The human body is astoundingly complex, and when I got to college, I frankly found the prospect of being its sole food provider a little daunting. I could, if I so chose, eat nothing but pizza and ice cream, as I had at basketball camp in 6th grade (not a good idea). Or I could go full-on health nut and eat nothing but organic kale and quinoa. What did I end up doing?
The Freshman 15
When I first heard about the so-called “Freshman 15,” the weight gain phenomenon that supposedly transforms the bodies of college students across the nation, I was skeptical. I hit the books (okay, the internet) in search of a myth-busting study that disproved the “Freshman 15” legend. What I found, however, was more a belt-buster than a myth-buster. A 2010 study published in Preventative Medicine showed that the average student gains around 7 pounds in their first year--not quite 15, but still a sizable amount. I’m not here to tell you how to maintain weight -- everyone is different and you can figure that out yourself. I do, thought, want to highlight the importance of being aware of what you are feeding yourself, and how your habits change from your pre-college norms.
Feed your body, feed your brain
“I was so busy studying I just forgot to eat!”
It’s a cry that reverberates around the PCL at several times of the day. And we’ve all been there--trapped in a windowless study room where it is easy to lose track of time. But regardless of the circumstances, it is not a good idea to skip meals. A 2015 study in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry showed that missing a meal leads to overeating at the next (at least in mice) and can also increase risk of obesity and diabetes.
And it doesn’t just affect your waistline. Several studies have linked skipping meals with lower academic performance. This is explained in a report by Amy Ross, a graduate student at Northern Michigan University: “Without an adequate daily intake of nutrients from food, the body puts learning on a lower shelf below its need to sustain life-support functions,” wrote Ross in the report. “Therefore, in many cases, skipping a meal negatively affected the body and its learning functions.”
One harsh reality of college is this: sometimes, you just don’t have a lunch break. But even if you don’t have a scheduled time to eat, you should still try to keep some semblance of an eating schedule (see above tip for why).
If you live in the dorms, you can still pack snacks. Looking for a healthy choice? Pack nuts. Study after study has shown that nuts are a filling, nutritious snack to tide you over between meals, and will ultimately decrease your risk of heart disease, obesity, and other things you don’t want. But don’t nuts have a lot of calories? Yes, they do, but it’s not hard to practice good portion control. The key here is sandwich bags. Pack your snacks in little baggies all at once, and grab them throughout the week as you leave for class.
Food for a night out
My last tip: don’t make food decisions when you’re not sober. Tipsy you might think that a 3am milkshake from Whataburger is an elixir of health. Tipsy you might also think that it is a good idea to call your ex six times and leave increasingly incoherent voicemails. (Neither is a good idea, trust me). My point is, there are a lot of decisions that are best made when you have full control of your faculties, and what kind of food you put in your body is one of them.
I hope you take these tips with you as you navigate UT’s (and Austin’s) food scene! It can be hard to maintain a healthy diet, but just do your best and don’t stress. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break every now and then to stop and smell the Tiff’s Treats--and maybe even eating some!