How college affects students’ eating habits, debunks the “Freshman 15” myth

It can be tough to plan for a healthy schedule and productive eating habits, as college is the first time many students are navigating on their own. College is a great time to get a plan that works for you.

Kathryn O'Pella/ Hilltop Views

It can be tough to plan for a healthy schedule and productive eating habits, as college is the first time many students are navigating on their own. College is a great time to get a plan that works for you.

College marks a time of transition where students must figure out how to balance school, work, a social life, exercise and sometimes a job while living alone for the first time. With classes, quizzes, tests and constant deadlines, one has to wonder… When do college students have time to eat? 

Finding a balance between meeting academic expectations and maintaining healthy eating habits is difficult. The St. Edward’s University campus offers several food and beverage locations: Jo’s Coffee, Hunt Dining Hall, South Congress Market and the Grab and Goat convenience store. However, even with these options, many students struggle to find the time to eat. 

“I find myself so busy doing schoolwork, classes, training for athletics, maintaining some sort of social life and sleep schedule. I don’t have time to do it all. I’ll be so busy working at school that I’ll forget to eat or I’ll eat after because I can’t waste time eating to not work,” said senior athlete Michael Longoria. “I find a good balance between the two. I manage, but I know others that struggle to find their balance.” 

The well-known term “The Freshman 15” implies that the average college freshman will gain 15 pounds the first year of college. However, “The Freshman 15” is, for the most part, a myth

According to a study by the American Dietetic Association, the average college freshman actually only gains between 2.5 and 3.5 pounds. In addition, about 15% of college students actually lose weight while in college.

Many St. Edward’s students report that they eat less during the semester because they prioritize school over healthy eating habits. 

“I prioritize going to classes before good eating habits, but not necessarily over homework. I ultimately prioritize my classes, work and extracurriculars before eating,” said junior Linh Nguyen. 

Tight schedules often prevent students from eating during normal hours. The Huddle was once a hot spot for students to grab a bite, hang out, study and buy groceries. It closed during the coronavirus, leaving one less convenient food location for on-campus residents.

While there are many dining options on campus, it can still be difficult for students to practice healthy habits with their schedules. (Kathryn O’Pella/ Hilltop Views)

“Certain locations are far, so I need to meal prep and carry lunch with me,” senior Elizabeth Alaniz said. “I skip lunch or attempt to grab something.”

More dining locations would improve students’ eating habits since long lines take up free time. “There’s a rush to eat and [Hunt] Dining Hall] takes forever,” freshman baseball player Jack Connolly said. “Some days I don’t eat lunch because the line is too long.”

COVID-19 adds an additional challenge in making time for healthy eating. 

“Since we have to wear masks indoors, I can’t snack on food and drink during class. This gives me less time to eat since I’m always busy outside of school,” a senior student said. 

It can be hard to sort priorities when it comes to grades and health.

“There should be break hours around noon that leave students with an hour and a half of free time where there are no course meetings at all during that time interval so students can grab lunch comfortably,” suggested Lechuga.

Since many college students are living independently for the first time, the college years are an ideal time to learn stress management and healthy habits. St. Edward’s Wellness Services offers workshops on time management and healthy eating to encourage students to live a healthy lifestyle in school and in the future. 

Poor eating habits can lead to serious illness later in life as well as premature death from obesity or eating disorders, according to the findings by the American Medical Association.  College is a great time to take advantage of the educational support needed to make informed choices.