Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The College Life: Destroying Diets for Decades

            Being back in school after my post-undergrad stints as a magazine writer and full-time production editor in NYC is, in many ways, a breath of fresh air. But what had escaped the memory of my eager-to-learn-new-stuff self prior to embarking upon this career-change journey is what the college lifestyle can do to a person’s diet.
I’m not necessarily talking restrictive eating plans here; being a former binge eater, I no longer believe in diets. I spent years following this or that dietary plan, and no matter how hopeful I may have felt at the start of each new venture, I would always end up right back on my couch, or on my dorm-room bed, compulsively overeating.
            In this case, I’m referring to a well-rounded way of eating. The driving force behind my decision to do whatever it would take to get my master’s degree in nutrition was, in part, my steadily growing desire to share with others how to follow a healthy, well-balanced diet, which I was most certainly doing when the back-to-school inspiration struck. My food and chemical sensitivities have taught me an enormous amount about how to properly nourish and take care of myself. As a result, my relationship with food is a special one—it is essential to my overall well-being, and it is the most visible measure of how I’m doing in the mind, body, spirit department.
            So what does it mean that I’m now eating at Mo’s Southwest Grill twice a week and powering through my double waitressing shifts on the same bowl of breakfast cereal, mid-morning snack bar, and afternoon pine-nut salad (because it’s the only thing on the menu that’s safe for me to eat) day after variety-lacking day? And the rest of the time, I’m so far from being in anything that even somewhat resembles a routine that I just eat whatever happens to be safe for my body and within reach, whenever
            How quickly we forget; I may have avoided the freshman 15 when I was away at school those many years ago, but during the course of my sophomore and junior year, I made up for it with a whopping 40-pound weight gain. Binge-eating and a whole slew of psychological problems are mostly to blame for this, but it’s been so long since I lost the excess blub (umm, six years?) that I have a tendency to lose touch with the habits that got me there in the first place.
            Now, to clarify, I haven’t gained any weight since I reentered the college scene last September; thankfully, my predominately consistent gym routine and calories in versus calories out mindfulness have proven effective in staving off any unwanted pounds.
But there is a severe lack of variety in my current dietary life, and I have been struggling to stay away from the sweets and excess carbs. These days, I try not to go near foods unless I know they’re free of all allergens and sensitivity-triggers. So aside from posing a general threat to my reformed overeating self, this habit of random carb-snacking sometimes proves dangerous for my digestive tract.
            Last night, for example, I bought myself an unnecessary and entirely unsatisfying vanilla café au lait (with soymilk) during my chem class break at the college coffee shop, and I am now wondering: Can gluten hide in coffee grinds? Or maybe in the vanilla syrup? (I haven't been officially tested for or diagnosed with celiac disease; my medical verdict was wheat intolerance, so I'm not always as careful or knowledgeable as I probably should be about these things.) 
            All I know is, my belly swelled up like a balloon, my head was killing me by the time I got back to class, and I don’t recall a word of what the professor was saying for the last hour and a half of her lecture. I was too distracted by my steadily swelling and bloated body parts to digest the ins and outs of electrochemical equations and voltaic cells. 
            Good thing I went to the gym on the way home. There’s nothing like sweating on a treadmill while watching The Biggest Loser to get you back on track.
On a final note, thank goodness for the low-calorie, flavor-licious, and healthy on-the-go options that I’ve managed to find. If it weren’t for wheat- and dairy-free, protein-packed, and vitamin-rich snacks such as these, I’d really be in a bind.
  • Packaged snack bars like KIND Healthy Snacks PLUS and Fruit + Nut bars are perfect pocket pick-me-ups for when I'm caught in a work shift or in the middle of a class with plummeting blood sugar and no safe food options in sight
  • Boxed or bulk raisins, Kettle Valley Organic Fruit Snacks, and really any form of dried fruit are good for a quick blood sugar fix, too. 
  • And then there's the classic combo: banana with nut butter. I typically go with almond or peanut, and I love Justin's Natural Classic Almond Butter Squeeze Packs. You could, of course, just put some nut butter in a tiny tupperware if that makes you feel more economical, but I'm a big fan of the grab and go style of these packs. Call me lazy, but seriously; you should see me trying to get out the door on time. Those squeeze packs have saved my chronically just-barely-on-time behind on a number of occasions. 
  • Not pictured: nuts. Cashews are my favorite, but take your pick. Only downside: a decent-sized bag of unsalted, roasted cashews costs around seven dollars. Ugh!
These are just a few of my fallbacks to give you an idea of how I've been managing to maintain my weight in spite of my late-twenties shift back to the frenetic and frazzled life of a college student.
              I promise one of these days I'll start taking really pretty food photos—for instance, I could have chopped the banana into bite size pieces and spread some almond butter over each one for dramatic effect. But for now, my half-hearted yet colorful group photo will have to do. 


  1. Huh...we DO have a lot in common. :) I've definitely been on a crazy eating schedule too since being back in school. With finals stress and figuring stuff, I've gained a few of those college pounds back and I have to get back on track with my eating!

  2. Hmm... somehow I'm not surprised. From what I've been finding, it seems food blogging and weight wrestling tend to go hand in hand ;-) Hang in there; finals are the worst. Mine aren't until the last week in May, but I'm already feeling the crunch!

  3. I also gained a ton of weight in college, and have been working it off ever since. Shall we all band together and point a finger at Aramark and Sysco for our stomach problems? I think so! :)

  4. I think Aramark was behind the massive buffet spread of goodies at my school. That dessert bar was the worst! We had a mountain of cookies, cakes, and ice cream right in the middle of the cafeteria... there was no escaping it!

  5. Sometimes vanilla flavorings do contain gluten.

    I found this post fascinating. I have noticed that I have started bloating after eating rice flour. Perhaps I rely on it too heavily and need to shake things up a bit more.

  6. Sigh. I figured as much. It's so hard to stay on top of all the sneaky places gluten hides!

    I'm so glad my words spoke to you on some level; that means so much to me, really! And yes, it is tricky when you have a sensitive digestive system to pinpoint all of your triggers... I've found that with certain foods (like corn), my body can tolerate it but the digestion process isn't entirely comfortable unless I take digestive enzymes beforehand. I've been using NOW Gluten Digest for some time now (for "cereal grains", not just gluten), and I swear by it.



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