College is a never-ending series of exhilarating opportunities, new experiences, and new challenges. While the experiences are unique to every individual, certain challenges apply across the board. Of the most fundamental is the challenge of feeding oneself (regularly, let alone properly) while adjusting to and building a new life.
When I arrived at NYU, I was enrolled in the meal plan and in the middle of a city with thriving food culture; I still somehow managed to adopt the bagel and pizza diet. After a prolonged period of grease and carbohydrates, I swung in the far opposite direction, taking after a vegan friend who had introduced me to the exotic world of seitan, tempeh, soy cheese and never-ending spelt. Having failed to do my research, however, my new healthy diet was doing me no more good than my prior diet had been.
Over the years, I experimented with pescetarianism (while studying abroad in Florence, renowned for its beef, much to my chagrin) and had bouts of vegetarianism. I also had periods of living exclusively off of delivery and bagels. By my senior year, I had taken on 3 jobs and 3 majors, and feeding myself became a thing to be fit around my commitments. As you might expect, this took its toll, and my body made its complaints known in a swift and decisive manner that resulted in me spending an inordinate amount of time in the health center undergoing every manner of testing.
The six month period of unknown illness and endless tests was tremendously stressful, which I compounded by keeping it to myself (do not emulate me in this, we people need people). It had a happy ending, however, when one very kind and very wise doctor sat with me for 15 minutes and got to the heart of the problem: “You don’t know how to take care of yourself,” he said, and he was right. He had asked me a few simple questions- how many hours of sleep per night (90 mins-6 hours), how much and what did I eat per day (a bagel), and how busy was my work and class load (insanely)? Sleep, diet, stress, these are the three make or break components for day-to-day health. My answers were a perfect recipe for disaster, and despite my youth and conviction in my own invincibility, one cannot burn the candle at both ends forever.
In short, what I learned was this: get enough sleep. All-nighters are over-rated, except for the rare occasions when they are not- choose accordingly. The rules of basic nutrition have not changed, so again, choose accordingly; in the wise words of Michael Pollan, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly Plants.” Drink more water than you think is reasonable. Find a means of managing your stress, whether it be physical exercise, meditation, painting, whatever floats your boat. Lastly, if you are going to experiment with new diets, do your research first- make sure it addresses your nutritional needs.
While you are learning all manner of new things in your college years, take the time to learn how to take care of yourself. It will keep your candle burning brightly and sustain you on your many adventures.