Food for thought: We should make time for mindful mealtimes

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Courtesy of Adriana Pera

The beginning of the year is a time when people reflect, set goals and change themselves and their habits for the better. It’s a time when people resolve to go to the gym, spend less time making memes or limit binge-watching. However, there is one blind spot that many college students overlook when making New Year’s resolutions, and that aspect is eating.

Due to the demands of academics and extracurriculars, college students don’t take the time to savor their meals or make healthy choices. Between a full class schedule, work, sports and other activities, they treat food as something to devour while working on other projects. This has several negative consequences: weight gain, trash production and a higher likelihood of feeling lonely or burned out.

According to a 2013 study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, distracted eating leads people to consume more and be hungrier throughout the day. This is because eating is closely tied to attention and memory. According to the study, after a person begins eating, it takes around 20 minutes for the brain to start sending out “I’m full” signals that turn off appetite. However, if a person isn’t paying attention to these signs — and is doing work or watching TV instead — it’s easy to take in more calories than needed.

Although the crows by the Cooler may love the trash from junk food, the Oxy community should feel a little less enthusiastic about it. Oxy students consume food with a lot of packaging — to-go meals in plastic containers, drinks in bottles or cans and snacks with non-compostable packaging — for nearly every meal. In fact, food and container packaging currently make up around 30 percent of the 258 million tons of municipal solid waste the United States produces per year. It doesn’t take a UEP major to figure out that eating packaged food is bad for the environment.

Not only do college students produce a lot of garbage, but distracted eating habits cause them to feel like trash as well. Distracted eating contributes to burnout as it prevents students from taking a mental break to socialize. According to a 2018 study published in Forbes Magazine, employees who take a lunch break are more likely to be satisfied with their job and say they are as effective and efficient as they would like to be. Granted, there are differences between being a student at Oxy and an employee — namely, paying $60,000 instead of being paid $60,000 — but the research transfers. Taking a lunch or dinner break allows students to recover from the stress of school and extracurricular life and increase productivity while decreasing stress.

Eating in a way that is simultaneously nutritious, environmentally friendly and fulfilling may seem like a lot to a student who has just started thinking about these issues. However, there are some simple techniques that everyone at Oxy can use to make mealtime a more enjoyable experience. We can easily improve our connection with food by trying to eat more whole or unpackaged foods. It’s easier to do this by eating food in the Marketplace and making dinnertime a technology-free time spent with friends. Eating with other people makes you less rushed and more mindful, which reduces the risk of overeating. If you need to take food to-go, Oxy offers eco-clamshells to help reduce waste.

For the students that already use the techniques listed above or want to do more, there are also resources on campus connected to sustainability and community-building around food. Food Justice House and FEAST host cooking classes and potlucks several times a year. The cooking classes, in particular, are a great way to get involved with the Oxy community and learn more about how food is grown and prepared. I’ve been to three Food Justice- and FEAST-sponsored events, and I’ve loved every single one. They focus on plant-based food, and I learned some great cooking techniques like how to mince garlic and make a delicious vegan strawberry mousse pie using tofu. Additionally, everyone was friendly and supportive at these events and made me feel welcome. Oxy also offers free nutrition counseling and education services for students who want to learn about healthy eating habits from an expert.

As a busy college student myself, I can’t say that I practice all the steps I outlined all the time. Sometimes life is busy and I just want a bag of salt and vinegar chips despite its negative environmental impact. Indulging in unhealthy meals isn’t the end of the world, but it’s important for students to focus on their overall health. When I use lunch and dinner as a time to socialize and build healthy eating habits, I feel happier and more productive. So even though it’s February and it feels a little late to start making New Year’s resolutions, adopting mindful eating techniques can improve everyone at Oxy’s quality of life this coming year and beyond.

Margot Heron is a sophomore Critical Theory and Social Justice and Spanish double major. She can be reached at mheron@oxy.edu.