University classes are starting again in a couple weeks, so I thought I’d talk about weight and dieting.

In the U.S. when freshman (1st year students) enter school, they often talk about the “freshman 15“.  In the U.S. the freshman 15 refers to the tradition that many university students gain 15 pounds during their first year at college.

When you talk about the weight of people or animals in English, you should use the verbs “gain” and “lose”, NOT “increase” and “decrease”.  The grammar in the example sentences below is OK, but if you talk this way it will sound very strange to a native speaker:

My weight has increased by 10 pounds since I hurt my ankle. (WRONG!) 

I’ve gained 10 pounds since I hurt my ankle. (CORRECT)

My weight decreased after I got sick. (WRONG!)

I lost weight after I got sick. (CORRECT)

Also, when you talk about a diet, we use special verbs.  When you start a diet we say you are “going on a diet”.  While you are watching what food you eat we say you are “on a diet” or just “dieting”.  If you fail at your diet (by eating something you shouldn’t) we say you are “breaking your diet” or “cheating”.

I would like to lose 10 pounds, so I’m going on a diet.

She would have some ice cream, but she is on a diet.

She has been dieting for over six months.

I broke my diet last night and had an ice cream sundae.

She said she was on a diet, but she cheated and had some cake.

Finally, some advice to ESL students… in North American culture it is usually considered rude to talk about or ask if someone has gained weight.  On the other hand, if someone has apparently lost weight, it is OK to talk about it.  There are some exceptions to this, but if you are not sure about a situation, the best advice is not to say anything!

Wow, you look great! Have you lost weight? (OK, polite)

Hey, you look like you’ve gained a little weight. (NO, rude!)