Fort Wayne, Ind., my hometown, located just an hour north of here, was ranked the second among the Most Artery-Clogged Cities in America, according to Yahoo! Health.
Indiana’s obesity rate has risen in the past year, making it the 15th highest in the country, according to theindychannel.net.
I know this whole eating-well thing has been hammered into us since we took Health & Wellness class at Indiana Welsleyan University or heard rumors of the Freshman 15. Well, I think it’s worth repeating: Eating well is important, not only for our physical selves, but for our spiritual selves as well.
Why we don’t eat well, and what the danger is
In general, college students don’t eat well, said Aly Williams, assistant professor of health and human performance at Indiana Wesleyan University.
This has a lot to do with a shift in decision-making. When you live at home, Mom and Dad put food in front of you, and you eat or pick at whatever’s in front of you. At college, you have the option to choose whatever you want at Baldwin or Wildcat or out to eat with your friends.
At home, my mom is a health food junkie. She learns all her tricks from Dr. Oz and the Food Network. When I’m at her house, enjoying her food, I eat well. I eat my veggies and limit my dessert intake. But when I’m at school, that’s another story.
I am addicted to ranch dressing. I love Cheetos.
It’s not just the bad eating habits that doom us, either. Williams said students eat about as poorly as the rest of the population, but combined with the lack of exercise and sleep of the college life, the result is somewhat worse.
“The really bad part about it is … most college students, their metabolic rate, [or] how much they burn at rest, is still relatively high,” Williams said. “That doesn’t really change until quite a bit after they graduate and get into their late 20s and early 30s.”
By then, those habits developed as college students haven’t changed. They’re eating like college students, but their bodies aren’t reacting the same way, Williams said.
Eating well can make you happier, more productive
We all know the benefits of eating well and exercising: You get to live a long, healthy life. No cancer at age 55. No heart attack at 60.
Wow, that’s great. But when I’m 21 and know my metabolic rate is treating me well, I have little incentive to eat well.
Or, even if it isn’t treating me well, and my weight fluctuates with my eating habits, it’s only a certain weight or body type I’m pursuing. My concern isn’t for my health necessarily.
However, eating well does have benefits for college students: It can improve brain function, helping you do well on tests. Avoiding or cutting back on caffeine can help you sleep better and longer, Williams said.
Plus, eating well just makes you feel better.
Eating well can also improve a college student’s mood, said licensed nutrition specialist Cristina Caro of Georgia Tech on the college’s website.
Caro wrote, “Eating starchy, sugary foods at meals or snacks can make your blood sugar spike too high and skipping meals can make your blood sugar dip too low. Highs and lows in blood sugar can alter mood, making you grumpy, foggy, forgetful, or even sad.”
Eating well can draw you closer to God
“The problem is, most students … see their faith and their health or their activity level … in two totally separate avenues,” Williams said. “They don’t see an overlapping connection.”
Williams said she views eating well in terms of stewardship: God gives us our bodies and it’s up to us to take care of them. She said it’s easier for us to do that with other things like our time, or our money to the church, but we don’t really think of it in terms of our physical bodies.
When explaining this to her class, she looks at I Cor. 3:10-17. Most people know verse 16: “You yourselves are God’s temple.” Williams, however, said it’s important to look at the verses before 10, which state that the temple needs good, strong materials to be built well – just like your body.
Eating is, like many things, an act of worship, Williams said. This is a tradition rooted in the Torah. Even today, Jewish people have a certain diet they follow; they call it keeping kosher. Kosher means appropriate – there are certain things OK to eat, others are not OK.
Spring of sophomore year I decided to keep kosher for Lent. I cheated the system a bit, but I did my best to obey the ancient dietary laws. By practicing this, I made every bite an act of worship. I spent my meals contemplating the benefits of the law and thanking God for the deliciousness (and “appropriateness”) of my meals.
Or, as Lauren Winner wrote in her book “Mudhouse Sabbath:” “At its most basic level, keeping kosher requires you to be present to your food.
Of course, so does the Atkins diet. The difference between Atkins and [keeping kosher] is God. We try the Atkins diet because our physician cares about what we eat. We limit ourselves to kosher foods – to return to the etymology, appropriate or fitting food prepared appropriately – because God cares about what we eat.”
And God cares about how we treat our bodies, too.
Final thoughts on food
This Lenten season I’m going to (try to) eat kosher again – but this time I’m going to write about it. I’m convinced I my experiences attempting dietary discipline are worth reflecting upon, even in a public forum. Starting the day after Ash Wednesday, Feb. 23, I will start writing about this for The Sojourn. I hope the public nature of it all will keep me accountable and will inspire others to do something similar for Lent.
Also, after talking to Professor Williams and health nuts like my mom and boyfriend, I’m convinced that it’s OK to cheat on eating well. I may crave non-kosher beef during Lent. I may eat that non-kosher beef. That’s all right. It won’t kill me. Moderation is key, after all.
I agree, too, with what Williams said, What’s college life without 10 p.m. pizza?