Nutrition and Weight Management

“You are what you eat” is more than a catchphrase; it’s an important reminder of the vital role that diet plays in our lives. You’ve probably read news stories about the obesity epidemic in the United States, especially among young people. College is a good time to establish life-long healthy behaviors.

Healthy Eating

So how would you evaluate your own eating habits? If you eat lots of junk food or if you are gaining weight and losing energy, what can you do about your eating habits? It’s not easy at first, but if you commit to a new eating regimen, you will not only feel better, but you’ll be healthier and probably happier. Your campus might have a registered dietitian available to help you make healthy changes in your diet. Check with your student health center. Meanwhile, here are some commonsense suggestions:

  • Keep your home stocked with healthy snacks, such as fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and pretzels.

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits daily. Opt for these foods over fruit juices.

  • Restrict your intake of red meat, butter, white rice, white bread, and sweets.

  • Avoid fried foods, such as french fries and fried chicken. Choose grilled or broiled lean meat and fish instead.

  • Eat a sensible amount of nuts and all the legumes (beans) you want to round out your fiber intake.

  • Watch your portion sizes (a slice of pizza is not the same thing as eating a whole pizza). Avoid “supersized” fast-food items and all-you-can-eat buffets.

  • Eat breakfast! Your brain will function more efficiently if you eat a power-packed meal first thing in the morning than if you don’t eat breakfast.

  • Always read the government-required nutrition label on all packaged foods. Check the sodium content (sodium will make you retain fluids and will increase your weight and possibly your blood pressure) and the number of grams of fat.

MyPlate Eating Guidelines

The “MyPlate” icon was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity team and federal health officials. Designed as a simpler replacement for the Food Guide Pyramid and introduced in June 2011, the plate is split into four sections: fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. A smaller circle sits beside it for dairy products. Mrs. Obama said of the icon, “This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating.” The government Web site ChooseMyPlate.gov provides tips and recommendations for healthy eating and understanding the plate’s design.

Eating Disorders

An increasing number of college students are obsessed with their bodies and food intake, which can lead to conditions such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. Anorexia is characterized by self-induced starvation, extreme preoccupation with food, and a body weight less than 85 percent of a healthy weight. Bulimia is characterized by cycles of bingeing (eating large amounts of food) and purging by vomiting, abusing laxatives and/or diuretics, exercising excessively, and fasting. People with a binge eating disorder do not purge the calories after the binge. Individuals with binge eating disorder tend to eat secretively and are often clinically obese.

Anyone who is struggling with an eating disorder should seek medical attention. Eating disorders can be life-threatening if they are not treated by a health care professional. Contact your student health center for more information or contact the National Eating Disorder Association (http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or 1-800-931-2237) to find a professional in your area who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders.