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The exciting challenge of healthy diet

by Barbara Platts / Beacon Staff • April 25, 2012

Going back to caveman tendencies is typically not a practical idea. But it’s a constant goal of mine when deciding what food I eat. Since August, I have been on the paleo diet. I try to avoid processed foods, consuming nothing that a Neanderthal couldn’t prepare. This means no wheat, oats, rice, processed corn or sugar, and minimal amounts of dairy.

When I tell people about my food restrictions, they typically look at me as if I’m crazy and inquire as to how I live without pizza. It’s not easy. But I tried this diet out of curiosity, and I liked the way it made me feel, so I’ve kept it up for eight months.

The paleo diet is just the latest in my history of deliberate food practices. I’ve tried a variety of regimens throughout high school and college that have ultimately taught me one lesson: What I put into my body matters.

Maintaining a balanced food regimen is constantly on my mind, particularly when I’m caught up with my classes, extracurricular activities, and social life. As students, we tend to sacrifice our health for the sake of performing well in other areas. We consume large amounts of Red Bull to pull an all-nighter or frequent New York Pizza or McDonald’s in the wee hours of the morning. These practices are often seen as a necessary part of the college experience. Throughout my tenure as an editor, I, too, have caved to a bag of cookies or a milkshake late on deadline in the Beacon office. The common way to rationalize these poor sleeping behaviors and eating habits is to say we are “young and healthy” and can therefore handle it. Since we’re young, our bodies endure. But bad habits can often stick with us for life.

These bad habits have given our demographic an interesting reputation. College students are the heaviest drinkers in the country, according to several studies by Dr. Toben Nelson, a researcher on college drinking and an assistant professor at University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health. A 2001 Brown University study also deemed us the most sleep-deprived, with only 11 percent of college students admitting to getting “good sleep.” And, to top it all off, we’re more stressed than ever before, according to the Higher Education Research Institute.

If these statistics and studies show us anything, it’s that proper nutrition and good health must be a priority. We should think of them as skills worth attaining and not entitlements that can be thrown aside. A clear path to achieving good health is through nutrition.

For me, learning about proper nutrition came through experimentation. I was  easily sucked into — as I am today — various fad diets. I gave the Atkins Diet a try for about two weeks, as nearly every media outlet promoted it early in the last decade. But its popularity decreased when adherents started to figure out that nixing fruits and vegetables, just because they were carbohydrates, wasn’t smart. After reading a few books about the dangers of sugar, I was frightened into cutting out everything with glucose for over a year. Caffeine-free was next. I braved breathing without that stimulant for almost five months. It wasn’t pleasant. I’ve also tried cleanses — consuming nothing but juices — and a raw diet that eliminated all food or drink heated over 118 degrees. Then I gave up meat and poultry for six months in a pescatarian phase.

Often when people learn about my long history of diets, they’re alarmed at my neurotic, and sometimes minimalist, eating behavior. But I don’t typically subject myself to these food restrictions for looks. I do it to feel a certain way. Eating right doesn’t only keep my body leaner; it sharpens the mind and enhances my mood. And on top of that, I feel an extreme sense of accomplishment from eating right. Similar to how I feel if I write an article I am proud of or get a good grade on a test.

Teachers always emphasize the importance of having goals. Diets or cleanses, even if they are fleeting, are a type of health goal for me. If I can understand how and why putting certain types of foods in my body makes me feel a certain way, I can better accomplish a sound and peaceful food regimen.

Granted, one does not need to adopt extremes on either end of the nutrition spectrum. Most of us are fortunate enough to not have to eat McDonald’s or other cheap grub for every meal or limit our eating restrictions to cleanses consisting of liquid. As with everything in life, moderation is key. One must figure out what works best for them and make healthy changes based on that. Tests, extracurricular activities, and parties come and go, but we’re stuck with our bodies for life. Attaining and maintaining good health should be at the top of our to-do lists. And that starts with what we eat.