When I think of dieting, I picture workout videos with women clad in bright pink leotards and teal leg warmers jumping around a yoga studio and then following their workout with a sad salad composed of three leaves of spinach and half an heirloom tomato. I may read Prevention and Women’s Health, but I typically don’t buy into the diet ads scattered between the glossy pages 一 I am far more intrigued by the interviews where celebrities share their morning routines or get real about the industry of being a woman in the twenty-first century.
For me, eating healthy is not about limiting your carbohydrate intake nor is about beating yourself up if you eat a delicious jelly donut while binge-watching the new season of Shameless on Netflix (guilty is charged). I find myself having trouble writing about dieting, because I don’t believe in it and I don’t want to add to the paradigm of unhealthy articles influencing girls to question their eating habits. But here I am, and I don’t know how I feel about it.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where both my parents enjoyed cooking homemade food. Although Oreos and Goldfish were always stocked in our pantry, my parents made sure I was also eating proteins and vegetables (along with macaroni cheese and pop-up waffles). When I came to college, I feared the freshman twenty. I don’t know what’s worse, that this trend even exists and has such a presence on college campuses, or that so many women (including me) fear gaining weight. Being healthy is not about what the scale reads, but rather how and what we eat.
In a world of sustainability and new diets being invented every other day, it can be hard to know what the truth is about what we should be consuming. Is veganism the answer to my chronic stomach aches? Will I also save some cows in the process? Or should I be a caveman for Halloween and experiment with the paleo diet? Perhaps avoiding dairy would be close enough? I really have no idea, and often I find myself frustrated with the articles and books being written that swear to bring something new to the table.
Nevertheless, I find myself tagging hundreds of recipes on Instagram and following so many food accounts that my feed is 70% oatmeal, 15% lattes, 10% kale, and 5% friends and family. Why do I surround myself with all of this content when, as of now, I don’t even have access to a kitchen in college? It is almost torture as I salivate over posts of pasta with sausage, squash, and sage brown butter, counting the days until I can go home for break and eat something that will sustain and fuel my body.
Even writing this article makes me feel ungrateful and guilty because so many students have worse food circumstances while studying in college. But, as college students, it is important that we take care of our bodies so that we can not only feel good for the next four years, but power our brains to finish writing that ten-page research paper due next week. I know this sounds like something your mom would say while you push around your scrambled eggs before heading off to the first day of third-grade, but seriously it’s true. Eating well and “whole” if you will, is not a diet, but a mindset.
Since starting an Instagram dedicated to food (@healthy_eclair), I try to find ways to reinvent dining hall food in healthier ways that go beyond resorting to pasta and french fries for dinner three out of the seven days of the week. It takes creativity, patience, and the willingness to scramble around the cafeteria to take in the options offered that night and question how I can make a warm meal out spinach and quinoa.
When I was at lunch in the dining hall one afternoon, my friend asked me what my tips were for eating healthy. I responded that I like to eat “whole.” This was the same response I gave another friend who asked me how to prepare simple breakfasts and lunches. By “whole,” I am not referring to the Whole30 diet which requires that you eliminate various food groups such as dairy, sugar, and gluten from your diet for 30 days (which I have never tried although considered for a brief moment after eating a huge slice of cake, a donut, and several chocolate covered strawberries at my cousin’s wedding last summer). But then I remembered how delicious sourdough bread is and changed my mind. To me, eating “whole” means creating simple meals with what you have access to.
For example, instead of opting for prepared sandwiches at the dining hall, take the extra three minutes to make your own turkey, lettuce, tomato, and honey mustard sandwich. This way, you know exactly what is going into your body. I do not mean to tell you to avoid all of the prepared hot meals in the dining hall, but think about the extra additives in the baked ziti that may not be as “whole” as eating plain pasta with dried basil, olive oil, and cherry tomatoes sprinkled on top. I advise this because if you struggle with food intolerances like me, it may help you feel better. If you have access to a refrigerator, tea kettle, or microwave in your dorm, this is the perfect way to stock up on fresh fruits, higher quality yogurt, and prepare your own oatmeal. These little hacks to eating simpler, and by default more whole, is the pathway to discovering what foods make you feel good.
Ultimately, eating is a form of communion and a moment to replenish your body. I have learned that my stomach can be sensitive to greasy foods and meals prepared with a lot of heavy additives. This doesn’t mean that I avoid chocolate or toasted bagels loaded with cream cheese. Far from it. In fact, there is nothing better than a bowl of mocha chip ice cream after a long week. I believe that making slight changes to what you put in your body, if this is something important to you, can help you eat more whole and hopefully feel better. But, in all honesty, this is how I choose to eat and it is not always perfect. I still find myself entrenched in poor body image and low self-esteem. Take everything written about wellness, including this article, with a grain (or more) of salt because at the end of the day, no one knows your body better than yourself.