Fresh Perspective | College complicated my relationship with eating

Fresh Perspective is a biweekly blog about typical first-year experiences made strange by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Julia Smeltzer, Staff Writer

It’s the start of a new school year, which means new friends, new classes and a fresh start. Coming to college as a first-year student, however, also means the potential to meet the freshman 15. While navigating a new college scene, first-year students also have to find a balanced lifestyle while finding what is right for their own body.

Coming to college, not only was I anticipating a hard workload and high stress levels, I was also anticipating the weight gain that can come with it. At home, I ate pretty healthy. My favorite thing to make in my kitchen was a salad decorated with grilled chicken and cranberries with lots of vegetables drizzled in caesar dressing. My parents ate fairly healthy as well, so besides the occasional Chipotle, Chick-fil-A and Rita’s vanilla cone with rainbow jimmies, I had pretty healthy eating habits. Since both my parents are Pitt alumni and my brother is a junior, I was familiar with how tempting Primanti Bros., Stack’d and the Milkshake Factory were on Forbes Avenue.

Any previous eating habits I had developed at home have been thrown out the window. Instead of eating my natural, healthy salad everyday, I exchanged it for the food at Market Central and have become a regular customer at Chipotle. Not that Market Central doesn’t have healthy options — it does, just not a lot, in my experience. So when I do pick up some quinoa or a salad, the portions are so tiny that I’m not satisfied with my selection, leading me to get more food. The dining hall also isn’t shy when it comes to its pizza or famous chicken tenders and steak fries.

The first few weeks I thought I was actually losing weight, since I don’t really eat that much anyways. I get full very easily, so just one meal can hold me over for a good amount of time. I felt great about myself and got comments from my friends that I looked good, but the past two weeks have not been that positive. I started finding myself going to Stack’d or The Porch with friends on my floor and walking up Cardiac Hill to reward myself with Chick-fil-A.

I want to clarify that gaining weight is not a bad thing, but for my body, I can start to feel the repercussions of my recent eating habits, which make me feel groggy and insecure at times. We each have our own individual relationship with our bodies and everyone’s relationship looks a little different, and that’s OK.

This eating-out culture has taken a toll on my body. I started feeling really insecure and picked apart everything about myself, including how my clothes fit my body. When my friends want to go get food or milkshakes, I start feeling guilty and recalling everything I ate that day to see if I could afford a treat. When you start losing your self-confidence, it takes a toll on your body and your mental health. I have days where I feel so ugly and gross and don’t want anyone to see me, and I know it correlates to my eating habits the past couple weeks. I analyze myself in the mirror to make sure my stomach doesn’t look too big or if the cellulite on my thighs are too noticeable that day. I walk around campus and see all the stick-thin girls who seemingly don’t have to try. I compare myself to my friends on my floor and the girls I see on social media, adding on to the insecurities. Even though my friends reassure me that I look great, I know my body. I am starting to lose myself and my confidence as I’m developing a really unhealthy relationship with food.

Eating-out culture also means breaking the bank. I have spent so much money on takeout or at restaurants since I have been here, and my bank account is not happy. Occasionally restaurants on campus take dining dollars or Panther Funds, so at least I don’t feel that guilty about tapping my Panther Card to pay for my meal, but living on campus right next to all these restaurants is more challenging than I thought. I find catching a bus to Aldi or Target to get the essential snacks that will fit in my mini fridge has helped. Instead of going to Market Central and getting a slice of pizza, I can eat my veggies dipped in ranch accompanied by pita chips and hummus. There are detours around draining your debit card — it just takes some time to get the hang of it.

During my first couple weeks here, I found some healthy options and opportunities on campus. My absolute favorite restaurant on campus is Roots Natural Kitchen. Imagine a Chipotle but on steroids. My favorite thing to get there is the Lil Bob Cobb bowl, which has an Arcadian and kale salad mix. On top of all the goodness you get, I like to add pita chips, chickpeas, tomatoes and feta cheese. Another opportunity is working out. Just schedule an appointment online at any of the available gyms on campus, and you have 45 minutes to sweat it all out. I found that working out doesn’t just make my body feel good, but also my mind. It may be a good option for those who can feel the stress of classes kicking in, and for those who may not like heavy-impact workouts, there’s also meditation and yoga classes available that provide another way to give your mind some love.

I haven’t always had the best relationship with my body, but it’s a work in progress. Since I’ve been here for almost two months, I have been really insecure about my body due to the change in eating habits and the pressure to look like everyone else on campus, but I’m still learning how to navigate it all. We all have days where we feel ugly and don’t like how we look. For some people, those days happen one after another and they start losing themselves, but that’s OK. Being here, I learned it’s all about balance. It’s perfectly fine to go out at 1 a.m. with your friends and grab a slice of pizza from Pie Express or your favorite milkshake from the Milkshake Factory, but developing healthy eating habits can also do a lot for your body and mental health. I am not completely in love with my body right now, but that just gives me room for growth, and growth doesn’t wait for you to be ready and comfortable. We all struggle with our own insecurities at the end of the day, so you’re not alone. My body was never meant to be a size 00, and I have stretch marks and cellulite. I may not have the best relationship with food right now, but it’s my journey. Your growth may look different from mine or the people around you, but that doesn’t mean you are alone — we are all trying to navigate our way together.

Coming to college impacts everyone’s mind and body a little differently, and that’s OK. It’s all about the balance between finding what is right for your own body while also enjoying the good food around us. At the end of the day, It’s important to not let your worth and your self-love be determined by whether or not you gain the “freshman 15,” because every body is beautiful in its own way.