Fuel Minus Fear

by Nicole Wilkes

Photography courtesy of Marissa Wu

For many, college is the first time we are in complete control of our diets. Students respond to this change is different ways, but many report developing poor relationships with food as a result of high stress levels and seemingly endless access to meals and treats. Repairing this relationship is all about changing the way you talk to yourself about food—doing so eliminates a sizable source of guilt and anxiety for many.

Don’t create “good” or “bad” foods.

Demonizing certain foods all but ensures “cheating,” which ensures guilt. This step is essential for anyone looking to eliminate any fear or shame in their diet. No food is going to singlehandedly discount all of your efforts to be healthy.

With that, harsh restriction only cultivates a “forbidden fruit” relationship with these “bad” foods, so don’t feel like you have to resort to any absolutes. Making an effort to eat less sugar leaves far less room for “cheating” or “failure” than cutting out sugar indefinitely, so go easy on yourself.

Make healthy choices out of love rather than fear.

Eat your vegetables because they’re packed with nutrients and make you feel clean and energized, not because you’re looking to avoid fat and sugar. Make these changes based on what makes you feel good, not what makes you feel guilty. The latter only creates fear surrounding food, so focus instead on what you love to eat because it makes you feel good and tastes great.

Practice intuitive eating.

Intuitive eating is all about building a healthy relationship with your body’s hunger cues. Many of us have learned to ignore the messages our bodies send us. We continue to eat after we feel satisfied, or even full; we skip meals because we’re “too busy”; we eat just because we’re bored. To get your habits back in sync with your body’s needs, pay careful attention to your hunger levels and respond to them appropriately. There are always exceptions to this, of course. For example, sometimes you need to sit down for a meal even if you aren’t particularly hungry because you know you won’t have access to food the next few hours.

Be present in meals.

This goes hand in hand with intuitive eating. When you are distracted during meals, you are more likely to ignore or miss your body beginning to feel full. This is not to say you should stop grabbing lunch with your friends, of course. When you eat solo, try turning off YouTube or Netflix and just think about how this meal is making you feel (hopefully, it’s making you feel generally happy and satisfied).

Jenn Konchanski (COM ’20) said she found this has helped her manage her weight and enjoy her meals.

“I find that if I listen to a podcast or music while I eat, I’m more likely to notice when I feel full, as opposed to when I watch Netflix and eat,” she said.

Start each day fresh.

There’s no use in stressing over what you did or didn’t eat yesterday. Each day is new, so don’t punish yourself over and “cheating” or “mistakes” you made in the past. Instead, focus on what your body is telling you it needs today.

Stop comparing your diet to others.

Everyone’s body is different. You probably don’t digest and process food the same exact way your best friends do, so don’t compare yourself to them. Some people don’t have a sweet tooth and have no issue walking past the dessert station in the dining hall without even taking a look.

Surround yourself with people who talk positively about food and their bodies.

Hearing others talk down to themselves about their diets and bodies can easily make you feel uneasy about your own. It can create doubt and insecurities you wouldn’t otherwise find yourself facing, so encourage your friends to speak to themselves in a loving, positive way.