The transition to life as a college student represents an exciting, and often incredibly overwhelming, time. Alongside new friends, a new schedule, new classes, and a new environment, students face the added challenges of independence around food, limited money, social pressure, and a lot of attention to the bodies and body changes. As Claire Mysko, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association, puts it: “College is a period of development in which disordered eating is likely to arise, resurface, or worsen for many young [people].” How can we protect college students from falling into the noxious grasp of eating disorders and disordered eating? Intuitive Eating, a model for healing one’s relationship to food created by dietitians Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole, provides one important strategy to consider. Today, we explore just that!
Thank you to Jade Gibson for writing and submitting this post! Jade recently completed her dietetic internship at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. As a new Registered Dietitian, she hopes to soon work in the field of eating disorder prevention and recovery. Jade is excited to use her knowledge and skills to help individuals find a healthy relationship with food.
I was so excited to live on my own and make new friends my freshman year in college, but I was also very scared of my body changing as a result of my food environment changing. My friends and I talked about how we were going to make sure we worked out every day and not go too crazy at the dining centers. Sophomore year, I still had the fear of gaining “too much” weight, but I was also enrolled in advanced courses. I would deny my hunger while stuck at the library for hours on end because the library didn’t have anything “healthy” to eat. My junior year, I finally started to learn more about Intuitive Eating and how to incorporate it into my life. I started to understand that listening to my body and its needs is so much more important than how much I weigh or how I look. This made a world of difference in the way I felt when it came to food and exercise, and even how effective I was as a student. Looking back on the first few years of my undergraduate experience, I wish I better understood the principles of Intuitive Eating.
Intuitive Eating is about listening to your body and finding a better relationship with food. Here are three principles of Intuitive Eating that I believe fit well into the lifestyle of a college student:
- Reject the Diet Mentality: For starters, the focus of your freshman year should not be your weight. Don’t let diet culture scare you away from the dining center or from going out to pizza at 10 pm with your friends. Now is the time to try new food, make up crazy new combinations of foods with your friends, and socialize over crepes on Sunday morning.
- Honor Your Hunger: This is something that seems so intuitive, yet is too often ignored. It is especially easy to disregard your hunger when you’re in a group study at the library or you have classes back-to-back all day, but our bodies get hungry for a purpose. The human brain requires more energy than any other organ in the body. If you want to be an efficient student, you need to be prepared! Bring snacks to munch on between classes, get a cute lunch box and bring it everywhere with you, plan breaks in your library time so you can go home or to the cafe to get something to eat.
- Make Peace with Food: When it comes to college, this is important. Try to not think of foods as “good” or “bad.” Foods of all nutrient densities can have a place in your life. Some foods serve the purpose of comfort and socialization, while others are there to provide essential nutrients. I encourage you to not put too much power into any food item.
To the future intuitive eater: start slowly, and be kind to yourself. No one becomes an intuitive eater overnight. Listen to your body, allow yourself to fail, and don’t let diet culture get in the way of your physical and mental health.
Hungry for more learning on this topic? Check out Permission to Eat: A practical guide to working yourself out of an eating disorder during college while celebrating the awesomeness that is you! by Libby Parker.