55: What Really Matters about Nutrition & Health during College
Angi Mook is a PhD candidate at Indiana State University and she and I sat down to talk about what really matters in nutrition and health during college. We discuss common areas where college students struggle with food and health and provide some practical ways to move in the right direction toward better health, both mentally and physically.
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Welcome back to another episode of Nutrition Matters Podcast. I'm Paige your host and today I’m talking with Angi Mook who teaches at Indiana state university. She works with the college age students on the beginning levels of health. They are required, at their university, to take either the class she teaches or a different class. So, gets to work with a lot of the students on helping them develop healthier habits. She actually wrote in to me a few months ago expressing an interest to come on the podcast and talk about t=some of the most common things she sees people in college struggle with in terms of their nutrition and their health. So, today we’re talking about what really matters in nutrition and health during college, specifically. What areas can we get tripped up in? How can we continue to walk down a path of health both in a mental and physical way. So, I hope you enjoy this episode. We do touch on some issues that for those of you who might be in eating disorder recovery it might be a little bit sensitive for you so you might want to skip this one if you feel like you’re very sensitive to conversations about health. I hope you enjoy this podcast episode with Angi. I think you’ll really enjoy the conversation we have about how to be healthy both on a metal and physical level during the college years.
PAIGE: Alright. So, welcome Angi. Thanks so much for being here. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got to where you are professionally and academically. And tell us a little bit about what you’re doing in regards to how you engage with college students.
Angi: Well, thank you Paige. So, my background is in exercise science. Exercise physiology. I went into this field because my background was in running. I competed in college and enjoyed doing that. But I took my health for granted as I think most college students do when we’re young. And didn’t really understand what it meant to be intentional in my health and how to even be healthy. I thought because I ran I was healthy. I was poorly mistaken in that. Eventually I found my niche in higher education. I really enjoy teaching and helping people learn how to be healthy. I talk a little bit about what got me there was that right out of college I had to find a job and I worked in a clinical setting as a health coach. I worked with helping people meet their health goals. Some of that was putting on weight, losing weight, managing their diabetes and I wasn’t able to be very effective. I was very educated at that point. I had my masters degree but I wasn’t effective because I had busy stay-at-home moms who had five kids and they’re like “what am I supposed to cook for dinner tonight” and I was like “..vegetables? uhh…”, you know? I knew the healthy things. I knew the research. I knew what we should be doing and so I worked at New Start and they forced me to learn how to cook and do more of those practical things so that I became healthier and I could help people be healthier. During that time a lot of people said I wish I just would have known this when I was younger. At that point those individuals were trying to relearn their health habits, their eating habits for decades of habits. That’s when I really found an effective window was this college age population. So, college students are transitioning. They’re learning so much, not just academically but they’re learning how to set up schedules. They’re learning how to go about life, feed themselves, go to bed on time, manage their time and it’s a really good window to help come alongside them and get a hold of them and say, “here are some health things. Here are some health consequences you may face if you don’t address them now and here’s how we can do that.” So, I work with college students, teaching them those healthy things. So, I teach at Indiana State University. I teach the general level health classes which I really really like because you cover so many different areas of their health. Nothing is off limits. We talk about nutrition. We talk about sleep. Sleep hygiene. We talk about stress management. That’s a really great week when they learn that stress is always going to be there you should see how big their eyes get. We talk about exercise, alcohol, addiction, their sexual health. So, we cover a lot.
PAIGE: That is so great. And is that required for every student to take that class?
Angi: They have to take a health class. So, either an exercise component or this course. I always recommend this course because we have the exercise component built in. where they go and exercise throughout the semester but you get a lot more.
PAIGE: Cool. That’s awesome. So, you get to see the light in their eyes when you teach them about something that clicks or the fear when they realize, oh know I'm going to be stressed out my whole life. This doesn’t end? This isn’t just or college students. That’s kind of funny. I can imagine that being fun.
Angi: The first day they come into class to kind of loosen things up and help them get comfortable because we’re going to be talking about some tough issues, sensitive issues so we have to have that level of comfort. We walk around and I say what is the one healthy thing that you do that you’re really proud of. And then they say it. And then I go around and I say what’s the one unhealthy thing you do that you’re not so proud of. And it’s really interesting to hear what students will honestly articulate. Saying “I'm addicted to energy drinks. I have three a day.” “I struggle with late night snacking. I will not eat all day and then I’ll snack from seven to nine” or “I don’t drink water throughout the day” So it’s really interesting to hear all the different challenges that they face as college students.
PAIGE: Definitely. So, that’s sort of where we want to go with our conversation today is talking about the things that you and I have both experienced as college students. And talk about what it’s like to be a college student and how to manage your nutrition and your health. And how to really navigate, like you just said, how to take care of yourself. That’s one of the big things you’re learning in college. But then also from your perspective as someone who’s interacting with these students every day, I'm really interested to hear what you’re seeing as trends and what you’re seeing as people come to you in terms of their struggles, their worries, their concerns. I think this will be, hopefully, a really important conversation for anyone who is going to college soon or in college now. To help them navigate that in a healthy way both mentally and physically. And I love when you talked about your class that you teach that you do all aspects of health because there are lots of components in our life that make us feel whole and well and good and it’s not just nutrition. Yeah, nutrition is important but it’s not everything. That’s one of the biggest things in college is trying to navigate that tricky space.
Angi: I think they’re all related. And your stress may affect your food choices you make that day which then could affect your weight which then could affect your psychological health. When you realize they’re, all connected you have to address all of them. You can’t just focus on one and the cliché thing we talked about is typically when we hear college and the health concerns we talk about gaining the freshmen fifteen and specifically today I don’t want to revolve around the freshmen fifteen with weight gain. That’s one aspect and we want to focus holistically on all the different dimensions of health.
PAIGE: So, let’s address that and hit that. Because I do think it’s extremely cliché to say, “oh you’re going to gain the freshman fifteen” but I don’t think everyone always connects why it can be so dangerous and not helpful to always talk about that and to always stress about that. So, one idea I have while you’re maybe thinking of what’s wrong with that. But one idea I've had is I've had so many people age 17, 18 come in right before college and say “everyone tells me I'm going to gain weight. I'm so petrified of gaining weight” and then as a result what a lot of people do is they go way crazy restrictive and they say ok when I go to college I'm not going to eat this I'm not going to eat that. I'm going to have this restriction and they just put up all of these walls and boundaries and rules around food. And we all know how that typically goes. Maybe for a while they do that and they follow through with that but after a while they say this is too hard and that pendulum swings over into bingeing and then they feel like well screw it I've already ruined it I've gained weight. No one’s going to love me. I don’t want to go home and visit my family because I'm scared of what they’re going to say. All this stuff and then it all starts because people put that thought and that fear into people’s minds. The truth is you might need to gain a few pounds when you go from being a high school athlete to being in college with a very different lifestyle. You’re now an adult. Your body changes. For men, sometimes they end up filling out a little bit then but typically it’s a little bit later. Women, maybe around that time do transition from that teenage lifestyle and body to more of a woman’s body. Those are some thoughts of why I cringe when people obsess so much about the freshmen fifteen. I think it puts thoughts in people’s minds that lead to behaviors that aren’t healthy. It might not always be true for people, but it also might be true and it might be necessary for some people. Go ahead. Let’s hear your thoughts.
Angi: In the short term, I think a lot of students come in with that fear of gaining that freshman fifteen and it’s very real. I the long term, like you said, it’s not healthy. It’s not sustainable. One of the things I like about your podcast is you do a really good job at promoting health at every weight. That’s essentially what I preach. I really buy into this idea that our weight will take care of itself so we don’t have to fear the freshmen fifteen. Our weight will take care of itself when we start adding in healthy behaviors. So, when we start adding in healthy behaviors such as eating breakfast in the morning or exercising regularly or adding in the behavior of eating vegetables. All of those things, our weight will take care of itself. So, whether we need to gain weight or lose weight it’s always about focusing on what are you doing. The actions that you’re adding into the day.
PAIGE: Yeah and I think... Oh go ahead.
Angi: And that’s how I open up class. Because a lot of students come in with that fear of gaining the freshman fifteen but then they’re also very motivated to get and A. students care about their academic success. So, I walk in and I say, “you can come into this health class and you can get an A and you can also fail the class.” And their eyes get really big like what do you mean I'm going to fail the class if I get an A? And I say, “If you haven’t walked out of here this semester a bit healthier I think we’ve missed the point of the class and we’ve failed. So you can get an A and not have changed your health and I don’t think we’ve accomplished anything.” And so, coming back to I really get to the point where I say it’s not about who knows the most about health, how educated you are, but who uses it the best. With what you know about health, are you doing that? What are your actions and are you adding in those healthy behaviors?
PAIGE: Let me ask this question. Where I'm coming from, just with my work that I do and the people that I typically see. I see people who are on the other end of the spectrum that you are talking about. Where maybe they heard that message of “oh you need to be more healthy. You need to eat more vegetables. You need to exercise more.” And all these things that, for a lot of people that’s great advice, but for some people they take that to the extreme and they only eat vegetables of they exercise five hours a day. Or they, do you know what I'm trying to say? Where their concern for health becomes absolutely pathological and not healthy as a result of how extreme it is. Do you ever see that? Do you ever temper your message? I'm just curious. Do some students, do you notice that some students need to hear “hey do this a little bit more” and other students need to hear “hey chill out a little bit. Eat a hamburger once in awhile” how do you navigate that? Because it’s really tricky to talk to a big group of people.
Angi: It is. When I'm addressing a large group, you have to come back to, the purpose of that class is to educate them. There’s core concepts with their health they have to learn. They’re going to have assessments and tests that they have to pass. So, you have to present the material. But then the assignments that I give that they work on an individual health project. They set a health goal. They work through some of the healthy things they’re trying to do. That’s more of an intimate setting where I can give them feedback and say “you can manage your weight without exercising five hours a day. Let’s talk maybe one on one about what that could look like.” so that gives me a little bit more voice on a personal level versus when I'm in front of everyone I do have to keep more of this broad, less specific, tailored message, I guess.
PAIGE: But, I'm sure there’s a few people in your class who hear that message and take it to the extreme, right? So, do you ever have to temper than and say it’s good to eat vegetable but it’s not good to eat only vegetables. Or kind of help them navigate where that middle ground is instead of going from one extreme to the other, right?
Angi: A couple things is, I have an example where I had a student ask, “well, is it better to eat raw vegetables or cooked vegetables?” and I just looked at the student and I said you’re splitting hairs. At the end of the day are you eating vegetables? Can you say you’ve eaten vegetables this week? And they’re like well no. I was like, so maybe the first step is let’s just eat something green, you know?
PAIGE: That you like. And whether it’s cooked or not, who cares.
PAIGE: Just, like it. Enjoy it.
Angi: Exactly. Find something that you enjoy and that you will consistently eat is more of a step. So, kind of breaking things down into small, manageable steps for them. It’s not about jumping from I eat only fast foods and only these healthy foods very restrictive but saying maybe I only eat fast food three times a week and I start to pack a lunch once a week. Or maybe this frequency, maybe instead I add some healthier foods in. or instead, maybe now I cook two of my own meals.
PAIGE: So, it sounds like you don’t see as much of that orthorexic mentality. You’re seeing more people. And this is what my little sister who’s in college told me to. I said what do you see? What do you observe in your friends around campus and she said “well, a lot of times I’ll see people eating a hamburger and French fries and drinking chocolate milk and eating two desserts.” And it sounds like that’s sort of what you’re seeing and observing in your students?
Angi: Yeah. I think that, to an extent, there’s two things that I see. I see that college students, your average college student to an extent mirrors your average adult in that they have a lot of similar things where they’re eating a lot of meals outside the home. They’re eating fast food. They’re eating convenience food. They are short on time so they just grab things quickly. So, I see a lot of mirrored behaviors with just your average adults who are busy with jobs and stresses and things like that. Which makes sense. Right after college they transition to working. I would say that what I see also is that, and it’s maybe a little bit more dangers, it’s a little bit trickier to address, is disordered eating. In that you see not full-fledged eating disorders, amongst people but a lot more people who skip meals. Who maybe have stress eating and things along that nature. I think that’s something that if I have a student who I think, am concerned might have an eating disorder I have resources on the university. There’s counselors there are centers that are set up to help those individuals with those types of things. But, disordered eating is very common even among adults and we’re not as aware necessarily as a diagnosed thing. That’s where that’s a little bit more interesting. Making students more aware of their eating habits can allow them to adopt healthier ones.
PAIGE: I remember when I was in college. I remember my first nutrition class, it was a general level it wasn’t even specific to my major or anything. But, I remember our professor, a lot of the things she said was the first time I had heard a more balanced and moderate approach to nutrition. I kind of went into nutrition because I wanted to learn how to eat perfectly but the way she explained it she said stuff like, “all foods can fit in a healthy diet” and I was blown away. I was like what? You’re saying it’s ok to eat a cookie here and there? Just from my experience that was really helpful. Every little nutrition class that I had in my years of being in school kind of moved me a little bit closer to being more comfortable with my body. Being less concerned about nutrition in terms of trying to be perfect with it and just being a little more gentle with myself. For me, that perspective was helpful because I was more of that orthorexic, not really orthorexic, but kind of tried to be or wanted to be. Wanted to be perfect with my eating. that’s interesting to hear your feedback about what you experience and how students that you interact with perceive that message and how they take it into their lives. I'm curious, by the end of the semester, because you just have them for one semester I'm sure, yeah?
Angi: Yep. One semester.
PAIGE: What’s their feedback and what do they seem to have accomplished in a semester’s time in terms of their health? What are some things you see?
Angi: It’s really interesting because it’s always mixed. And it depends on the individual. So, every student works on, they get to decide in this behavior change project one thing about their health that they would like to work on. And they come up with goals, strategies about how they’re going to accomplish it. We talk about what does behavior change look like? What are some tips and strategies you can use then to accomplish the goals you want to do. So, we work on those throughout the semester and at the end of the semester, I mean, I'm rooting for them. I feel like a coach to an extent. So, seeing, because you don’t see that in the classroom. They just come, you do a lecture, things like that. Watching them slowly change I think it’s the most rewarding but then sometimes the most heartbreaking. Some students will say I did not accomplish my goal because I was lazy or I didn’t take the project seriously. But you have those individuals who choose to take it seriously and they really commit to working on something and I've had students that say “I realize when we took our body composition and health data that I had pre-hypertension. So, I worked on trying to decrease my blood pressure and I did it” or someone said, “I used exercise to help treat my depression and I've come off my depression medication”. There’s a lot of really rewarding things outside of weight loss. Others are my goal is to eat one vegetable every day because they realized that while they used to be healthy eaters, it was because their mom was in control of their eating and now they had to intentionally choose it. Or they were living on their own and they had to learn how to cook healthy vegetables. So, it’s really interesting but it is definitely individual specific.
PAIGE: That’s the way it should be, you know? If everybody made the same goal it wouldn’t be meaningful for 95% of them. Some people do need to work on making sure they’re adding a few vegetables to their meal some people do need to work on moving their body a little bit and make sure that they’re getting out and being active. Others have, we all have different next right things. We’re all in different spaces with our health and I love that you’re teaching small, sustainable, realistic goals that at the end of the semester they can feel like “yes. I moved my body in a way that felt good to me 30 minutes a day, five days a week”, you know? Something like that. That’s great!
Angi: We talk about smart goals. Setting small, reasonable goals and the ones that are successful with effecting change in their health behaviors and effecting change in their overall health. Those are the ones who e=adhere to that and use that principle the best. They set small, realistic goals. Overall, my observation is those students do the best in hitting their goals.
PAIGE: In my observation, with my clients, the same is true. When your goal is broad and sweeping and not very specific or realistic you’re not going to do great. But, when you can start saying the next right thing for me is this and, yeah, it’s not perfect, it’s not everything but it’s something and then you start feeling so much better and you start sleeping better. Or you start feeling more energized. You start to be like “oh this was fun. I'm going to start doing the next right thing, and the next right thing” right? So, I think that’s a beautiful pattern to set at age 18 or whatever age they are when they’re in your class. That’s awesome.
Angi: Yeah, and it gives them the tools then that once they’ve gone through a process of learning how to change one little thing in their health it empowers them next semester, ok “what’s one more thing that I can do?” And it encourages them that “ok this semester I was able to adopt the habit of exercise.” Which is huge to do in one semester. “What do I want to accomplish this semester?” and before you know it, within a four-year period you have dramatically changed and affected your health.
PAIGE: And even though students who may say at the end, “I didn’t do it. I didn’t take this seriously.” I'm sure you’ve planted a seed in them that in some point in their life they’ll come back to that. They’ll recognize “oh yeah, I learned this I learned how to make this change. I learned how to set a realistic goal for myself and I can do it” I notice that with my clients too. Sometimes I work with younger people, especially where I can tell they’re not really listening or engage or really that excited about working with a dietitian. But sometimes they write in to me years later and say, “Oh I actually was listening and I did make that change it just took me a while” or whatever it might be. So, you never know how you’re…
Angi: You never know and I have students where I think they’re disengaged. They don’t care about the class, and they’ll come to me and say, “I learned so much.” Or…
PAIGE: Yay! That makes it so worth it, right?
Angi: You live for those moments are few and far between but you live for those as an educator. There was this one student who. Like his face, just reading his nonverbals you could tell he didn’t want to be there. He just really was not engaged and he physically looked healthy. But inside conversations you knew that his eating choices weren’t necessarily the best. He was young. It hadn’t quite caught up with him I guess you could say. And he truly believed that, when you asked him he was like “well, I have a fast metabolism. I'm young I can eat whatever I want.” We discussed on the side, just kind of maybe that’s not the best approach to have for nutrition, life. And he came back after Thanksgiving break and he says, “I want you to know, I ate a whole pumpkin pie but I did eat one vegetable before that.” And for him that really was progress. Whereas before he might not have even thought about that. But now he was aware enough.
PAIGE: Developmentally at age 18 versus age 22 there’s just a difference in your own sense of your mortality, of your invincibility. So, I think it’s tough at age 18, on a developmental level, to convince and 18-year-old that yes, they are going to care about the lifestyle they’re making right now. I just think that’s a tough job for you. So, I just want to validate you. You’re doing a good job and that’s, it’s just. It’s different. By the end of college, you do start to sense your own ability to be, what’s the word? Like, you can get sick. You can get hurt. You can not take good care of yourself and suffer the consequences.
Angi: You’re not invincible.
PAIGE: Yeah, exactly.
Angi: It is actually very very hard to help them buy into this principle that your health is… A lot of them take their health for granted and thank goodness most of them are healthy and have never dealt with a health issue. So, we talk about chronic disease and they assess their risk for developing chronic disease. They look at their family health history. One of the classes they come in and we talk and we define what is diabetes what is cardiovascular disease. And their eyes are like, “Ok. Yeah. Yeah.” Taking notes. And I’ll say let’s get practical about this, raise your hand or I’ll have them stand up, if you have a family member who is on cholesterol medication. Hands go up. Raise your hand if someone is on hypertensive medication for blood pressure. Hands go up. And I said those are your genes. Those are your genetics. You eat the exact same way as your family, your parents. You probably have similar exercise habits, health behaviors and they have developed these chronic diseases. What makes you think that between your health habits and your genes you will have any different outcome? And they sit there and they think about it and they’re like “Oh. Oh, my goodness.” That maybe something they have to address later in life and it helps them start to see that maybe I should start thinking about these things before it’s down the road
PAIGE: Let’s talk about practical things for people in college. What are some issues and what people can do about them. I'm going to list one issue that I hear about a lot. Roommates. So, navigating living with your sweet little family who cooks for you and takes you places and supports you and loves you. And now you’re living with potentially a stranger or maybe a friend who you thought was a friend and maybe they aren’t as much your friend anymore when you start to live with them. The dishes are hard the food situation is hard. You don’t have much space to store your food. Cooking, cleaning, all of it. It can just be a little bit of a difficult thing to navigate. Plus, for a lot of people roommates might have some really weird disordered not great relationships or patterns with food that can sometimes rub off on you. So, let’s just talk about roommates broadly and we’ll just discuss this topic together. I think if you have one that you get along with really well and you feel like you want to surround yourself with that person, great. But the wonderful thing about college as opposed to high school is you get to choose who you spend time with. You get to create your own little circle of friends that kind of become like your family and home away from home. If you’re roommate happens to be someone who engages in behaviors that are not healthy. Whether they are disordered eating or maybe even an eating disorder or constantly bashing their body or constantly over exercising or under exercising. Whatever it is, right? You can support them and be there for them but you also can choose to surround yourself with people who you want to surround yourself with. So, I think roommates can be really tough because their behaviors can rub off on you.
Angi: I can share my roommate story.
PAIGE: Yeah please. So, tell us about. I mean, your own experience with roommates.
Angi: So that might be the best place for me to pull from. It wasn’t necessarily a specific roommate but we had at our university lodges or townhouses so there was maybe up to a group living together. You had your roommate but then there was other girls. So, I ran competitively at my university. Cross country, track and field and so I, having a sprinter background. I'm 5’10” and most of the girls I ran with in cross country were very very small. They were just very slender and I had the build of a sprinter I looked more like a basketball player than I did a cross country runner. I chose specifically not to live with cross country runners which was very common for you to live with the people you ran and competed with. I chose specifically not to live with them because I knew for me that was challenging with my own body image. Constantly having that comparison not just on the course but then every day in life. So, I lived with other athletes like basketball players.
PAIGE: And I'm sure basketball players eat a little bit differently than cross country girls. Tell us about that. What was it like? Do basketball players have fewer body image issues in general?
Angi: The personalities that go along with distance running tend to be similar personalities that would be predisposed for an eating disorder I think. Basketball players. I can’t speak specifically on that having not been completely submersed in that culture. But, I would say they are concerned about performance and if for some reason one of them received a message saying that this will help you perform, this is how you need to eat and they wanted to be the best within their field and they had goals. Just like any athlete I could easily see them falling victim to that restrictive mentality.
PAIGE: Of course. Nobody is immune to that.
Angi: It was just nice being around tall women who. It was just different so for me I was able to choose a different environment to put myself in where I knew I would feel more empowered to be healthier and be ok with my body image.
PAIGE: So, I think overall what we’re saying about roommates is you have the power. You get to choose who you live with. If you’re in a situation where you’re living with someone right now that isn’t ideal because it’s bringing you down in one way or another. Get through it. Try not to let that behavior rub off on you and try to surround yourself with supportive, happy, healthy people. Both on a mental and a physical level. Recognize that you’re not necessarily. It’s not the same as high school where you have to hang out with the same people because there’s not that many people there. Its college you can make your friends and surround yourself with people who are on the same page as you.
Angi: I would say step one. Maybe we should stop thinking about what friend. Instead of we typically go in saying “ok what friends do I have that I want to live with.” What if we started asking the question, “what healthy individuals do I know that I could live with?” because if you find someone who is truly balanced in all those different dimensions of their life. They’re a healthy individual, I guarantee you’re going to get along with them. You’re going to find it easier to get along with someone who is emotionally stable, has good stress coping mechanisms, has healthy habits, exercises. That individual to me, while it may not be your best friend, living condition wise may be more conducive and easier. And then then you just hang out with your best friend all the time.
PAIGE: That’s so true. You don’t need to live with your very best friend but living with someone who is balanced and who maybe you can positively affect them and they can positively affect you could be a good situation. And as a college student, it’s amazing, you have the power to make that happen rather than being in a friend group that you’re stuck in. That’s how I felt in high school versus college, I felt like this big freedom to surround myself with who I wanted to which was fun. And it continues into adulthood. You get to choose your friends it’s kind of great. Angi, tell me what do you think are some specific things that college students can do to maintain or create a healthy relationship with food?
Angi: This gets more at that practical component I like to implement and incorporate in class of giving them some small practical things that they can go out that day and start doing.
PAIGE: Yeah, awesome!
Angi: And the first week is water. You would be amazing at how many students are not drinking water throughout the day. And the amount of caffeinated beverages, Starbucks coffees, sugary beverages, pops, and very very high amounts of energy drinks are running rampant on campus. Just simply saying, “how much water have you drank today?”
PAIGE: And why are you drinking so much caffeine? Do you need to get a little more sleep, right? So, kind of taking some steps back, like. Do you need to have better sleep hygiene?
Angi: Yeah and we address that a little bit. But the first step is water. So, practical thing is, are you carrying a water bottle on you? Do you own a water bottle? If you bring a water bottle and you say I will always drink water during boring class lectures I guarantee you will get your water intake in for the day, right? So, then I see students bringing water into my class and I was like ok I know how they feel about this class. No, but it’s a good way to help cue you and remind you to drink water. Or always drink water when you’re walking from class to your dorm and always make that a habit. Just a quick easy way to get in enough water for the day. So, that’s a practical one just kind of reminding yourself to drink water during class time and then also when you’re on your walks from class to your dorm or dorm to your class is a good start. And if you’re drinking enough water you naturally may reduce your pop consumption, your energy drink consumption, your coffee consumption just by adding in another beverage. So that has a double effect too.
PAIGE: And for some people if you feel like you are just drinking Starbucks and energy drinks and sports drinks all day long, something I typically try to do for that person is just say, “every time you drink something that’s caffeinated or sugary or whatever it is try to drink just as much water before you drink before you drink another drink.” So, that tends to naturally reduce how much you’re doing without being super restrictive and like oh I can never drink that ever again. Just like ok before I have another drink I have to drink at least 12 ounces of water because I just had 12 ounces of coffee. Whatever it is.
Angi: Exactly. And you will not imagine how protective college students are of their caffeinated beverages.
PAIGE: I believe it.
Angi: If you were to go up and say, “don’t drink coffee” everyone would laugh. They will grab their Starbucks cups and like hold them.
PAIGE: Don’t take it away!
Angi: That I, as a health teacher, am going to come in and throw out their energy drinks and pop, right? But instead I just challenge them. Bring in water and I role model that. Every class I walk in with a ginormous water bottle. It’s almost ridiculous in that it’s a visual thing. And they see me doing that and saying ok well what about water. And so, some, with their health changes, they only focus on drinking more water. And that’s a huge difference for them.
PAIGE: Yeah. That’s great.
Angi: That would be the number one practical thing I start with because it helps address some other ones. A lot of students struggle in that their eating all day. Every meal is processed food from a restaurant or high in sodium. So, even the eating commons or the cafeterias they have, most of the food that is prepared is prepackaged and then just heated up and served to them. So, the amount of sodium, the amount of processed food that they’re eating is very different than, possibly, what they had been eating.
PAIGE: So, how does someone navigate that though because they have a meal plan and they have money that they have to spend on campus? How do they make those choices that are balanced and make them feel good, and whole and well without not using the money that they have for on campus? That’s a big struggle.
Angi: It really is. And I would say specific to our campus, where I'm at now, a lot of students say, “I don’t think there are that healthy of options.” And then the hours that they’re open on the weekend. It can be very challenging. Maybe a lot of students aren’t eating breakfast at the dining facilities. For the most part students aren’t going to get out of bed. So, maybe, making breakfast to have in their dorm is a good way to decrease that problem.
PAIGE: So, you can have some foods at “home” maybe in your dorm to have for breakfast and get up and get going but that make you feel good and ready for the day. One of the pressures I felt as a college freshman, because I was living in the dorms and had the meal plan, was just I struggled because I had the same meal plan as the football players, you know? We all had the same amount of money that we had to spend every quarter and if you didn’t spend that money it just went to waste. I actually put myself through college. My parents didn’t pay any money at all. I got scholarships and I worked and so I was really sensitive to that. I was like I am not wasting a dime. I have worked so hard for this. I thought it was crazy that I, as someone who is 5’6” and a female, needed as much or got to use as much money as my friends who were 6’5” football players. That just doesn’t make sense. I struggled because every time I felt like a tinge of hunger, like oh I probably could eat I would just run and grab something and eat. And it wasn’t because I was lazy or I wasn’t thinking about food or wasn’t trying to be nutritionally balanced it was because I was really not wanting to waste money. I don’t know what the solution is for that. What I would end up doing as I would take my friends who were upper classmen out to eat on campus and I would pay for them and I would do that often and I still wouldn’t use all the money that I needed. And I was eating three meals a day it’s not like I was skimping out or anything. But, anyway. I talked to my little sister, who is in college, and she said the way that hers works is it’s a buffet. You eat as much as you want every meal. It was different. It was like money for me. Kind of interesting.
Angi: Yeah. Different universities do it differently. I've seen some where you just pay by weight and then that’s interesting to look at how people choose food based off of when they’re paying by weight.
Angi: How that would affect eating choices, nutrition on campus.
Angi: We had a buffet. Like a cafeteria style. You could get as many plates as you wanted things like that. There were a lot of healthy options at my university which I was fortunate. But, at Indiana State it’s a hybrid. So, they have this dining commons which is all fast food vendors they bring in and then a little store with snacks. And they also have a couple cafeteria styles.
PAIGE: Ok. So, one thing I noticed when I went out to one of the local colleges here. I went out to I think it was dinner with my cousin who was a freshman there. So, she paid for me on her meal plan type of thing and we went out to eat. And what I noticed was, the way that they did it is they had little stations within their cafeterias. Like, here’s the Italian station, here’s the Asian station, here’s the hamburger grill whatever station. And all the plates were really small and there was just one little thing on each plate. But you could get as many plates as you wanted. And that’s really tricky because it’s hard to keep track. It’s hard to really know what you’ve eaten when it’s not all on one plate. Where you can see it all together and you can say, “oh look I have this and this and this on my plate.” When you’re just saying oh I want a hot dog, oh I want stir fry, oh I want pasta, it can kind of add up without you being super aware. So, what I noticed in that moment was she kept getting more and more and I was able to, because I was older and wiser and been through it type of thing, I was able to say, “ok I want to try to think about all of this food as if it were on a normal plate and kind I get a source of starch on my plate. Can I get a source of protein? Can I try to get half of my plate full of vegetables?” And yeah, not every day is going to be perfect with that. You’re not going to do that every single time but if you can start to put all the food you’re going to eat in one spot. Maybe even grab a bigger plate, put it all together and then sit down and mindfully enjoy it and eat it. Rather than just keeping every second getting up and getting something else to eat. Especially if it’s buffet style. That might be a better strategy to navigate all the food all the time. You can eat as much as you want. If you put it on a plate, sit down, eat it, ask yourself, “do I really need more? Is this really hunger? Is this something else?” and start getting in touch with hunger and fullness and balance at your meal. And another strategy for a buffet style, if that’s the way your college works is. Or just buffets in general, is what I like to do is I like to look at the whole buffet before I even grab any food. So, I peek around people who are in line and I'm like ok there is really good chicken. Oh look at that, that salad looks really good. Oh, I want that mashed potatoes. Nah that cookie doesn’t look that good but the brownie does or whatever it is, right? So, you kind of pick and choose before you’re there. Because how often do you get the middle of a buffet, your plate is full and then you’re like shoot I really want that too?
Angi: Yeah. Assess what your healthy options are and then pre-decide before you go and self-serve.
PAIGE: Yeah. When I look back at my college experience the amount of money that I was expected to spend every quarter was my biggest challenge because I felt like I just ate more than I needed because I was so concerned about money. What was your biggest challenge? Do you remember like first year, second year of school?
Angi: I didn’t have challenges. I didn’t think about it once.
Angi: I was not concerned. But I was an athlete. So, when I ran I just, I walked in and was like this sounds good and I ate it and I moved on with my day. I never was worried about it. I always ate breakfast because I was raised you eat breakfast. I naturally would get up and 7 in the morning and go eat breakfast. But other than that, there wasn’t anything outstanding in my eating habits or the types of foods I would eat. But…
PAIGE: That’s great!
Angi: It was great. And I think about when I'm talking to college students, I say, “I didn’t know any of this in college. I didn’t know any of this so I never thought about it and I wish I would have because when I got out of college and I started eating healthier and I started understanding how food could help me as a runner, I got faster.”
PAIGE: Like, “I wish I would have known this!”
Angi: I know! I would have been so much faster in college if I would have paid attention to that aspect of my nutrition, of my training. I just never thought about it. So, mine was more lack of knowledge.
PAIGE: Lack of knowledge.
Angi: Lack of self-awareness as well.
PAIGE: Ok. Yeah. So, I think overall, what we’ve tried to do here is say don’t worry about gaining weight in college because the worry will likely lead to some behaviors that aren’t good for you on a mental and physical level. Instead of worrying about that, try to become really educated about what balance looks like on a plate. How you can take care of yourself on a physical and a mental level. How you can balance all the different aspects of life as a college student: sleep, school, job, social engagement, health. Try to balance it all. Try to take care of yourself. Don’t focus so much on the weight. And then, some practical things that you can start incorporating right this very minute to become a little bit further along in your healthy journey could be, drinking a little bit more water, making sure you’re keeping the caffeinated beverages to a minimum so you can sleep enough so you can have energy for the next day so that movement and exercise and learning and healthy choices with food kind of come a little bit more naturally. What else would you add to that? I’m just sort of trying to summarize what we’ve said.
Angi: I would say. We talked about what your challenge was and maybe what my challenge was. But one of the biggest challenges I see, if I were to look at it from what I hear the most is, “I’m too busy. I’m too stressed.” So, it’s this loophole that students give themselves to not do the healthy things they know they should be doing. They skip meals. They don’t eat breakfast. They don’t make time for exercise. And they don’t make time for their health. And I think.
PAIGE: Let’s connect that to what college students care about. What do college students care about? They care about As. What else? There’s probably one other big thing that we could generalize.
Angi: Social activities, social lives, friendships, relationships.
PAIGE: Ok. So, let’s connect healthy behaviors, healthy lifestyle, taking care of yourself to the two things that they care about. Well, you are guaranteed. We can guarantee this. You are going to do better in school if you take better care of yourself because we can’t. Just like you said, you can’t really separate nutrition from mental health, from sexual health, from all these different aspects of health that you’re talking about in the beginning. They’re all interconnected and they all play into each other. I think often we think about our systems of our body as like, that’s our digestive system and here’s my cardiovascular system, and here’s my neurological system. And we think about them separately, but in the end, we are one human being that they are all interconnected and it all comes together to make us who we are. So, yes, it’s worth taking the time and energy to plan, shop if you’re living on your own, to make a choice with your nutrition that’s going to make you feel great. And sometimes it’s a hamburger, sure. But sometimes it’s a salad and sometimes it’s a fish meal, and sometimes it’s… I mean, it’s different things. It doesn’t need to be salads every single day. Where am I going with this? I’m losing my train of thought.
Angi: I always tell students you’re very concerned about getting As. I understand that. But when you look at the top graduating students with 4.0s, do you know what they all have in common? They all exercise. And they’re like…. I was like they take, possibly, 30-60 minutes out of their day to exercise. And they’re getting better grades than you are. What do you think about that? And it helps them stay grounded to this idea that I can expect more from myself when I give more to myself. And it’s hard to buy into that principle that by exercising, taking away from study time to exercise, I can be better. But, in reality, that’s what we see. So, really trying to get them to practice giving themselves that… Getting out of that mentality of, “I’m too busy. I’m too stressed” but that it’s ok to take time and it’s important to take time for exercising, eating healthy, even fun activities that are stress reducing in you day. I would say that is one of the biggest things to address and give yourself permission to add into your week.
PAIGE: Awesome tip. I love that. One other thing I would add is, and this is true for adults, this is something that I have to remind myself all the time, is like stop trying to multitask, you know? If you can, especially with computers, I feel like you can have ten windows open where it’s like ok I have this assignment and here’s the window for it, I have this assignment and here’s the word document open for it. You just see it all at once and can’t get it done. Maybe thinking about each and every aspect of life and health, like there’s exercise, there’s nutrition, there’s schooling, there’s all these things that we’re trying to keep in balance. When you’re doing one of those things, do it and do it well and then move on and do the next thing because. If we’re trying to do ten assignments at once, we’re probably not going to do any assignment all that great. Just don’t try to multitask. Try to just do each thing. Give it it’s proper amount of time and you’ll actually be a whole lot more efficient and likely have more time to do some of those things that make you feel in balance on a health level.
Angi: Yeah. You could spend a whole podcast dedicated to just time management and trying to teach that skill. And how that affects your health choices and health behaviors.
PAIGE: So true. Well, Angi what else do you want to add? I just want to make sure you’re saying what you wanted to say.
Angi: There’s room to talk about a lot of the barriers they face with, food is used as an incentive at universities. A lot of times that’s how we get students to events. We offer free food. There’s candy bowls everywhere during finals week when they’re stressed. So, there’s a lot of interesting barriers even then when you think about late night studying. Food is often a part of that and having to navigate those as a college student. And trying to figure out where you stand with, “will I engage in late night snacking?” becoming more aware. Just being more aware of how much food is offered for free to elicit things from college students, I guess.
PAIGE: Yeah. And maybe recognizing that that could be something that you struggle with, in particular. Free food can be a trigger to want to overdo it. Especially when you’re poor in college you’re like “Yahoo! Free food! I don’t care what it is. I'm going to eat all of it.” Starting to work through paying attention to your body and what it’s communicating in terms of hunger and fullness rather than just automatically reaching when there’s free food around. It could be something, like we said, college is all about learning how to take care of yourself better. And life is all about learning how to take care of yourself better. I think that’s a big common struggle that a lot of people work through. If you can get it in college, if you can work through the whole free food struggle in college I think you’re ahead of the game.
Angi: That’s true. Because candy bowls will still be there when you get into your career field. That’s 100% true.
PAIGE: And you know what else will still be there? Stress. I think in college you think, “ugh this is the pinnacle of stress.”
Angi: “Once I graduate it’ll be fine”
PAIGE: And it changes. I mean, it’s a little bit different. But, you’re right. In the beginning, you said you’re always going to be stressed. It’s very true. If I could summarize I would just say, look at college as a wonderful time to learn all kinds of great things academically but also on a personal level. Be curious about yourself. Start doing the next right step for you that’s going to make you feel healthier and better and more whole and well. Don’t get caught up in any extreme. Whether it’s fast food every day, all the time, not listening to your body at all. And don’t get caught up in the extreme of healthy eating because I'm so worried about gaining weight, too healthy, too intense, too orthorexic type of situation. Find a happy medium where you’re able to feel like the way you’re eating is sustainable and realistic and healthy for you as an individual. Which might look a little bit different than your roommate or some of your friends; but stand comfortable in your own space with finding a way to be healthy for you. I would just say what we’re not aiming for is extremes. On any end of the spectrum. That’s kind of how I would summarize. Anything else you’d add to summarize?
Angi: I would just say that college, we often get excited about and I think that we want. We’ve talked a lot about some of the struggles and barriers and fears. But, really, coming back to it’s a window of opportunity for you. There are so many resources and classes you can take to help you in your health journey. Whatever that is. Whatever your health goals are. So, it’s a really great window for you, for the first time step out and have choices. Have say in how you’re going to navigate your health. I think coming back to that and just remembering this is a wonderful time to make the changes now while you’re young.
PAIGE: Yeah. That’s great. And if right now it’s hard to comprehend why you should care about that. Just trust us. You will at some point really be glad that you learned some healthy patterns and behaviors at a young age rather than having to regret it later and say, “I wish had known this when I was younger.” You’ll be really glad you did that work of learning about yourself and figuring out what works for you. Ok, Angi. You are awesome. Thank you so much for your advice and tips.
Angi: This was neat! Thank you.
Well, I sincerely hope you’ve enjoyed this conversation. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and leave a review on iTunes. Thanks again so much for listening and we’ll see you soon for another episode.
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