When I look back on my four years at UC Berkeley, the first few words that come to mind when I think of the word "college" are independence, personal growth, and new beginnings. Yet, when I reflect on my own college story, I realize that a lot of it has revolved around college health & wellness. 

For many of us, college means moving away from home, establishing a new lifestyle, and of course, adopting new eating habits and dietary patterns. With these new changes come the potential for establishing a negative relationship with food, and a failure to understand the true meaning of "health & wellness." As an ode to my UC Berkeley college experience, here are 4 things I've learned in 4 years as a college student: college health & wellness edition. 

1. The "Freshman 15" Stigma Needs to End

Alexa Truong

In order to give you the full four-year experience, we need to take a trip down memory lane and begin at freshman year. I remember being exposed to the "Freshman 15" stigma, the belief that college students gain 15 pounds during their freshman year, even before coming to college. I can accurately recall the disbelief and doubt I had about the stereotype—promising myself that it would never happen to me. Although the "Freshman 15" may or may not be experienced by individuals on a personal level, it is a stigma that has stuck around in our society and has done more harm than benefit on an individual's physical and mental health. With increased pressures to avoid the stigma, college students seek ways to "eat healthier," restrict calories or food groups, and fail to be educated on the importance of finding balance. 

#SpoonTip: Instead of mentioning the "Freshman 15," acknowledge and remind yourself that your body is meant to change at different stages of your life. 

2. A Busy College Lifestyle is not an Excuse to Neglect Self-Care

Alexa Truong

Goodbye Freshman year, hello Sophomore year. I remember Fall 2018 like it was just yesterday. Taking on an extra heavy course load, finding less time for exercise, and of course running out the door with barely a packed snack or lunch in my bag for a long 8am-5pm day of classes. I remember skipping lunch because I thought I was "too busy" to eat and had to study all the time. I remember my stomach growling for food, having mood swings because my blood sugar was so low, and feeling the lack of energy inside of me. 

Although it took me some time to realize this negative habit, I've since learned that you and your well-being should always come first. If our bodies are not physically and mentally prepared, it is difficult to go about our lives and achieve the goals we set for ourselves. As college students, we not only expend a lot more physical energy through walking to and from classes, but our brains also need the fuel and energy to power us through our study sessions. 

#SpoonTip: If you're ever feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that there are 24 hours in a day and that it is possible to make a schedule for yourself, practice time management, and ultimately squeeze a quick meal or snack in between your busy college schedule.

3. It's Okay to Deviate from the Norm if it Means Helping your Body

Alexa Truong

Oh, Junior year: the year of food intolerances and truly listening to my own body. In addition to the various lifestyle changes that occur when we begin our college careers, it is also very common to become lactose intolerant and develop food intolerances as well as food allergies. Ever since the beginning of my college journey, I don't think my gut has ever been normal. Daily bloating, random stomachaches throughout the day, and food insensitivities were the norm for me during my first three years of college. I always thought it was normal to feel bloated after eating some fruit, or get stomach aches after eating a meal. Little did I know, my symptoms were definitely abnormal, and it wasn't until my junior year that I realized this.

As college students, it can be so easy to want to fit in with the crowd and de-prioritize our time for our own health and wellbeing. However, it is so important to be in tune with our bodies, acknowledge when things don't feel right, and never be afraid to seek help for the sake of our bodies. After going through multiple colonoscopies and endoscopies to find a diagnosis, I am grateful for taking the time to put myself first and I would recommend anyone to seek help if they are struggling in any way—physically or mentally. 

#SpoonTip: If you or a friend are struggling to maintain a social life while dealing with a food related medical condition, remind yourself that your overall well-being should come first, and that it is okay to bring your own meal to a social gathering.

4. Finding that Balance Between College Life, Staying Healthy, and Being Active is More Important than You Think

Alexa Truong

Finally, here we are: Senior year. If there's one thing I've learned in college, it is the idea of establishing balance for yourself. Creating that healthy balance between eating healthy, staying active, and the craziness of college life is easier said than done, but it is about doing the things that work for you as an individual. As a college student, it is important to look to the scientific facts and be aware of the things seen on social media. Remember that there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat nutrient dense foods, and creating a fitness regimen for yourself, but don't forget to say yes to those late night ice cream outings with friends, and schedule time for yourself and your loved ones. 

As I conclude my ode to my college health & wellness experience at UC Berkeley, I hope you become more aware of these college life pitfalls and create a positive college adventure for yourself.