My dietary restrictions began with my PCOS. I was diagnosed with PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, during the spring of my senior year of high school. Getting the diagnoses provided me with a sense of relief - an explanation for why my body and my mind felt so out of sink. One of the many symptoms associated with PCOS is gradual but ever present weight gain, as well as difficulty shedding the pounds. I felt vindicated to know that the changes going with my body were not my fault, that I was not just destined to always feel slightly at odds with how I looked. However, with this sense of relief came an overwhelming sense of panic. In order to look and feel my best, I, an already relatively healthy girl, was going to make drastic lifestyle changes. The PCOS diet includes the elimination of dairy, white flour, and most sugars. How was I going to navigate such a huge dietary change while simultaneously moving myself across the country to a world where eating onion rings at 2 AM is how you make friends?
I am now almost two months into my freshman year, and can proudly say that I still fit into my skinniest pair of jeans...and that I have not sacrificed my social life for avoidance of the freshman fifteen.
So here are some tips on how you can best balance your own dietary and wellness needs while still having the full freshman experience:
Tip #1: Do Your Research Before You Apply
I did not have the chance to do this as I had not been diagnosed during my college application process, but being able to know about school’s culinary facilities would have been incredibly helpful in formulating my school list. On every tour schools will tell you about their great dining hall with all of their vegan, kosher, gluten free, etc options...do not believe the hype. Just because a school technically has options that fit your needs does not mean that they are options up to the standards of anyone with tastebuds. It is important that a school provides variety for people with dietary restrictions - a person can only eat so many veggie burgers on gluten free buns. Look for information about school’s dining facilities from sources that do not report to the school in order to get honest feedback. Check online on sites such as Niche and CollegeConfidential to get the real scoop...on the non-dairy ice cream options (see what I did there).
Tip #2: Find a Support System on Campus
I made an appointment with the school nutritionist during my second week at Colgate, and I cannot emphasize how helpful just talking with her for 10 minutes was to me successfully navigating dining hall life. She provided me with tips on where to find the healthiest options and what ingredients to look out for on all of the dish labels. And now I have a contact if I ever have requests for additions the dining services could make in the future.If your school has a nutritionist, or wellness aid type person - which they 100% should - do not be shy about reaching out. Act like the legal adult that you are and push through the awkwardness of making the appointment, or if you’re like me, getting lost for 20 minutes trying to find the building (#freshmanproblems). It is these people’s job to make your life on campus easier, and there is no reason for you to have to figure everything out on your own.
Tip #3: Pimp Out Your Dorm Room, and Your Backpack
If you only get one thing out of this article, let this be it: invest in Amazon Prime. Not only will it make is easier to order healthy snacks that comply with your unique dietary restrictions, it will just make your college experience so much more efficient all around. Stashing up on “healthy” snacks, whatever that means to you, is key to making sure that you always have a food option that works for your needs. Of course it is important to have these snacks in your dorm, but I argue that as a freshman it is more important to to get snacks that fit in your bag. Do not let your diet restrict your social life during those first crucial few weeks. Pack a snack or two in your bag so you’re prepared for wherever you go with all your new friends. Just because they are eating curly fries does not mean you have to, but it also does not mean you have eat alone.
Tip #4: Embrace Being a Hot Mess
No one has their life together 100% of the time, and as a freshman you’re lucky if you’re averaging above a passing grade. Unless your dietary restrictions are serious, as in life threatening allergies, do not be afraid to fall off the Goop-chartered wagon every once and awhile. Life is short; eating that one cookie might make you feel bloated next morning, but the experience you had eating it with your friends is most definitely a worthy trade off. Do not beat yourself when you inevitably eat fried food at an ungodly hour - college is college. Just try your best to eat and live in a way that makes you feel good. Not sweating the small stuff is major step in learning to live with a restricted diet.
Living with harsh dietary restrictions can feel like a huge burden at times, but if you have the right attitude and the knowledge, it does not have to control your life. Just do your best to be your best you, learn to laugh at your mistakes.