48 hours. I don’t really understand the science of why the milk doesn’t spoil, but it has something to do with boiling it to high temperatures multiple times during pasteurization. I wonder if it has different health effects compared to regular milk in the US.
  8. Farinha is mandioca (cassava/yucca) flour. My grandmother always puts it on her rice and beans, so I’ve developed a habit of it, too. The farinha absorbs the juice from the beans, making it a bit drier and lets you really clean up your plate so you don’t waste food. I theorized that because of the absorption and how the flour makes you feel fuller that it was consumed especially during times of financial or food hardships. After a visit to a farinha mill during Training Seminar 1, my theory was confirmed. It made sense too that my grandmother always ate it— she grew up poor and raised 16 children in rural Brazil.
  9. Savory and sweet blend so well. Bread with butter and doce de leiteGoiabada (guava jam) and white cheese. Romeo and Juliets.
  10. Açaí, what is considered a “super fruit” here in the US, is a dessert. Mixed with guaraná syrup and bananas, topped with condensed milk, powdered milk, sliced strawberries and bananas, and granola, it definitely loses whatever super health powers it is said to have. But it’s still one of my favorites.
  11. Brazilian cuisine is a mixing pot of so many different cultural influences, from immigrants of Portugal, France, Japan, Germany, and Lebanon, to the indigenous cultures like the Tupi and Guarani, to the African slaves brought to the country.
  12. Street foods and snacks are very popular, like coxinhas (fried chicken in a soft ball), pão de queijo (baked cheese balls), brigadeiro (chocolate truffles), and pastels (fried dough pockets with filling).
  13. Many restaurants host rodízios, all you can eat events where waiters walk around and serve (typically meat, pizza, or sushi). Another popular way to eat is comida por quilo, where you serve yourself off a buffet line and pay according to the weight of your plate.
  14. Brazilian food varies incredibly depending on region. I expected a lot of flavorful and spicy foods when I got to Brazil, but the culture of spice is up in the north-east, and I was in the south.
  15. Brazilians top their pizzas with mayonnaise and ketchup.

Love and Peace,



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