Nutrition unlocks healthy lifestyle

Campus Times
May 7, 1999


photo illustration by Isela Peña

Anorexia nervosa, bulimia and binge eating disorders are illnesses that affect 5 million male and female college students across the United States. According to the American Anorexia Bulimia Association, 16 percent of females between the ages of 10 to 30 suffer from some type of eating disorder. An estimated 1,000 die each year.

by Jeanette M. Neyman
Staff Writer

Eating junk food or skipping meals is an undeniable part of the American culture. The typical 15- to 39-year-old diet is high in fat and low in fiber and complex carbohydrates.

College students are at the top of the list for malnutrition and eating disorders, more than any other segment of the population.

Many students claim they just cannot find time to eat, let alone eat healthy. However, these habits may lead to severe fatigue, nervous exhaustion, sleeplessness and other symptoms.

"What many of us need is a vigorous kick in the seat of our 'can'ts'," says Dr. Gordon Tessler, author of "The Lazy Persons' Guide to Better Nutrition," "Making time to eat healthy and exercise is more important than anything else we can do."

Waiting too long between meals is also a common occurance on college campuses, resulting in students overeating when they finally sit down to a meal. Such waiting depletes the blood sugar, leaving a person tired and famished.

By the time they do eat, their blood sugar is so low, they tend to overcompensate for meals missed. Thus, food is digested and absorbed very poorly when such eating habits are followed, tending to encourage fat storage.

"It is better to 'graze' throughout the day, eating four to six small meals and snacks. This stabilizes blood sugar without overworking or overfilling the stomach," Tessler says.

Health is not the only thing poor eating habits affect.

A 1998 study conducted by Mass General Research Group concluded that students who ate a low-sugar, high protein breakfast averaged a letter grade higher in math than those in the study who reported eating breakfast only occasionally.

In addition, teachers reported that incidences of tardiness, absenteeism and hyperactivity dropped among the breakfast eaters. The students themselves said that their feelings of anxiety and depression decreased significantly.

Many students think they are saving time by hurrying through the local fast food drive-thru. However, they are getting an overabundance of the wrong kind of nutrition-fat.

"How would you like to work all your life and not get paid? Similarly, your body works very hard to digest the food you eat, only to discover that your diet is high in calories and low in supporting levels of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients," Tessler said.

He contends, "If you don't make time to be healthy, you are making time to be sick."

A recent trend in dieting is food fixations, often called orthorexia. This occurs when people, in an attempt to eat healthy, avoid eating particular groups of food. For instance, abstaining from eating bread, meat, cooked vegetables, carbohydrates, etc.

"Diets like these contribute to a wide range of illnesses," said Ellen Coleman, a registered dietitian and author of Eating for Endurance.

"Illnesses that range from the annoying [like the common cold and flu] to the serious [like anemia] to the life-threatening [like cancer].

"And such lop-sided eating, with its inadequate vitamin and mineral intake, can lead to debilitating diseases, such as high blood pressure, cancer, osteoporosis and hardened arteries."

The "zone" diet, which advocates eating more protein and less carbohydrates, has tapped into the billion dollar health industry.

Tessler warns about gimmicks like the "zone" diet.

"High protein, low carbohydrate weight loss diets advocated by so-called nutritionists are damaging to both the liver and kidneys and threaten to upset the hormonal balance, the immune system and the rebuilding of cells in an otherwise normal person," Tessler said.

"One may experience weight loss with a high protein, low carbohydrate diet because the body is starving with the needed carbohydrates, which can cause a protein deficiency, leading to anemia."

Eating disorders are a common concern for college students. In a recent People magazine poll, 70 percent of colleges reported eating disorders being common among their students.

Cindy Denne, Student Health Center nurse, stressed the importance of not denying oneself food, or overeating due to anger, nervousness or upsetting emotions.

"Anytime you have stress, roommate issues, problems in your relationships, etc., it can precipitate eating problems," Denne said.

"Stressful events, such as attending college, can trigger students to gain weight. It becomes important for them to lose the weight, however, they go about it the wrong way."

Binging, purging, starvation or denial are serious issues that should be taken up with a health professional immediately. Any preoccupation with food is a sign of either the beginning or advanced stage of an eating disorder.


Adding vitamins and minerals to one's diet is like buying insurance for added health protection.

Some nutritionists are opposed to vitamin and mineral supplements, saying that all of the nutrients one needs can be obtained by eating a healthy and balanced diet.

However, Dr. Tessler disagrees with this theory.

"The extensive use of synthetic fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and herbicides contribute the inferior quality of food," he said.

Furthermore, he believes that the processing and refining of many foods in order to increase their shelf life, removes valuable vitamins, minerals and enzymes from already depleted grains, vegetables and fruits.

"I suggest consulting with a nutritionist and starting a daily vitamin and mineral regime," Tessler said. "You will see a noticeable difference in your energy level and overall health within a short period of time."