I know I’m not alone when I say that I’ve had a rocky relationship with food for a while. And while adjusting to eating at college during normal times is hard enough, the pre-packaged and limited nature of dining halls this year adds yet another layer to it.
When I was deciding which college to go to this past spring, I had to rely on virtual tours and online information to make my choice because I hadn’t visited most of the schools I was choosing from. Kenyon’s dining plan seemed to be decent enough to accommodate my vegetarian diet and still allow me some choice in what I ate. But once I arrived on campus, this image was completely turned upside down. All the food was going to be pre-packaged for at least the first few weeks with only one vegetarian/vegan option per meal. The salads and sandwiches came boxed in plastic with the exact same menu each day—you could get either lettuce with raw onions, lettuce with croutons and cheese, or lettuce with cheese and chicken. The sandwiches always had meat, despite the school telling us beforehand that there would be vegetarian ones. They did start offering PB & Js, and even though we weren’t able to get them toasted, it still felt like a nice bit of normalcy to me.
Evidently, all this weirdness caused my eating habits to change a lot. The first week of school, I basically wasn’t hungry ever, and even though my appetite came back a bit afterwards, I still skipped a lot of meals. I found myself missing foods like pesto, oatmeal, avocados, and smoothies that I’d eat all the time at home but couldn’t get here. Maybe I’d be able to access some of those more easily if there wasn’t a pandemic happening right now, but these first few weeks of college have consisted of a lot of struggling to adjust to a very different diet. And I won’t lie—it’s taken quite the emotional toll, too.
The legend of the “freshman fifteen” has been hanging over my head for a while, so I was determined to enter college and hit the ground running with healthy eating habits and a solid exercise routine. But then COVID hit, so it was one of the many things about my lifestyle that changed drastically. There are a lot of amazing hiking trails in my hometown, so I was using those as my main form of exercise throughout the summer when swim practice was cancelled (our local pools were fully shut down for a few months, and then one partially reopened at the end of the summer). When I got to campus, however, the campus athletic center was scheduled to be closed for almost two more weeks and there were only a few trails that could be accessed by foot from campus (I don’t have a bike or car). The KAC did open, but its pool had very limited hours that often conflicted with my classes or internship, so I haven’t been able to go every day like I’d planned. I do what I can to take long walks and do cardio workouts in my room, but fitness has been another tough component of college in this pandemic.
My favorite meal of the day is breakfast, but the dining hall’s breakfast choices were limited to a box with eggs, potatoes, meat, or a sugary cereal/oatmeal, so my mom, like the amazing person she is, ordered me an electric tea kettle and oatmeal supplies. Now I can eat breakfast in my room and have a healthier option, which is wonderful, but I honestly don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have that—there are probably so many students here who are having a hard time getting a good breakfast.
Thankfully, the dining hall opened its servery last week, so we can choose what we want to eat. While I’m definitely excited about that, it comes with the worries that I’m not going to make healthy enough choices or get sufficiently balanced meals. So far I think it’s been okay, but occasionally I can’t resist having pizza or pasta. The salads and sandwiches are still pre-packaged, and while I’m trying to eat as much produce as I can, I sometimes find myself looking at the same two salads they serve every day and thinking “Nope, I don’t want that at this meal.”
I keep worrying about gaining weight—or maybe I’ve already put some on but just haven’t noticed. Even though this is a common struggle among college women, I can’t help but feel so incredibly alone sometimes. So the advice I can offer is just to be kind to yourself, let your happiness and sadness come in its waves, and most of all—you’re not alone, even with all this isolation. These circumstances are not at all normal, and one day this will all be over.