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Want to do well in school? Your body needs fuel

Microwave ramen, midnight delivery pizza and dorm room cereal often come to mind when picturing a college student’s diet. Not all students eat like this, but some say it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet while grappling with college life.

Victoria Bordfeld, a dietician at Miami University, said everything is fine in moderation, but eating a balanced diet with plenty of nutrients will ensure that the body and brain are performing at their best, which is especially necessary for taking midterms or getting around campus.

“It is important for college students to fuel themselves properly so that they are able to perform well academically, fuel workouts, participate in any student groups and other student life activities,” Bordfeld said. “Getting proper fuel of protein, carbohydrates and fat, increases energy, mental focus, supports movement and supports a healthy immune system.”

Rebecca Young, director of student wellness, said healthy habits not only have immediate benefits, but can help students in the long term as well. 

“A lot of behaviors you pick up during these four years can linger beyond that,” Young said. “Learning these healthy skills now actually leads to a lifetime of wellness.”

Charlotte Piszel, a sophomore geology major, said her busy course schedule sometimes complicates finding time to get to a dining hall. 

“My Mondays are kind of crazy,” said Piszel. “I usually just grab stuff from vending machines in the buildings where my classes are or bring snacks in my bag,” 

Piszel said she feels spaced out during classes if she doesn’t eat before, which affects her ability to pay attention. 

Labor shortages brought about by the pandemic have further complicated student eating habits by creating long lines outside dining halls. 

Whether it’s because of early 8:30 a.m. lectures, back-to-back classes or a loss of appetite due to high levels of academic stress, it’s not uncommon to hear of students skipping meals. 

“I'll go out with someone and they’ll be like, ‘I'm so hungry I haven't eaten anything all day,'” Piszel said. “That’s not good for you. You need energy to sustain yourself.” 

Nutrition experts agree that skipping meals can have negative effects.

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“As a dietitian, I would not encourage students to skip meals since it can affect energy levels, and can cause individuals to overeat later on if they are feeling deprived,” Joanna Saba, a dietitian at Miami, wrote in an email to The Miami Student. 

While making sure to eat is important, what you put inside your body matters too. Miami’s dining halls work as a team to develop menus with plenty of nutrient-dense options.

“Our dining commons offer a variety of food options, including healthier items (lean meats, whole grains, vegetables), along with more ‘comfort foods’ such as pizza and french fries,” Saba wrote. “We want students to have a variety of choices so they can dine according to their preferences.” 

Piszel said the dining halls have made healthy eating easier due to their convenience. 

“I know I would not be cooking myself foods like chicken and roasted vegetables without planning ahead,” said Piszel.  “It's nice to have it there and not have to think about it.”

Dining halls help students in residence halls fuel themselves, but for those living off-campus, tight budgets can stand in the way of getting enough nutrients. 

Young said students can eat healthy on a budget by finding ways to save money, such as buying seasonal produce, buying locally at farmer’s markets or purchasing items in bulk.

In addition to strategizing what types of food to buy, Young also recommended planning ahead as a cost-effective way to achieve a balanced diet. 

“You're going to spend a lot less if you plan your week than if you're trying to scramble and buy food each day to eat,” Young said. 

Audrey Bailey, president of the Student Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said a key step in promoting healthy eating patterns at Miami is dismantling the toxic culture around food. 

“In college, [many] young girls view eating less as a victory. But really, it's not,” Bailey said.  “Food is something more than just calories or means to an end; it’s also a way for you to achieve your goals and be your happiest and healthiest self.” 

The Office of Student Wellness offers many awareness campaigns dedicated to nutrition and even has a “Nutrition November” month. 

In addition, Miami’s dieticians are able to meet with students to help them form healthy eating habits.

“The RD team at Miami are more than willing to meet with individuals who are having any issues finding food options at certain times of the day,” Victoria Bordfield, a dietician at Miami, wrote in an email to The Student. “[We are] happy to meet with students to help them navigate the dining halls to find foods that best support their needs.”