Most Americans have a real problem with food. Overeating causes health problems, but what and how you eat can also affect how well you do as a student.
Americans are eating too much—much more so than in the past. One-third of all Americans twenty years or older are obese. Another third of all adults are overweight. That means that two-thirds of us are not eating well or getting enough exercise for how we eat. There are many intertwined causes of this problem in American culture.
Why are being overweightHaving more body fat than is optimally healthy, often defined as a body mass index between 25 and 29.9. and obesityCondition in which body fat has accumulated to the point of having adverse health effects, often defined as a body mass index of 30 or greater. a problem? Obesity is associated with many medical conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Although some health problems may not appear until later in life, diabetes is increasing rapidly in children and teenagers. Worse, the habits young adults may already have or may form during their college years generally continue into later years.
But it’s not just about body weight. Good nutrition is still important even if you don’t have a health problem. What you eat affects how you feel and how well you function mentally and physically. Food affects how well you study and how you do on tests. Doughnuts for breakfast can lower your grades!
If Americans have trouble eating well in an environment that encourages overeating, college students often have it even worse. It seems like food is everywhere, and students are always snacking between classes. Fast food restaurants abound. There may not be time to get back to your dorm or apartment for lunch, and it’s just so easy to grab a quick pastry at the coffee spot as you pass by between classes.
It’s the eating by habit, or mindlessly, that usually gets us in trouble. If we’re mindful instead, however, it’s easy to develop better habits. Take the Nutrition Self-Assessment to evaluate your present eating habits.
Check the appropriate boxes.
|1. I take the time to eat breakfast before starting my day.|
|2. I eat lunch rather than snack throughout the day.|
|3. When I’m hungry between meals, I eat fruit rather than chips or cookies.|
|4. I consciously try to include fruit and vegetables with lunch and dinner.|
|5. There is food left on my plate at the end of a meal.|
|6. I try to avoid overeating snacks at night and while studying.|
|7. Over the last year, my eating habits have kept me at an appropriate weight.|
|8. Overall, my eating habits are healthy.|
The key to a good diet is to eat a varied diet with lots of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains and to minimize fats, sugar, and salt. The exact amounts depend on your calorie requirements and activity levels, but you don’t have to count caloriesThe basic unit of food energy; consuming more calories in one’s diet than are used leads to weight gain. or measure and weigh your food to eat well. Following are the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) general daily guidelines for a two-thousand-calorie diet.
Grains (6 ounces)
Vegetables (2.5 cups)
Fruits (2 cups)
Milk (3 cups)
Meat and beans (5.5 ounces)
Minimize these (check food labels):
Figure 10.2 The USDA MyPyramid emphasizes healthful food choices.United States Department of Agriculture, “MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You,” http://www.mypyramid.gov/downloads/MiniPoster.pdf (accessed July 13, 2010).
If you need to lose weight, don’t try to starve yourself. Gradual steady weight loss is healthier and easier. Try these guidelines:
The “freshman fifteen” refers to the weight gain many students experience in their first year of college. Even those whose weight was at an appropriate level often gained unwanted pounds because of changes in their eating habits.
Start by looking back at the boxes you checked in the Nutrition Self-Assessment. Be honest with yourself. If your first choice for a snack is cookies, ice cream, or chips, think about that. If your first choice for lunch is a burger and fries, have you considered other choices?
The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating.
AnorexiaAn eating disorder involving a loss of the desire to eat, often as a result of psychological problems related to how a person perceives her or his appearance. is characterized by excessive weight loss and self-starvation. The individual usually feels “fat” regardless of how thin she or he becomes and may continue to eat less and less. If your BMI is lower than the bottom of the normal range, you may be developing anorexia.
BulimiaAn eating disorder involving frequent binge eating followed by compensatory behaviors such as vomiting. is characterized by frequent binge eating followed by an attempt to compensate for or “undo” the overeating with a behavior such as self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse.
Binge eatingAn eating disorder involving frequent binge eating not followed by compensatory behaviors. disorder is characterized by frequent binge eating without compensatory behavior to “undo” the overeating. Binge eating usually leads to weight gain and eventual obesity.
More than ten million Americans suffer from an eating disorder. The causes are complex, and the individual usually needs help to overcome their obsession. Eating disorders hurt one’s health in a variety of ways and can become life threatening. The signs of a possible eating disorder include the following:
Don’t feel ashamed if you obsess over food or your weight. If your eating habits are affecting your life, it’s time to seek help. As with any other health problem, professionals can provide help and treatment. Talk to your doctor or visit your campus student health center.
BMI calculator. Find out how your weight compares with normal ranges at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi.
Diet planning. How much should you eat to maintain the same weight? What if you want to lose weight? Find out at http://www.mypyramid.gov.
Calorie counter, nutritional database, and personal diet log. If you’re really serious about losing weight and want to keep a daily log of your progress, try this online tool: http://www.caloriecount.about.com.
Eating disorders. For information about causes and treatment of eating disorders, go to http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.
What health problems may result from obesity?
List three or more snacks that are healthier than cookies, chips, ice cream, and doughnuts.
How many cups of fruit and vegetables should you eat every day?