International Students: Avoid the Freshman 15

Huge portions are the norm in the U.S., which caught this new international student by surprise.

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Be mindful of how large food portion sizes in the U.S. can affect your waistline.
Be mindful of how large food portion sizes in the U.S. can affect your waistline.

American portions are huge – no matter where in the world you are, you've heard it. Your friends, family and teachers have all told you, but what does that even mean?

It wasn't until after I arrived in the U.S. as an international student that I finally understood what all those people were talking about. Here, in the "Land of the Free," it is always "go big or go home," as Americans say.

[Find out how to adjust to studying at a U.S. college.]

I remember my first meal here. My roommate took me out for pizza and when I asked him if he wanted to share a pan with me, he responded, "No, the pizzas here are very small."

Taking his word for it, I ordered the smallest pan of pizza they had and waited eagerly as I felt saliva churn in my mouth and my stomach rumble with hunger. Little did I know that in a few minutes, my "small pizza," which I swear could have fed a whole army, was going to be the first of many American portions that would permanently change my eating capacity.

Food was finally served and I was astonished. The so-called small pizza was gigantic and could have easily passed for a large pan of pizza back home in Bangkok. The soda that came with it must have been at least 600 milliliters – about 20 ounces!

I looked at what I had just been served and hesitated as I didn't know where to begin. I spent the next 20 minutes of my life battling the contents of my plate.

I kept eating, slice after slice, until my stomach began crying in agony and could simply take no more. I finally gave up, but still had half the pan of pizza left.

[Get ready to attend an U.S. school the summer before you arrive.]

Meanwhile, my roommate gobbled his large pizza and offered to assist me with mine when he noticed I was struggling. I remember glaring at him, thinking he was a beast of some sort.

Every meal in the U.S. after has been the same, be it Chinese noodles, Thai jasmine rice, Japanese sushi or even American cheeseburgers – the portions have always been remarkably huge. One thing, however, has changed: I have adapted to finish everything on my plate.

I pushed my stomach to eat more and more and today, I can single-handedly finish the same pizza that I struggled to finish on my first day in the U.S. I had become an American, at least with regard to eating habits.

Of course there was a downside to this; I became a victim of the infamous "freshman 15" – the 15 pounds or 7 kilograms students tend to gain in their first year of college. In three months, I gained more than 5 kilograms (11 pounds) and it seemed like it was only going to get worse.

[Learn ways to avoid the freshman 15.]

When I returned home for my first winter break, judgmental eyes scrutinized me and my new physical appearance became the talk of the town. I could eat twice as much as I used to and anything less did not satisfy my demanding stomach.

I had become "addicted" to American-sized portions. America changed me, and it can change you unless you take precautions. Don't let it get the best of you like it did me, because there is little hope of return. You have been warned; now it's your choice!

Tharin Sethi, from Thailand, is a fifth-generation Sikh of Indian descent. He is currently pursuing a double major in international studies and political economy at the University of Washington and will graduate in 2016.