It is hard enough knowing what to eat and how to control oneself while living at home. But, all of a sudden, you’re in college and hundreds of miles from home and parents—and mindful eating becomes that much harder. With no parent watching over their child’s shoulder to see if they’ve eaten all of their broccoli, a feeling of euphoria grasps college students around the world.
This liberation is both a blessing and a curse. While it is incredible to have the freedom to make our own decisions, this newfound autonomy can make it extremely difficult for college students to practice mindful eating.
Whether it is eating excessive amounts of food due to stress, or eating pizza and cupcakes nightly because “hey, it’s free!,” temptations are everywhere, and it can be difficult to control ourselves when a delicious-looking treat sits before us.
Fordham University’s Registered Dietician, Melanie Simeone R.D., often helps guide students who have difficulty controlling their eating habits. Through her position, she uses her knowledge in this field to set up events where students can further learn about mindful eating on a daily basis.
“Emotional eating is something that almost every individual on Earth struggles with,” Simeone said. Typically triggered by feeling stressed, upset or overwhelmed, emotional eating can also come from “being overly excited, like when you get a job offer and you’re going out and celebrating. We might not be actually physically hungry, but there’s no thought without a feeling.” Simeone went on to explain that there will almost always be a reaction to any emotion we may be feeling, and therefore, students often channel their stress or excitement into creating a habitual action.
“We have created a cycle where food gives you good feelings. It produces serotonin, which makes you feel happy. So when we feel down and out, we create this cycle where we consume food. And when we consume food, it doesn’t necessarily fix what we’re feeling.”
Simeone suggests that students should address the emotion driving our desires to eat in order to avoid binge-eating. It is essential to take the time to realize that the food is most likely not going to change our emotion behind the action and will only be a quick fix or fleeting reprieve from whatever we may be feeling.
So, what would be the optimal approach for students to begin reversing this habit? “I always encourage students to keep a list, whether it’s on their fridge or their phone, of things they like to do that are stress relievers for them.” Simeone suggests reading, exercising, seeing a movie, or other activities that will distract from the emotions that cause the urge to binge. By paying attention to how they are feeling, students can not only help themselves to eat mindfully, but can also help them on the path to a healthier, more fulfilling life.
When it comes to exercise, being active does not give students a free pass to eat whatever they wish. Simeone said that thinking that we’ve earned a treat by exercising can trick us into overindulging. “The mentality of using food as a reward for exercise can cause some negative habits. It’s important to fuel your body for the activities that you do, but having a relationship with physical activity where you exercise to eat is a [dangerous] cycle. Exercise is just a part of what we should be doing to honor our bodies.”
But suppose exercise isn’t your thing. Students can still be healthy, and even lose (or maintain a healthy) weight, without exercise, as long as they are conscious of what they are putting in their bodies. This does not, however, mean that students should have to give up all junk food completely. “Put the choices you’re going to make on a pedestal,” Simeone advised. “If you’re going to treat yourself, it should be food worth enjoying and savoring.” She suggested asking yourself “If I eat this food, will I regret it later on?” or taking the food and sharing it with a friend. Living a healthy lifestyle and maintaining a balanced diet does not mean depriving oneself or having to feel guilty about eating the foods one loves. Being in control and consuming unhealthy food in moderation is key.
“There are fun ways to eat healthier without denying yourself some of those other things that are less healthy… Your diet should be something that is sustainable and a lifestyle approach. Getting a lifestyle plan takes time; it’s a journey. It can change and evolve over time,” said Simeone. “It’s just putting yourself first, that’s all it really is. When we can take care of ourselves, we can give so much more [attention] to other areas of our life. When you’re the best version of yourself, all of those other things we enjoy come so much more naturally.”
Melanie Simeone offers one-on-one free nutrition counseling for all Fordham University at Lincoln Center and Rose Hill students. Students can contact the health center to schedule an appointment.