Struggles & Lessons from a College Foodie

Dear Freshman Self,

Congrats. You’re about to enter fall term of what will be an exhilarating, fast-paced, but ultimately awesome first year of college. And guess what? Following that, you can look forward to a pretty cool three years. You’ll have your ups and downs, like anyone will. Dealing with that incredibly long distance relationship will be tough. You’ll have a close-knit, funny freshman floor (note: four years later, most of you will still spend a significant amount of time together) and the choice of classes you are now able to take will blow your mind.

Just wanted to let you know: be kind to yourself. Things happen at different times for everyone. I know you’re worried about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and, like most people, are aware of the phrase “Freshman Fifteen”. You won’t gain the Freshman Fifteen. Nope. Not a thing to worry about until junior year…

I almost hesitate to write a post like this because as someone who has dealt with abnormal eating patterns off and on during college, sometimes the last thing I want to do is fixate on it in a way that makes others fixate on it. It’s worth bringing up though; after all, many people would describe their relationship with food as “complicated”, even if they love it and love to write and talk about it. I had a lot of ups and downs at college. After a great first two years, in my junior year, I developed a difficult relationship with food following a term spent abroad. These things can happen at any point to anyone. Looking back, here are some thoughts on what I learned:

1. Everything in moderation, and be intuitive.
People are under enormous pressure when they first enter college. Who am I? How do I want others to see me? Remember that the majority of this self-discovery should involve your personality. People are always going to focus to some extent on how they look, but you should also focus on developing interests, goals, dreams, friends, favorite professors, etc. Freshman year I had a pretty healthy relationship with food because…I wasn’t thinking about it all the time. I ate balanced meals, and enjoyed spending time doing all of the other things freshman should be doing: trying out new activities, joining clubs, studying late for classes, pulling pranks on RAs, etc. There were nights that called for bonding with new friends over the waffle place in town, and then there were finals weeks where I knew, while tempting, ice cream sundaes for dinner every day was going to make me feel like shit. I watched what I ate, but I also didn’t let worrying about eating get in the way of developing as a person.

2. See the gym as a learning center. See the gym as a cultural center.
My junior year, I saw the gym as an endless line of treadmills and stair masters. I was there multiple times a day, 7 days a week, overexerting myself without taking a break. The gym became a monotonous, but essential part of my day. However, it wasn’t until I pushed myself out of my comfort zone senior year that I realized what the gym has to offer beyond calorie-burning. I took a hip-hop dance class, followed by contact improvisation, followed by kettle bells. Each class taught me about bodies, movement, power, and self-love. I was empowered by connecting physical activity to something more than itself. Rather than a series of numbers, my workouts became about strength, esteem, and mindfulness.

3. Appreciate what you can easily find.
Maybe this one comes only with the wisdom of a graduate, but I would give anything to have an in-home salad bar, an 800-acre arboretum, and a personal trainer at my apartment right now. College can be a bastion of late-night papers, Red Bull chugging, beer bonging, and lemon bars, but there are also a lot of other things right under your nose that are there to improve your quality of life. Take advantage of them; it will be the only time in your life that they are “free”. Find out what cool nature sites are near your school. See if you can join a club sport. Make delicious, gourmet salad creations at the dining hall. It’s all at your fingertips!

4. Never be afraid to ask for help.
Junior year when I struggled a lot, I should have seen a therapist right away. I attributed it to a typical college girl body-image problem, and didn’t realize how much obsessing over food was taking over my life. I didn’t go to a therapist until senior year, and it was immensely helpful. Most schools give a certain amount of therapy sessions to students for free, so make sure to educate yourself on these crucial resources. I was able to figure out that eating can be tied to deeper emotional and psychologically worries, and began working on the issue from that angle. Several sessions of counseling were free for me, and incredibly helpful. Don’t write it off, especially if you’ve never tried it before.

5. Listen to yourself.
The habits you develop in college do not necessarily remain just a “college phase”. This includes drinking, eating, procrastinating, etc. Don’t push aside problems for later. At the same time, you always have the potential to make a change for the better. As a recent graduate, sometimes I still struggle with certain thoughts and periods of unsureness, but I am committed to trying to maintain a positive relationship with food. That’s why I’m here, after all!

Kenzie Zimmer recently attended the First Internet Cat Vid Film Festival in Minneapolis, which is sure to increase the city’s cool points. Hopefully people from her hometown will eventually stop asking her where in Canada she went to school.

Originally posted on Thursday, September 6th, 2012

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