Being at University can be a lot of fun. You meet new people, learn new and exciting things, and explore the freedom of doing exactly what you want to do. But overhearing certain conversations on campus has caused me to think about how students stay healthy as far as their diets go, and the overall answer I've gleaned from this is - they don't.
It started last summer when I overheard two guys talking outside the campus Costa. They were looking through pictures on an iPhone. "Where's that fit girl you introduced me to at Christmas?" one of them said. The other guy scrolled through his phone - presumably through photos on Facebook - and stopped. "Eurgh, she's gotten fat," the guy complained.
Gaining weight over the course of Uni is something that can happen, unfortunately. I myself have gained and lost weight during my time here in Exeter, and my weight is almost always in a bad place during essay deadlines, and especially when exams are looming. It's very easy to absent mindedly munch on crisps and chocolate while you're stressing over your rubbish seminar notes and wishing you'd paid more attention in class to prepare for an exam, or frantically typing up whatever seems vaguely relevant for an essay deadline.
Now, the response of this guy can be simply labelled as typical ignorant behaviour. Some guys can be very superficial. In fact, some student media can be superficial. I remember reading an article on an online student newspaper talking about how good leggings make girls' bottoms look. The tag line was something like "They make a good ass look great, and a great ass look phenomenal". The pictures, of course, were all of skinny girls, mostly in gym gear.
And that's the typical attire of the average student here. Many people in my seminars and lectures have just come from a sporting activity or the gym, or are planning to head there immediately after class. The thing is, though...they may not be overweight, but a lot of them are, in my opinion, just as unhealthy.
Last year I was at a house party and there was this tall, skinny girl who used to be a model. I asked a friend who knew her how she stayed so skinny. "Oh, she just doesn't eat," she replied. See, if my self esteem was in a bad place at that point, it would have been so easy to think "Maybe I should try that". Similarly, when I was at a pizza party social, I overheard two skinny girls talking. One of them said: "There's so much food...I had to prepare for tonight by just eating like, an apple today." She then proceeded to eat her single small slice of pizza and didn't eat anything else for the rest of the night.
To me, it seems like there are very few students who actually eat properly. Sure, a lot of students aren't one of these two body types - they're in between, or of "average" body size. But we all know the typical student diet involves a fair amount of alcohol followed by a kebab or cheesy chips on a night out, and baked beans on toast or creating some weird concoction out of what's left in the fridge when it's near the end of term and finances are running low.
Therefore, the student diet (mostly) follows one of three trends - too much food, too little food, or an average amount of unhealthy food. There will obviously be students who do manage to eat healthily - for example, one of my flatmates has put salad in the fridge today - but I think many students deal with University life by not paying much attention to what they are or aren't putting into their mouths.
And it's so easy to address - I'm aware of my hypocrisy, here, after saying my own weight has fluctuated, but that doesn't mean I can't try to make changes. Making small differences to the way you eat can help massively. Why not try to cook a decent meal just once a week? Buy some easy-to-eat fruit from the shops to munch on instead of grabbing the tasty-looking crisps? Try to eat a little more if you're similar to the girl who only managed a slice of pizza and an apple that day (but make sure it's good stuff, obviously)?
The thing is, it's all too easy to ignore the way you eat because you're so stressed, but an important consideration is the fact that, if you maintain a healthy diet, you'll actually feel better in yourself and that will have a domino effect - you'll sleep better, you'll have more energy, and so on. And that will actually make your studies easier, most likely reducing said stress. Just a thought...