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    At the start of my second semester in college, I began giving more thought to the food I was eating.  For starters, my school’s dining hall offerings were not doing my overall diet any favors.  I managed to not gain the freshman fifteen during my first semester, but I often found myself feeling lethargic, having stomach pains, and generally not feeling my best.  To top it off, my new classes required much more work than those in my first semester, so I utilized the little free time I had to study rather than make time to go to the gym.  I didn’t quite know what to do about it at first, but then I remembered a food log I created when I was in high school, training for the North American Nationals for Irish dancing.  The purpose was to track what quality foods I was eating and what quantities I was eating of each food group.  Ultimately, during that first trial, the food log helped me improve my diet, because it not only made me more aware of what I was eating, but I also found that I would be disappointed with myself if, for example, I had eaten too many sweets one day.

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So, after recognizing my need to improve my habits, I decided to give the food log another shot.  For this log, I wrote down what I ate for each meal every day (including snacks), and at the end of each day, I would count approximately how many servings of each food group I consumed, how many glasses of water I drank, and how many minutes of vigorous exercise I participated in.  The point of the food log was not to count calories or measure exactly how many serving sizes of each type of food I ate, but rather to keep track of what kinds of foods my diet was lacking and what kinds of foods I seemed to eat too much of. 

The day I began my food log, I wrote a journal entry about why I was starting the food log and what I hoped to get out of it.  Upon reflection, I found that my eating habits had worsened over the past few months.  It was difficult to keep a balanced diet and consume calories that counted for nutrition, especially with all the sweets and takeout options around and the pressure to drink.  I found myself developing quite a sweet tooth, and decided to be more aware of what I was eating.

I also reflected upon having quite a bit of anxiety and recognized that my emotions had been running high.  I didn’t necessarily believe the anxiety directly tied to what I was eating, but I wondered if changing my diet would change the way I approached life or viewed the problems I came across.

During the first week, I was appalled at the lack of fruits and vegetables I was eating.  There were several days where I would eat no fruit at all, because the quantity and quality of fruit in my dining hall were so poor.  To fix this, I started eating apples or bananas in addition to my breakfast, which usually contained carbs and protein to keep me going through my morning classes.  I stopped drinking as much fruit juice — I have never counted fruit juice as a serving of fruit, because there is so much sugar in it — and tried to drink more water instead.  I started sneaking more servings of vegetables into my meals by adding side salads or even sliced raw vegetables such as carrots or red peppers.  Once I got home for spring break, it became even easier to incorporate vegetables into my meals because I had more access to both frozen and fresh vegetables.  This was especially easy to do with pasta dishes or omelets.

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The foods you eat can change the way your mind works too.

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With the start of my food log, I also began making more time for exercise.  I'm normally good at maintaining a workout regime, as I need exercise to keep my mood up, but for some reason once my schedule changed for the semester, it became difficult to get back into a regular routine.  The log reminded me of how many days off I’d taken recently, and motivated me to get back to my previous healthy habits.  It almost became a kind of competition with myself.  How many days each week could I find time to exercise?  How many minutes of exercise was I getting on each of these days, and what kind of activities was I filling them with?  As a former runner, I used my school’s track and trails a lot, and I’d bike on days where I needed to give my knees a break.  It also helped to sometimes have a change of scenery so I didn’t get too bored with my workout routine.  When I got home for spring break, I started going to the local Bikram yoga studio each day, which was a great way to get toned and flexible in a short amount of time.

After about a month of keeping track of my eating and exercise habits, I've noticed that now I'm not only keeping my body healthy, I have much more motivation to keep my mind healthy as well.  Not that I didn’t want to have a healthy mind before, rather I wasn't taking actual steps to achieve better mental health.  I think part of me was embarrassed due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness.  At school, I go to regular counseling appointments, even on weeks when I feel like I might not need them (it seems like sometimes those turn out to be the times where I might need to talk to someone the most).  Practicing healthy habits also made my outlook on life a bit brighter.  Exercise is a great way to blow off steam, and believe it or not, the foods you eat can change the way your mind works too.

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I recommend a food log for those who run busy lives and lost track of the quality of foods they’ve been eating.

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Overall, I would definitely recommend starting a food log (or other logs, such as exercise and hydration logs) to those who feel they've fallen out of good habits, run busy lives and easily lose track of the quality of foods they have been eating, or just to those want to give it a try!  There will always be days when we're not as healthy as we should be, but it's useful to keep track of those days and make up for them later on.   I would also recommend keeping a journal with the log.  You don’t have to write in it every day, but making notes of your general mood and energy levels as you go along can be very helpful when looking back on your progress.  And most importantly, have fun with it!  Keeping a health log is a great way to have little competitions with yourself each week, and the results can be rewarding.  Enjoy!

 

Emma is a first-year student at Connecticut College.  Although her major is currently undeclared, she plans on studying Biochemistry, Cellular, and Molecular Biology.  Her passions include her studies, dancing, the ocean, and spending time with friends and family.

 

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