A new perspective on healthy eating

Like many college students, I don’t always make the best choices when it comes to my diet. 

According to a 2019 study published in the BMC Nutrition, college students, like me, tend to develop poor eating habits as a result of inconsistent class schedules and overall lack of knowledge on proper nutrition. This leads to a host of bad habits like over-consuming fast food, skipping meals and eating few fruits and vegetables.

Gina Reiss, adjunct professor of health studies and a registered dietitian, explained how important it is to have a healthy, well-balanced diet.

“Diet is important because when you don’t get enough calories, you don’t get enough protein,” Reiss said. “It’s important that we get enough calories so we can get enough protein to heal from wounds of different types and broken bones.”

Even though all of my bones are intact, the end of a semester can be emotionally wounding, so I decided to commit to a week of healthy eating.

Libby Mills, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said I needed a “game plan” for my meals. 

“Make sure that you get three meals a day, maybe a couple of snacks depending on your hunger needs and your energy needs and activity level,” Mills said. “Think through what you need, then get prepared, establishing where you’re going to get those needs met.”

My plans were vague but included general guidelines for myself: no fast food, no desserts or candies and no sugary beverages– just fruits, vegetables and whatever healthy foods I could find or cook for myself. 

Mills said that was a good start and gave me some other recommendations such as apple sandwiches, canned chicken or tuna, nut or seed butter as a spread and whole wheat bread. For snacks, she suggested air popped popcorn and dried vegetables. 

The first day was really rough. After I woke up and trudged my way to my apartment’s kitchen, I immediately poured myself a bowl of chocolate cereal out of habit. Then, I remembered my rule to avoid sugary foods and cursed before making myself two slices of plain, whole wheat toast. 

At least I was eating breakfast. That’s a crucial part of healthy eating, Reiss said.

“Many studies have shown that having breakfast every morning can jumpstart your metabolism,” Reiss said. “It gets you going for the day. A lot of people that skip breakfast, believe it or not, have been shown to eat more throughout the day, so they actually consume more calories and might be prone to being overweight or obesity.”

Lunch that day was also challenging. Normally, I’d pack myself a bottle of water and a bunch of snacks, such as Cheez-It crackers and strawberry Pocky. However, with my plans to eat healthy, I had to replace the snacks with something more substantial. So, for my lunch, I packed some boiled broccoli, pan-fried pork tenderloin and a bottle of water. 

By the time I opened my lunch in the Merion Hall atrium, it was cold and wet from the frigid winter air and the condensation that had built up inside of the glass container. The microwave that used to be in the atrium had disappeared, so I had to deal with a freezing, semi-soggy meal for my lunch. 

I didn’t have any snacks that day because I didn’t have anything on hand that was healthy. Mill said that snacks aren’t bad since they can be a part of the overall game plan for healthy eating.

“The problem with getting too hungry, whether it’s by choice or access is that then, when you do sit down to eat, pretty much anything is fair game and in any quantity, and that’s when things can go really astray,” Mills said. 

Luckily, with full access to an actual kitchen and stove, I was able to cook myself a nice, warm dinner of garlic bok choy and steamed fish. The only downside was the lack of a chocolatey dessert to finish my dinner with, but I quickly decided to suck it up. I could live without any sugar for six more days, right?

By the fourth day of my experiment, I was seriously craving a sugary snack or dessert and walking around campus did not help at all. No matter where I went, I saw people eating sweets or giving them out as part of some kind of event. 

Thankfully, I held out throughout the week. When the weekend came around, rather than be tempted by all the candies, snacks and relatively unhealthy foods stored in my apartment, I re-discovered the joy of smoothies. 

For that entire weekend, I had nothing but smoothies: strawberries mixed with blueberries, yogurt mixed with orange juice. I could not get enough of their cold, creamy sweetness. There are added sugars in ingredients like yogurt, but I decided that consuming it in moderation was okay. 

By the end of my week-long experiment, I didn’t feel that different physically, but I was more conscious of the foods I was consuming, and I felt like I was starting to take the right steps toward making my health a bit better. 

Caroline Beljan ’22, who has been healthy eating for years and posts about her journey with nutrition on her Instagram account @carolinebeljanfitness, said she enjoys knowing how it positively affects her body.

“This is how I choose to live my life, and it makes me really happy at the end of the day,” Beljan said. “When I eat foods that make me feel good I’m happy, so that’s why I continue to try to eat healthy and exercise every day.”

Heading into finals week, I could use some of that happiness. I’ll be drowning myself in work, and smoothies.

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