When I was a sophomore at Michigan State University, I had the privilege to move out of the dorms and into an off-campus apartment. That meant I had to cook for myself. The first month was tricky because I was trying to figure out how I could balance my time between academics and time for myself to cook. If I didn’t have time for myself to cook, eating out wasn’t much easier. I didn’t know any places to eat to begin with because I was so used to eating in the cafeteria and there weren’t many places that felt like home. Some days, I literally didn’t have enough time to eat because I was so focused on academics that I neglected my own health.

Eventually, I learned that college isn’t just about academics: it’s about starting a new life. Why start a new life with stress, hunger, or even no time for yourself? For anybody who is transitioning into college or living off-campus, you’re not alone in this. I’m here to tell you my story and I hope you don’t make the same mistakes I made because this guide is not just for incoming freshmen, it’s for any college student.

Stop, Drop, and Eat

Here’s a scenario, and you might’ve already been through this: You’ve just been told that you have an exam in a few days and have very little time to study. You’re freaking out and you pay very little attention to your other classes because you’re focused on the exam. Because you’re focusing on studying, you don’t care about eating or sleeping. So then, you get stressed and drained all from this one exam that you have to study for.

My mistake, and most likely a lot of other people, is not taking a break. Another mistake that I made was I barely had time to eat, or so I thought. The thing is people often don’t realize that they have so much time on their hands. Ten minutes to people is not a lot, but it can be if you use your time wisely. Use that time to eat. Try not to use that time to rant on social media because that already is mentally draining enough and can get you riled up even more. When you eat, you’re building up more energy so it can actually help you to study much more efficiently than not eating at all.

Then, when you eat, you can calm down. Doesn’t that sound so much better than using your phone? If you’re really worried about making time to eat for studying, chunk out time for yourself. For a lot of people, they have windows of opportunity for free time. All you need is at least ten minutes out of your day to eat, even if it’s the simplest thing like a banana. It’s important to take care of your body, so that your mind can do what it needs to do.

Remember, college is about starting a new life — don’t make a life of stress and the thought of “I don’t have time.” Bring positivity in your life because when you do the smallest things everyday, it can result in the snowball effect. So when you build up enough of that positive energy into your life, your mental health, your stomach, and yourself will thank you.

Home Is Closer Than You Think

Everyone has a different palate. Some people like or hate sushi, some people want more salt than others, and some people will only eat something if it’s from a specific place. When I entered my sophomore year of college, I was just figuring out what I liked. Before, I would eat just to eat, even when it tasted like nothing. But then I realized, I missed food from home. Not just home cooked meals, but what was offered from my hometown: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Even when I was stressed, barely knew how to cook, and barely had the time to eat, I wanted to find the closest thing to home. This gave me the opportunity to venture and discover restaurants that I truly loved. Even though these restaurants that I explored will never be in my hometown, the foods, oddly enough, reminded me of home. 

Your palate is in a way connected to your memories. Even when you smell something, it can bring up thousands of things from your past. For example, I went to this Chinese and Vietnamese fusion restaurant to buy General Tso Chicken. When I took a bite into the chicken, I had my little Ratatouille moment and it quickly reminded me of my childhood. That is how powerful food can be. Take an hour break (yes an hour!) and go to that restaurant you always wanted to go to, but can’t because you’re focused on school. Go because memories have more impact than you think and how you felt in those memories can help improve your mood now.

Be One With Food

I highly encourage you to take the time to explore what your college town can offer because you may never know what you will encounter. Even when you’re super stressed by an exam or from school in general, take the time for yourself to unwind and eat. Plus, when you explore your college town, you may never know what experience you will get. Remember, your college is your home for the next four years, make new comforting memories rather than make gloomy ones. The more you explore, the more comfortable you will be because when we’re scared, we tend to find security and comfort from things that we know and are familiar with. It’s perfectly fine to take breaks, it’s actually highly encouraged. If you can make time to use your phone and Snapchat people complaining about studying, you can definitely make time to eat.