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Email: lwcapristo@smcm.edu
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A College Student’s Eating Habits -- Food Pyramid Turned on Its Head

Written by Stephanie Espinoza ’10

The selections in the Great Room's buffets are immense, and the quality is always rated high in guide books. But students have their own unique eating habits.

St. Mary’s students are scattered throughout the library, eyes glued to their computers and books as they attempt to finish that research paper, memorize all the steps of cellular respiration or take the derivative. The stress and adrenaline that feed them is an arms-reach away: coffee and Red Bull. They may receive excellent grades but it comes with a sacrifice: their bodies.

College students are some of the most reckless eaters in the world. They skip meals, then binge hours later. Is there a reason for this madness?

Breaking the First Cardinal Rule

As you have heard, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. According to Debi Wright, the general manager of the Bon Appétit management company in the college’s main dining room, the Raley Great Room, roughly 300 students show up for breakfast, or 15% of the student population.

Food courtSo it appears that most studentsstart their day skipping a sit-down breakfast. There are good reasons behind this. One of the hallmarks of college students is their crazy sleeping schedule. Perhaps the phrase most spoken by students is, “All I want to do is sleep.” We are almost always tired and less willing to sacrifice 30-60 minutes of sleep to climb out of the warm bed, don rain boots and warm coats to trek 5-15 minutes to get a healthy breakfast at the Great Room or at the Lewis Quad Grab-and-Go, and then get to class on time.

No matter how crisp and warm tater tots are, which according to Wright are the favorite selection during breakfast, students will only get out of bed at the last minute. You’ll see them, walking into class with hair pasted to one side and eyes still groggy.

The 21st-Century Breakfast

In place of the balanced breakfast is the “instant” breakfast or breakfasts on-the-go. Instead of a bowl of cereal, some toast, and cups of orange juice and milk, college students anxiously wait to hear the pop of the toaster with their Pop-Tart or Eggo waffle, or the ding of the microwave as it warms instant oatmeal.

For the even speedier consumer, there are now breakfast cereal bars available in all sorts of flavors. According to Debbie Davis, store manager of the campus convenience store, the Daily Grind, “the top sellers are the power bars, such as Luna and Clif bar, because they are health snacks,” she says. Luna bars are advertised as containing the “good stuff,” such as whole grains, soy protein, nuts and seeds. They also include calcium, Vitamin D, folic acid, and iron.

And of course coffee. One episode of the animated series “Dexter’s Laboratory” on the Cartoon Network has both Dexter’s mom and dad dragging themselves toward the coffee pot. Both parents − with tousled hair and drool dripping off their chins − are still in their sleeping robes. When Dexter attempts to ask them a question, they growl and hiss in response. Yet, with a sip of coffee, along with a poof, a zing, and a few stars, they are in normal clothes and well-groomed with large smiles on their faces. With another sip, dad’s briefcase appears in his hand; and as he finishes the cup, he is in his car. Coffee does not dress us, but it does send us on our way and these days some students suffer fatigue, headaches, and irritability without it. According to the National Coffee Association, more than half of U.S. adults, including college students, drink coffee daily. While some students only drink coffee during exams, others drink it like water. At the college’s Daily Grind, five giant coffee containers are exhausted each morning.

dishStudents have been known to bring an actual pot of coffee to the exam. The need is both psychological and chemical: If you have a cup of coffee while studying, the coffee will eventually become a necessary condition of studying.

Actually, some of the consumption of coffee has been replaced by power drinks. At the Daily Grind, Red Bull and Monster are top sellers. These drinks include guarana, taurine, and caffeine, and are packed with sugar. Some scientific studies actually show they leave the student more tired than they were.

Priorities: Study, Participate, and Maybe Sleep

College is obviously very competitive. The need to do well in every class and participate in every club and organization is essentially mandatory for students. Studies are the first priority, then extracurricular activities, then, of course, sleep. Eating is just not among those priorities. Some students don’t just skip breakfast; they may skip three meals in a row.

While some forget to eat due to stress, there are some who go the opposite direction and constantly eat, binge, or just make bad food choices. The selections in the Great Room and the Grind are immense, and the quality of food here is always toprated in various college guide books. Pasta and bread are always are available, as are yummy desserts. You can get microwaveable burritos, hot pockets, and pizza. And here is no surprise: The consumption of pastries and chocolate goes up during midterms and finals.

When college students are under stress and lack of sleep, two very common conditions, they are far more likely to make bad food decisions ranging from skipping meals to making bad selections. These eating habits seem to be inexcusable, but nonetheless they really do have reasonable explanations.

The student is one of the most educated persons in society and is very aware of dietary guidelines. Even so, however, he or she will willfully and consciously ignore them due to lack of time management and a flawed list of priorities. It is just another issue that students feel they do not have the time or energy to deal with – they have another exam to ace or some sleep to catch up on.