Food and Body Image in College

Food and Body Image in College

College is a period of time with limited supervision, and a decent amount of free time. College has its stressful, overwhelming, and tense times as well as the exciting, adventurous, and spontaneous times. During a student’s time at UNH it is common that the student may experience inconsistent eating habits. This definitely applies to me. I’ve had my fair share of nights where I eat more sweets than veggies, drink more hot chocolate than water, and ignore my stomach telling me I am full as I reach for another piece of chocolate. I have also had my fair share of nights when I eat salad, yogurt, and fruit. My appetite is not a constant thing. If I am tired I’ll definitely drink more coffee and eat less. If I completed a demanding workout at the gym, I’m ravenous for meat and pasta. If I am watching a chick flick with my friends I’ll reach for the ice cream. And all of this is okay.

Food is our friend. It provides us with energy to keep our body and mind fueled. What helps is to follow an active lifestyle alongside a healthy appetite. Exercise and food work in tandem together. Activity levels are different for every single person. Every body shape is different. Every appetite is different. The goal is to find a balance and acceptance regarding these three things.



How would you know if you are eating in a mindless or distracted way? One quick way is to recall what you ate at your last meal. Can you describe the flavor, the taste, the texture? If you are struggling to remember any of the specifics about your choice, you may be mindlessly eating.

Mindful eating is about being in the present moment—giving your body what it needs—and coming back to the physiological senses of eating (smelling, tasting, chewing, swallowing) while not ignoring but accepting the emotional feelings that come along with that. Mindful eating can help with emotional eating, bingeing, and other health issues related to food—but weight-loss is not a goal in this process. Your weight will naturally sit where it feels comfortable—called your “set-point” weight—when you improve your relationship with food through mindful eating.

Mindful Eating in College

You have to use a little imagination at the dining halls or at home—a step by step process:

  • Set up your plate with utensils as you would at a nice dinner. Make your plate look enticing. Increasing enjoyment in appearance of your food makes it easier.
  • Listen to some soft music on your music player/phone if it helps you to concentrate.
  • EAT SLOWLY–Notice how you chew and swallow—take breaths between bites and put down utensil while chewing.
  • Check in with your hunger cues mid-way through the meal—how much more do you have to eat to be full?
  • The Okinawan’s of Japan, describe fullness as your stomach feeling 75% full, you feel as you can eat more but are satisfied not to.
  • If you find yourself at 75% full stop eating whether your plate is finished or not. Practicing leaving a bite or two of food on the plate helps you to get over the “clean plate habit”. If you finish your plate and are not 75% full, go back and get more food and continue the steps above.
  • Try not to judge what you are eating or what you ate. Be present in the moment—don’t “live” in the past or future. If you feel these judgmental thoughts are affecting your eating, seek our help by talking with a professional at Health Services or the Counseling Center.

stressed-is-desserts-spelled-backwardsChanging the Way We Look at Fat

Let’s face facts. We’ve lost the war on obesity. Fighting fat hasn’t made the fat go away. And being thinner, even if we knew how to successfully accomplish it, will not necessarily make us healthier or happier. The war on obesity has taken its toll.

Extensive “collateral damage” has resulted:

  • Food and body preoccupation
  • Self-hatred
  • Eating disorders
  • Discrimination

Changing Your Mind, Not Your Body

Recognize that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes. There is no one “right” body size. Your body is not, and should not, be exactly like anyone else’s. Try to see your body as a facet of your uniqueness and individuality. This is body positivity and reduces risks of negative body thoughts leading to eating concerns.

For example, I happen to have a very curvy body. It is a struggle to find jeans that fit both wide my hips and long legs. Clothing is an extension of my personality. Therefore, it should be an enjoyable experience when I shop for clothes. Once I realized that my hips aren’t going anywhere, shopping became less stressful. I live an active lifestyle, but I know my body type is going to hover around a size 10-14 for most of my life. That’s just how it is. And I’m cool with that. I am proud of my body. I encourage all of you to find what you love about your body.

I also know I LOVE carbs. This won’t change. Therefore, I recognize my passion for pasta and bread. I won’t overeat and I won’t under-eat. I feel I have become more mindful about when I am full, and when I need more food. This is a very applicable thing to do on a daily basis – be mindful. And be proud.

good food

Here are some useful UNH Health Services resources about maintaining a healthy lifestyle as college students: