[If I Could Go Back is a series of articles that center around the college experience. Hindsight is 20/20, and sometimes the best advice we could ever give stems from experiences in our past that make us cringe just the tiniest bit.]
I didn’t gain the Freshman 15 — I gained the College 15 — an increase in pounds over the course of 4 pretty stressful, not particularly healthy years. And while some people might not think 15 pounds is a big deal, when you’re 5 feet 2 inches, yeah — it’s noticeable.
I gained this weight without being a big partier (I have this thing against crowded rooms that smell like barf) and still going to the gym in a fairly regular way. So what the heck happened? A little something called: stress-induced emotional eating.
Days full of classes, pages and piles of homework, an up and down social life, planning for the future, maintaining a part time job and a bajillion headache-inducing hours in the library is pretty much what my college life consisted of. It’s not like it was all bad, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The only time things were remotely calm was in the dining hall, a place devoted to relaxing, talking and occasionally checking out that hot guy who wore sandals all year round (he was a rebel. It was great).
Also: there was unlimited ice cream, cereal, and hard-to-define-yet-amazing-blondie-brownie-things almost every day.
If I could go back to college, I would recognize what I was eating – and why.
Most days, I believed I deserved that extra brownie or baggie of sugary cereal because the previous twelve hours had just been so hard. I had just spent 2 hours taking an American History essay test, or spent all day studying with a group, or watched an ex-boyfriend holding hands with someone else… it didn’t really matter what the genre was, if it had been difficult, I deserved a cup of ice cream.
When I was in college, I was a lot of things, but in tune with my body was not one of them. I wasn’t eating sweets because my body actually wanted them — I was eating sweets because my body craved rest, love, or security, and a brownie was a weak substitute. Instead of asking my heart what I really needed, I figured the hole residing in my gut could be filled with sugar. Because initially, sugar felt great. It was like a giant hug, and I could have as much as I wanted.
But we all know where that type of behavior leads, don’t we? Pants that don’t fit exactly like they used to and a self-esteem that can barely throw a punch.
Rewarding ourselves with empty calories and processed chemicals isn’t really rewarding ourselves at all. But learning to listen to that uneasy feeling, learning to decode the language of our restlessness, now that is a habit which will never do us wrong.
Of course, it’s all much easier said than done, but starting a mindful eating practice while you’re in college will put you light years ahead of most of the population. It’s not about restricting or should or shouldn’ts, it’s about tuning in to your body, asking it what it really wants and how it will feel if you indulge your initial impulse of a double scoop of rocky road. Questions like:
- Am I really still hungry?
- How will I feel after eating that second brownie?
- Is there an activity that would make me feel better? A conversation?
- Am I treating myself with love and compassion with this choice of food?
Can begin to help us truly understand our cravings and where they come from. It’s tough to find moments of quiet and contemplation in college, but putting in just the tiniest bit of effort can do wonders. Those magical blondie brownies aren’t going anywhere. Neither is the frozen yogurt stand. They’ll be there for four years. In fact, ice cream and temptation will always be there, no matter where you’re eating dinner. The earlier you learn how they can serve you, and how they can hinder you, the better your relationship will be with both.
Read the first article in the ‘If I Could Go Back to College’ series about being more practical.