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Finding a Healthy Relationship with Food in College

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Temple chapter.

TW: Discussions of eating disorders 

You should not feel guilty for nourishing your body with what it needs.  

College is full of many drastic changes for incoming first years. These were all changes that I thought I was prepared to take on, like being in a new environment or taking on a different workload, but the one thing that I was not prepared for wasn’t a new change; it was the resurfacing of my old body issues and complicated relationship with food.  

Suddenly, I felt guilty every time I ate, caught myself comparing my meals to everyone else’s, and it seemed that, not only was I eating too much, but everyone around thought the same thing and viewed me as disgusting for it. These were all problems that I had worked so hard to control, but couldn’t anymore.  

It’s estimated that eating disorders among those of college-aged have ranged from 8% to 20.5% (Zhiping 1), with the disparity being so large because of the underreported nature of eating disorders. Undergraduates with fully-fledged eating disorders represent only a fraction of the students who are struggling with symptoms such as concerns of weight, shape, and/or eating, binge eating, and dietary restraint (Lipson 82), which is why a significant portion of college-aged students who display signs of eating disorders have neither been diagnosed, nor do they seek treatment (Zhiping 1). If you are a college student struggling with an eating disorder or disordered eating, my hope is to help you, along with myself, change your perception of eating to find a healthier relationship with food.   

Change Your Conversations About Nutrition  

When talking about nutrition, conversations tend to boil down to “Just choose the healthier option!” However, often the healthier options for these people is the one with less fat, calories, and sugar, coupled with expensive ingredients and time consuming preparations. The healthier option is different for every single person. Some people need more of a food group than others, and healthy foods should not be generalized into just one type of thing.  

When you’re in a college campus environment, options are limited. Living on campus with little money in a small room does not give you a lot of choices, and students will more commonly choose a less healthier, more filling, and accessible meal. This is completely okay! Any food is better than no food at all. You should choose to eat whatever you feel will fuel you for the day and events to come, and not feel guilty for doing such.  

Overlook the Freshman Fifteen 

The Freshman Fifteen: a phrase that refers to the belief that college students often gain 15 pounds during their freshman year. This is entirely a myth, as research has shown that the average weight gain for first-year students is only 2.7 pounds (Mihalopoulos 531). Diet corporations make up a multi-billion dollar industry that profits off of people’s insecurities. They use catchy slogans to boost the anti-fat message, but just because something has alliteration (“freshman 15”) does not make it true (Markey).  

Let’s erase the stigma that weight gain is bad. It is a normal part of life, especially for college students because our bodies are still growing and changing, adding on fat, muscles, and bone fat needed to sustain this next period of our lives (Markey). In addition, bodies will change when circumstances and surroundings do. Appreciate and accept the fact that your body’s needs are not the same at every stage of its life. You need this extra food and weight gain, and don’t prevent this natural change. 

Ignore the Posted Calories In Dining Halls 

Let’s talk about counting calories. This was a conversation that I thought didn’t need to be had in this year of 2022, until I walked into one of my campus’ dining halls and saw the calories posted for all of their food offerings. Calorie counting is an extremely inefficient way of promoting weight loss and a healthier food intake. The way in which your body burns calories depends on numerous factors, like the type of food you eat, your body’s metabolism, and the type of organisms living in your gut (Harvard Health). This means even if you eat the same number of calories as someone else, you’ll have very different outcomes when it comes to weight loss or gain. Also, counting calories is incredibly detrimental to a person’s exchange with what they eat. It takes away the pleasure of eating by turning meals into a tedious exercise of tallying, which can be stressful and contributes to an unhealthy relationship with food (Davis). While there is no reason for dining halls to be posting the calorie intake of the food that they offer, counting calories is not the way to maintain a healthy lifestyle for yourself.  

To Conclude, Modify the Way You Think About Food. 

Sustaining a healthy relationship with food in college boils down to altering the way you perceive what you eat. Food is a necessity, and guilt should not be associated with the act of eating.  

Meal time should be about comfort and sustaining your body, so enjoy what you eat. Weight gain is a completely normal and common part of growing up and going through major life changes; it should not be stigmatized, but embraced. Becoming comfortable with eating and your own body is hard, believe me, I know. Still, small steps are better than no steps, and the best way to begin your journey towards loving your body and the food you eat is to change your mindset.  

Gianna is a staff writer for Her Campus at Temple University, and a sophomore at Temple University. She usually writes under the Health section, and often covers her personal struggles with mental health and body dysmorphia. Gianna has loved writing ever since she was little. In high school, she had an internship with her local newspaper, also writing for the health section. In college she writes The Temple News and the Templar Yearbook. Her home is in Southern Delaware with her three dogs (who she misses dearly) Keno, Caesar, and Nero. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @ggvogess