Something no one told me about college before I arrived is the nature of what going away to college actually means.
No one told me how much I’d wish I’d be able to clone myself, allowing one Dena to do homework and study while the other socializes and participates in the multitude of campus events I wish I had time for.
I had no idea that my crazy 19-credit schedule would make me into a minor-league athlete, running from one class to the next at speeds I didn’t know I was capable of. One thing I’ve learned this semester is that some things that sound insane on paper are even crazier when they’re reality.
I’ve also become a great multi-tasker. For someone who was barely able to walk and text at the same time (true story), I can now walk (or even run, as is often necessary) from class to class while eating lunch and simultaneously studying for journalism news quizzes via listening to NPR’s five-minute “Hourly News Summary” podcast (if you’re ever in a rush and need a quick news catch-up, I highly recommend).
Although I’m describing my life as a double major in dietetics and journalism, I think most college students could relate to the race of the day. While running around constantly and being so caught up in getting (*insert annoying class/assignment/paper/project here*) “over with,” it’s hard to realize how much time is actually passing by. Weeks go quickly – like blurs of images on a fast-forwarded TV screen – and it’s not until I take time to relax that I can be fully cognizant of what’s going on in my life (thank God for Spring break!).
In terms of my diet – specifically, in the way I approach food – so much has changed. I used to read ingredient lists like a hawk, questioning every “suspicious” item used and the impact it would have on my body. Based on the ingredients listed, I would decide if I wanted to eat the food or not. Foods with high quantities of white sugar were certainly put back on the shelf, as well as foods containing artificial ingredients with names I couldn’t pronounce. Everything I ate had to be as “clean” and unprocessed as possible. This is not to say I didn’t stray from the plan (as most of my friends know, I’m a chocoholic and I don’t feel guilty to have dessert), but on an average day, let’s just say ice cream probably wouldn’t make the menu.
However, since I’m not living at home for college, eating like the old me is just not possible. As a kosher vegetarian who does not have access to a kitchen (dorm struggles), I had to learn to (*sigh*) make some compromises regarding my food choices.
As I explained in an article I wrote for the University of Maryland’s The Campus Trainer, being too strict about what I put into my body just isn’t a model that’s sustainable for me anymore. With all the walking that attending a university the size of the University of Maryland’s involves, maintaining my weight is already a challenge, and my dietary preferences further complicate things. It wasn’t long before I learned that following a strict diet of only “clean” foods could actually compromise my health, as it’s difficult to find enough foods on campus that meet these hard-to-reach standards. Sometimes, pizza is the only option at Hillel and I eat it because it’s better than skipping dinner altogether after racing around campus all day.
I’m not saying that I’ve totally abandoned my nutrition-consciousness altogether (God forbid a dietetics major should say that); however, what I am trying to communicate is that in situations when I have a choice between a not-so-healthy-food (think: a too-sugary granola bar that might as well be candy) or starving through afternoon classes, I will go with the former. It’s taken awhile, but I can now confidently say that I do this with no regrets.
I’ve learned to be okay with this way of eating, as I believe that, being a college student with minimum control over what’s served, it is more important for my body to receive enough food before I worry about the exact nutrient breakdown of what’s going into my body. To a degree, quantity of food over quality holds true here. Eating enough calories is the main focus for me right now rather than determining the “healthiness” of a food before I eat it.
Of course, it goes without say that when healthy food is available I go for it; however, if it’s not, then I eat the pizza and try not to cry too much on the inside (still a work in progress).
So many things about living in the “college bubble” are temporary, and I know that my current relationship with food will change as soon as the constant socializing, late nights at the library, and other characteristically only-college things disappear. College is an extension of seminary in the regard that it’s okay to be healthy-ish, or semi-healthy; in the sense that when you’re not in control of what’s served, you can’t exhibit too much control over yourself.
Healthy eating is always something to aspire for, but the definition of “healthy” changes with life. It molds to our unique needs and schedules, which fluctuate with time. In college, sometimes chocolate really is necessary when you’ve been studying at the library for six hours (cough, it’s what got me through midterms, cough), and sometimes you’re going to skip lunch and have a dinner the size of a break-fast. And that’s okay.
If you’re like me, you’ll be too busy multitasking to let it bother you too much.
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