A food diary kept by college students reveals their eating habits
By Alyssa Kaden
College students will eat whatever you put in front of them.
College students eat five meals a day.
College students work out like crazy to combat the “freshman fifteen” or the “sophomore slump”.
College students are too lazy to go to class, much less to the gym.
All of these generalizations are made about college students by college students and their parents. The freedom experienced at college does not only just expand to what classes you can take but also to an all-you-can-eat buffet three times a day. Dessert flows at every meal with at least two options — not including the ice cream, the soft-serve ice cream, and the different ice cream bars are staples of the HaverfordCollegeDiningCenter — more affectionately known as the DC.
Bit these stereotypes true? To put them to a the test, I did an admittedly random and small sample of students (three of my friends) and asked them to keep a food diary for a week. The rules were: they would eat as they normally do, then at the end of each day, they texted me with what they ate, how much they ate, and when they ate. As an add-on, I compiled a list of my eating habits for the same period. This story is about the results of this experiment in observed eating.
Students can eat whatever they want during meal times. However, most the college students I tested did not stuff themselves. While they may eat a slice of pizza and two breadsticks, they don’t often eat nine cookies at every meal.
Take Amanda Lee, for example. Lee is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania. A possible biology major, she also plays for the Women’s Club Ice Hockey Team at Penn.
“The myth of the college-15 is real,” says Lee, “Now I’m really careful about what I eat.” And she is. Over the course of a week, Lee did not eat more than 1,200 calories a day. She also worked out every day.
Lee’s diet consisted of mostly egg white omelets and Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast and lunch. In her room, she has a flow chart with the title “What Do You Want to Eat?” The first question of the flow chart is “Are you really hungry?”
On Penn’s campus, they have an Insomnia Cookies (a late-night cookie delivery store), a burrito place, a pizza place, and a Chinese buffet in their dining center. Lee avoided these except for crunch times.
“I have Insomnia Cookies when I want Insomnia Cookies,” Lee says, “But I also know that I should save when I want them for when I really need them.” Lee has admitted to eating four cookies one night. “It was a tough night,” she said.
Lee does not usually have desserts. She reserves those for special occasions.
Lee does not look at the food offered to her on campus as everyday food, which most people would agree with. Would you let your kid have pizza every day? Or even sometimes twice a day?
Is Lee an exception to the rule? Or does she represent the new age of college students? Are college students more aware than ever about the dangers of unhealthy foods? Or does Lee simply know what her body needs and respects it?
Which brings us to subject No. 2.
Emily Berlin is a sophomore philosophy major. As a math minor and a member of the Haverford College Women’s Squash team, Berlin spends much of her time either studying or playing squash. However, she lives in the apartments at Haverford and is not on the full meal plan. She often has to make her own dinners, even when she doesn’t have the time. In addition, Berlin is a vegetarian which limits the food she can prepare herself.
For breakfast, Berlin ate yogurt or toast daily. A quick and easy meal (not to mention cheap) for a college student. Also very healthy. For lunch, she varied from salads to sandwiches to pizza. It is really dinner where she tries to spend her time, but doesn’t always get around to it. Over the course of seven days, she skipped dinner once and had toast for dinner another time.
“When I’m not busy,” Berlin says, “It’s much better.” When she has the time to cook, she stir fries tofu with some fried rice or makes vegan tofurkey, though she is not a vegan.
“I love being off the meal plans,” Berlin says, “I can make my own meals and am not forced to eat whatever the DC offers. They don’t have a lot of good vegetarian options.”
Berlin classifies herself as a healthy eater. She takes great notice of her diet and how it affects her body and her mood. She walks into the squash locker rooms one day and declares, “I eat too much sugar. Twenty-two grams a day is too much.”
Berlin does not skip dessert, but instead has fruit for dessert often. Half a grapefruit, apples, and strawberries are often eaten after dinner as a sweet ending. She also tries not to eat after dinner.
Berlin goes to bed at 10 p.m. every night and wakes up at 7 a.m. She sticks to this schedule religiously,often going to bed with more homework to do and finishing it in the morning. However on days that she does stay up past 10 p.m. she admits to snacking on candy.
“I love candy,” Berlin says, “I eat way too much of it.”
Berlin tries to take good care of herself. She focuses on what she eats and what she puts in her body. It is important to her to work out daily and monitor the amount of food, but more importantly what is in the food that goes into her body.
“It’s not really about the amount,” Berlin says, “But it is more what the food is.”
Both Berlin and Lee are careful about the food they consume, but admit to eating more unhealthy food at night. They also are religious about working out and often run in addition to their respective sports. Is this an athlete mentality? Is this normal for college students? Or is this a female mentality?
Enter Subject No. 3
Brian Guggenheimer is also a sophomore at Haverford College. He is a computer science major and Co-Chair of Haverford College’s Honor Council where he puts in about 40 hours a week.
Guggenheimer often skips breakfast. Although he lives in the apartments, he is on the full meal plan at the DC but often doesn’t want to walk to the DC for breakfast. Guggenheimer describes himself of having the appetite of an eight year-old. He eats mostly carbs — his favorite being pizza and spaghetti.
For lunch on most days, Guggenheimer ate either a chicken sandwich with lettuce, bacon, tomatoes, and cheese or a salad. He tried to avoid sandwiches every day because he knows salad is better for him and his body.
For dinner, Guggenheimer had spaghetti or pizza. Pizza and spaghetti are both staples of the DC. They are available at every dinner no matter what the hot food option is. Guggenheimer admits that sometimes he doesn’t even look at the hot food option and goes straight to the pizza or pasta, which are usually back up food options for the college students.
Guggenheimer is aware of what he eats during the day. He tries to eat a salad a day, at least and crowd his plate with vegetable. Although he isn’t very adventurous with his diet and sticks to the same staple foods, he tries to make his meal healthier by adding a side dish of vegetables or drinking water instead of soda.
In fact, the only time he drinks soda during his day is after 6 p.m. Sometimes he will have on glass of soda at dinner, but most of his soda drinking happens after 9 p.m. along with most of his snacking.
Guggenheimer doesn’t snack through out the day. He is often away from his apartment for 6-to-8 hours and doesn’t have much snacking time, but once he gets home he often has a bag of chips or a bowl of cereal. He goes to Wawa three times in a week, once for dinner but twice for after-dinner food at around 10 p.m.
He also frequently visits the Haverford College Coop, a late-night cafe on Haverford’s campus known for its quesadillas, breadsticks, and mozzarella sticks. Although he goes to the Coop for lunch twice during his week, he always orders a sandwich or a burger. Only at night does he order mozzarella sticks or french fries.
Although he does not eat as healthy as Berlin or Lee, he does take mind of what he eats during the day. He tries to go for healthier options when he cans and doesn’t feel the need to finish his plate.
All three of these college students ended up eating their worst food at night. They try to eat healthier during the day, but at night it seems they no longer had the will to continue to eat the healthier food options. Lee was guilty of ordering cookies at night, Berlin ates candy, and Guggenheimer had frequent late-night visits to the Wawa.
Is this the actual diet of college students? It seems that during the day they eat no different from any other age group, but at night they seem to chow down on lots of all kinds of unhealthy foods. The stress, combined with the late hours students often keep, seems to lead to stress and emotional eating.
Subject No. 4 is me.
I also participated in this week long food diary. While I consider myself a pretty good cook and a healthy person, my food diary agrees with Lee’s, Berlin’s, and Guggenheimer’s.
I am a sophomore at Haverford College. I live in the apartments and have limited food swipes to the DC. I play squash with Berlin on the Haverford’s Squash Team.
For breakfast, I will often have a yogurt or a piece of fruit. And for lunch, I will either eat a salad and a bowl of soup. Depending on whether or not I go to the DC, I will either cook myself a piece of meat with vegetables or eat whatever hot lunch there is at the DC. I stick to this schedule, not because of healthy food habits, but simply because this is what I like to eat.
I go to the DC once a week for lunch. And once a week, when I am there, I have only french fries for lunch.
Most of my snacking habits start after 9 p.m. On my way home from a night class which ends at 10 p.m. I often stop at Wawa or McDonald’s for late night snack and a milkshake. But even when I’m not already driving, late night is when I eat the ice cream in the freezer or the candy in my candy bowl. While both food options are there during the day, they don’t have the appeal they have at night.
My conclusions from my experiment:
It seems college students don’t eat unhealthy all the time. They eat unhealthy when they are up at 10:30 p.m. still in the midst of their homework. They start eating chips at 1 a.m. to help them finish their final two pages of an essay.
There are two reasons for this. One is that most people simply are not up until the early hours of the night working. Because of the elongated day, college students gets hungry again after dinner at a time when most people are asleep.
But more importantly, comfort food helps college students in the late hours when they are finishing their homework.
Lee, Berlin, Guggenheimer, and I all eat most of our snack food in the night. Even as I write this this article, I am snacking on a bag of potato chips. Food is simply a crutch for college students. Writing a six-page paper on Catullus at 10 p.m. doesn’t seem so bad if at the same time one is also taking handfuls of popcorn.
Additionally, Lee, Berlin, Guggenheimer, and I were all eating more by the end of the week than at the beginning. This is no surprise considering the final days of our food diaries coincided with the end of classes when teachers expected final projects, tests, and papers to be due.
Stress eating is real and college students seem to be unable to ignore this fact.
So, no college students are not, in general, lazy, binge eaters. They don’t eat bowls of ice cream for breakfast and feast on deep fried Oreos for lunch. They don’t stuff their stomachs until they can’t move after every meal, but they are, in general, unhealthier than the other age groups.
But, late at night, when they are studying or writing a paper, the popcorn and candy, ice cream and potato chips come out. They turn into nocturnal junk food junkies.