Isabelle Jung

February 8, 2024

Gutting the Conversation Around Food, Body and Health

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Editor’s Note: This piece mentions disordered eating behaviors.

Trying to eat healthily and consistently at college is a daunting task for anyone. It becomes a monumental task when faced with health issues that warrant food restrictions and limitations and few resources to go around. Over the past year, I’ve learned that a lot of –– what I previously considered to be –– physical symptoms of anxiety and stress, were mostly pre-existing gastrointestinal (GI, a fancy way to say “stomach”) issues. My relationship with food has waxed and waned to an occasionally toxic degree; I’m pretty sure that I am not the only one. I’ve had to find ways to cope while being in an environment where food is always changing, impacting my body in unpredictable ways. One of the number one things that helped me? Having honest conversations about my body and food. What people see on the outside does not always match what’s going on inside.

Food has probably been one of the biggest challenges I’ve had to tackle while “adulting.” On top of the billion other things you, as a college student, need to do, you either have to go to a dining hall and use a meal swipe, go to a campus cafe or restaurant that accepts BRBs, make something at your dorm or use your own money to buy something off-campus. This doesn’t sound too bad until you run into obstacles: The dining hall is not open when you need it to be or you are running out of BRBs because you are so busy studying and working that you don’t have time to go to a dining hall. Sometimes Nasties is the only place open.  

Their hot food is tasty and fresh. Granted, it can be greasy and there aren’t many options aside from chicken tenders, fries, burgers, pizzas and the occasional sandwich. My taste buds are satisfied but my gut says otherwise. If I don’t eat, I get nauseous, sometimes experiencing debilitating pain and migraines. If my stomach doesn’t agree with what I ate, I vomit and experience a host of negative symptoms. Unless you have money to purchase any food from anywhere at any moment, being able to consistently eat what makes you feel better is nearly impossible. As someone who had a colonoscopy and endoscopy in August 2023, I’ve learned the importance of listening to my body. Few doctors believed a (then) 19-year-old would need a colonoscopy this early, considering most doctors don’t recommend getting a colonoscopy until age 45 to screen for colon cancer. A little known fact: My doctor ended up removing a (thankfully, benign) polyp in my stomach and diagnosed me with hemorrhoids, esophagitis and gastritis.

Since then, it’s been a journey to maintain my gut health. Sometimes, it just matters that I ate, not what I ate. This mentality has helped me not beat myself up in general, too. It doesn’t matter that I wasn’t the most productive person today. Rather, it matters that I got out of bed to begin with. I also have a fair share of mental health struggles; needless to say, on many days, food just became disgusting to me.  On days that I can stomach more, I’ve had to search for little routines and things to assist. Talking to friends and family members who shared my struggles made all the difference. 

I will note, however, there is a fine line between validating and minimizing someone else’s struggles. College is already primed as a space where conversations around health run rampant, such as the freshman fifteen. Some people are just not ready to talk about it. Having honest conversations with myself did help, but I’ve had to remind myself to be kind. How I perceive my weight is an example of this. I’ve been told by doctors to lose weight for my own health given that my BMI classifies me as obese. When my stomach issues became more prevalent, my appetite disappeared. My pain and symptoms intensified to the point where I stopped eating. I lost roughly 30-40 pounds in a matter of months (which is nowhere near healthy). People either didn’t notice, showed concern or told me how “good” I looked. Being congratulated for being unhealthy made me mad. Many don’t realize what they see on the outside is not a reflection of what’s actually going on inside. 

Sure, I lost the weight I was supposed to, but not in a healthy way. The definition of “healthy,” though, is subjective. Having these conversations and experiences made me realize why I need to define what “healthy” is for me. I kept comparing myself to societal standards of “health” by judging what I saw in the mirror. The process was agonizing, to say the least. It wasn’t until my colonoscopy produced tangible results indicating my pain was valid that I realized my baseline of “healthy” is not the same as anyone else’s.  In a way, these are a mixture of attainable goals and routines to keep me at a baseline. I want to share so people know they are not alone and to provide ideas.

Having at least one meal be consistent (in terms of time and frequency) is one of my methods. For me, that’s breakfast. If I don’t have breakfast, I struggle mentally and physically. With lunch and dinner, it depends on where I am on campus. Always carrying snacks keeps me functioning when I feel lightheaded in between meals, classes and work. I love taking apples and bananas from the dining halls for later. I also always have instant oatmeal and oat milk in my dorm; it’s warm, filling and doesn’t wreak havoc on my gut. It’s my replacement for instant noodles. 

Recently, I’ve also realized how much of an impact actually being hydrated makes. My half-gallon bottle helps ensure that I’m actually drinking enough water, and it has made such a difference in my ability to function. I try to stock up on over the counter meds ahead of time, including imodium, pepto bismol and miralax. Smoothies are my best friend, particularly those made with oat milk (Crossings in Toni Morrison makes plenty of these). I do my best to limit my greasy food intake and eat salad at least once a week.

I am not a doctor of any sort, but I can say that in combination with medication I’ve been prescribed, these lifestyle changes have helped me immensely. However, I would not have realized these things without having conversations with myself about my health. The inside of your body is just as, if not more, important than what is outside your body. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating concern, please reach out to a professional. You are loved and deserve to love yourself. The National Suicide Hotline can be reached at 988. Call 607-255-5155 and ask to speak to an on-call counselor 24/7. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders can be reached from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. EST Monday to Friday at 888-375-7767.

Daniela Rojas ‘25, dining editor, is a third-year student in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]