How dieting affects student life

By Athena Flores, Feb. 27, 2024

In the age of extensive diet fads and complex fashion trends, it is difficult yet nonetheless essential for college students living in the prime of their life to balance their daily obligations and their health.

It is a cycle known all too well on campus. Some students may grab an energy drink while running late to class and hope it suffices as breakfast or even snack on a vending machine granola bar and call it lunch.

Registered dietician and Cal Poly Pomona graduate, Stephanie Serpas Jacobo spent 10 years serving as an expert in nutrition in her community. Jacobo emphasizes that wellness and health look different for everyone because not everyone will eat or exercise the same amount. It is finding what works for each individual.

“Depending on the food we consume, our bodies will decipher how to store it, burn it and use it for energy,” Jacobo said. “The more nutritious food we nourish our body with, the more powerful and the stronger the microbiome can be in our gut. Since there is a gut-brain connection, there is a lot more signaling going on between our gut and our brain. This means more signaling for better moods and more focus, and then we can begin to expect optimal function for our organs.”

When it comes to dieting, Jacobo discussed what it means to be successful, when too much becomes harmful and how bodies can be affected. She also emphasized the importance of a good support system when dieting, whether it be a dietician, friend, family or even a counselor. Finding the line between healthy and extreme is thin and can be overwhelming to experience alone.

“Success is dependent on the person who is defining it,” Jacobo said. “Unfortunately, studies show that most people cannot keep (diet) eight off for more than a year. If there’s constant weight loss and weight gain you might start noticing changes in your heart rate, your mood, your blood values.”

Jacobo will be teaming up with the Native American Student Center and the Estudiante de Dietetica Program in an upcoming campus event called “Native Healing Foods Spring Symposium” and encourages any students or staff who are interested in learning more about food health to attend.

This societal obsession with dieting combined with a lack of knowledge undermines the importance of nutrition and health as many mistakenly equate restrictive eating and skewed body images to healthier lifestyles. U.S. News reasons that this might be because our culture equates being thin with attractiveness, health and other positive attributes. In reality, according to many dietary and health experts, the food people consume is directly related to their brain and bodily function.

A 2021 Harvard Public Health article further explained this correlation. According to the Harvard article researchers, stress is a prominent factor in nutrient-lacking bodies. As students already deal with a substantial amount of stress, whether it is due to financial aid, exams or everything in between, their bodies require a larger amount of energy and nutrients. A lack of time or motivation to eat well-balanced meals further aggravates the stress and can negatively impact brain function. In fact, amplified stress may also cause an increased intake of unhealthy foods in some people known as stress eating.

CPP Environmental Biology student, Alexandra Alvarez, has first-hand experience with diet culture and the role it played in her life growing up.

“Diet culture has affected me ever since high school,” Alvarez said. “I tried multiple diets such as keto and intermediate fasting and even became pescatarian for some time. Although I tried these diets, I did not see any benefits or improvements from them mainly because I was still a growing teenager, and it was difficult to stay consistent.”

What exactly is a healthy diet? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasizes a healthy balance of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and a variety of proteins, such as poultry, nuts, seeds and seafood. The most important thing is finding a good balance of what works.

Mt. Sac Nursing student, Mason Bluethman, has incorporated a healthy diet into his life ever since learning about the detrimental effects of food.

“It’s one of the first things we learn in anatomy class,” Bluethman said. “Food wise, your body simply requires fats, carbs and protein to be healthy and functioning.”

He acknowledged before his stressful nursing courses, he too, succumbed to the harmful effects of dieting.

“I simply cannot focus when I don’t feed my body,” Bluethman said. “I have tried out a couple of those popular diets and they haven’t worked for me. I always end up hungry and then in a bad mood for the rest of the day. I knew as soon as I started school, I had to take care of myself to keep sane.”

Jacobo offered that being healthy does not always mean cutting out the foods that people love, but instead adding in the ones that are good for them. Those starting their health journey and straying away from diet culture can find resources on the CPP campus at the Student Health and Wellness Center, where they provide pamphlets, peer education and occasionally workshops pertaining to healthy lifestyles.

Graphic courtesy of Lauren Wong

Feature image courtesy of Lauren Wong

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