Growing up, I never had any issues with food and nutrition. Sure I had the occasional ice cream binge and chain eating of fresh cookies, but for the most part I was a very healthy eater. My mom cooked often and always included three to four vegetables with each meal. I learned from a very young age to love food and expect good food.
Last semester was my first semester at UMD. I remember from the first day of dining hall eating, I was determined to keep my healthy habits from home. I always made sure half of my plate was veggies and I had either chicken or fish for protein. I cut down my carb intake to almost none and was genuinely sure that I could do this.
About a month and a half into the semester, I noticed some issues. I could not feel full. No matter how much I ate in the dining hall, I’d come back to my room and twenty minutes later I’d want another meal. Because of me constantly feeling hungry, I snacked all of the time. And not just a handful of popcorn snacking, but heavy late night, infinite junk food snacking. One night, I went through 2/3 of a roll of uncooked cookie dough like it was water.
What I was doing just wasn’t healthy. I’d eat close to perfectly during the day and then when 11 pm hit, I turned into a cravings monster. I learned that UMD offers free nutrition coaching in the health center, so I decided to get more information.
At first, I was reluctant. I thought it was for people who solely live on pizza and fill up their water bottles with Sprite 6 times a day. I thought “I already know how to eat healthy”, so I didn’t think that I was the target audience.
But I decided to give it a try. I made an appointment with Avital. She is a nutrition student, so the vibe walking in was very casual. We essentially sat down at a table and just talked about what I wanted to change.
After my two months of weekly (sometimes bi weekly) sessions here is what I learned.
It All Starts With Breakfast
I knew breakfast was important, but I didn’t realize just how important it was. I ate breakfast consistently on Tuesdays and Thursdays before my 9:30 class, but on Mondays and Wednesdays I didn’t go to the dining hall. The dining hall from 10-10:30 does a breakfast to lunch shift and with an 11 am class, that would be the exact time I’d dine.
I told Avital how I typically have a cup of coffee and a granola bar on those days. She told me that I should aim to have three food groups with breakfast, even if it’s a dorm breakfast. This means that I can have a granola bar, but I should pair it with a fruit and some milk (even if the milk is in my coffee). After this conversation I always made sure that there was yogurt and some form of fruit in my mini fridge so breakfast would be easy.
Humans are Very Visual
I learned that most of my cravings are because my junk food is out and clearly in my view while I’m studying. I had my chocolate in a basket three feet from my desk. Studying and binging was just too easy.
A simple fix that Avital told me was to just put it away. I took all my unhealthy food and put it deep into the top shelf of my closet. If I wanted it, like legitimately wanted it, I’d have to stand on a chair to get it.
Make Healthy Snacks Easy and Accessible
When M&Ms are in a little canister and easy to pick up and snack on, you opt for them. I had to make the healthier options easier than the junkier choices. Because of this I got myself a huge bag of Skinnypop popcorn from Costco, in which mindlessly eating it is infinitely better than Oreos.
I put easy fruit in the fridge; apples that I could grab and bite, pre cut pineapple cubes and grapes, to name a few. I also kept the fridge stocked with Greek yogurt. Especially the Chobani variation with the add ins. It was a healthy way for me to feel like I’m grabbing for a treat without actually eating pure junk food.
Once healthy snacks became easier than unhealthy snacks, I was able to make better choices when it’s 2 am and I’m still studying.
Sometimes It’s Best to Remove Yourself
I almost always study in my dorm room. It’s cozy, I have all of my stuff and I get along great with my roommate. At the same time, all of my nutrition downfalls happen in this room. As much as I adore my roommate, she is the kind of girl who can eat anything and not gain weight. She brings a lot of junk food into the room and because we are so close, it’s all up for sharing. Avital and I talked about me not studying in the room. Maybe going to McKeldin or the business school so I can’t mindlessly eat. If that’s too far, then going to the lounge sometimes.
I tried it and it worked, especially the floor lounge. When I studied in there I never went back to my room to get junk food, I just did the work then went back to my room. Out of all of the things I learned, this is the one that has actually helped the most.
Everything is Fine in Moderation
No food is a hard “no." Dessert is actually a good thing to treat yourself with, as long as you do it intentionally. If you eat cake because you want cake and it’s your best friend’s birthday then that’s fantastic.
It’s the mindless binge eating of sweets that causes problems. Dishing out a little ice cream after dinner is more than fine. Also, denying yourself your favorite foods just leads to stronger cravings.
Nutrition coaching was a very positive experience for me. I never felt judged or controlled like I thought I would. I was very honest in my food journal and not once did I feel “punished” for slip-ups. I could tell Avital about anything and she always had helpful tips to offer. I enjoyed going to our sessions and seeing what new challenge I had for the week.
To everyone who is not in UMD, see if your university has a similar resource. If you’re thinking about trying it, I would say try it. Here is a link to the UMD nutrition coaching webpage.
If you go to one session and realize that it’s not for you, at least you can say you gave it a shot. Even if you only learn one thing, that one thing could be the first step to a healthier lifestyle.