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Sunday, September 25, 2022

‘Undergrad Diet’ the new ‘Freshman Fifteen’

You hear it hundreds of times before you come to college: “Watch out for the ‘Freshman Fifteen.’” This sentence is always uttered by well-meaning, “been there, done that”-type personalities, people who like to imply that they know more than you because they graduated college before the turn of the century. What these people are referring to is the imminent and rapid onset of body fat due to increased consumption of beer, chasers and late night Juston sticks. The idea you could have pizza for nearly every meal of your freshman existence is just too much for some people to restrain themselves (myself included). As a result, this all too common affliction creates beer bellies on formerly fit football jocks and puts lovely love handles on ladies; handles that will not look cute in even the blackest of LBDs.I believe wholeheartedly the fear of the “Freshman Fifteen” is what keeps the SERF alive and well all year ‘round.

But there is something far worse, an illness that ravages millions across the country, but no one will warn you about because no one has a name for it… until now. What I am calling “The Undergrad Diet” has only recently come under scrutiny, as it was earlier so prevalent that it seemed to be normal. Now, unfortunately, we know better.

Now before you turn to the comics page, hear this. The symptoms of “The Undergrad Diet” vary greatly among populations and may be mistaken for other common behaviors. You need to know if you are in danger. Thus, symptoms in the greater UW-Madison region include but are not limited to:


  • Laziness that prevents the victim from walking to the grocery store.
  • Debt (e.g. no money from parents on Campus Cash)
  • Off-campus resident: The victim in this situation does not live nearby resources for cheap, dorm food.
  • Utter lack of creativity: Victim no longer desires foods of natural colors, and instead limits diet to bleached, processed food, brightly colored drinks and Doritos. Furthermore, the victim heavily salts all food —even water—to taste.

What these symptoms lead to is an underweight, malnourished, near zombie-like college student who bites his/her fingernails out of stress and/or hunger. On the other hand, there is the rare occurrence of “The Undergrad Diet” presenting itself in a different pathological form. These victims tend to be adept at finding external sources of sustenance and have the Topper’s phone number memorized (or at least on speed dial). The victim’s utmost worry is not what the curve on his sociology test will do to his grade, but if his new favorite restaurant delivers. In this case, the diet adds inches to your waistline, subtracts years off your life and removes money from your bank account.

Fortunately, there is solid, albeit temporary, solution to the problem: Some victims find relief in going home for breaks and weekends, where—if you are lucky enough—food is plentiful as free home-cooked meals abound. You might even feel as generous as to give your leftover crumbs to the dog.

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But for the less fortunate, respite from chronic hunger and crappy food is much more difficult to come by. The most clever undergrad dieters find success by sneaking into residence hall functions that give out free slices of pizza and off-brand soda.

I confess that I am one of them. An undergrad dieter since August 2011, I know what it feels like to have generic Apple Jacks (Apple Zings, specifically) for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a week straight. Coming back to Madison after spring break I was feeling full, rested and replenished. When it started to feel like dinner time, I opened the refrigerator door to poor some milk into a bowl of stale cereal, but finding no such gallon of dairy goodness, I started to panic. There was nothing in my fridge except expired yogurt and questionable pickles, and I was not feeling hungry enough to start eating like a pregnant woman.

I scrounged around the outskirts of my food shelf, and after tossing aside old granola bars and half empty bags of chips I had saved in desperation, I settled on the Thai Kitchen ramen noodles stuffed in the back corner of the cabinet since November. Having decided I wanted to have a fancy back-to-school dinner, I decided to cook the oh-so-authentic meal on the stovetop. Fifteen minutes later, my ramen was gone and popcorn was popping in the microwave.

As has been seen, readjusting to my college diet is going to be rough, but at least I have enough Papa John’s coupons to get me to the end of the semester. And when in doubt, there is Witte.

Have some healthy eating tips for Emily? Send them her way at

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