Many of my distant first-year memories revolve around dining halls, from darting into Runk after hours with my suitemates in our pajamas for some midnight French fries to meeting swarms of people, most of whom I never ended up seeing again, over lunch at the now-defunct N2. I can’t forget the simultaneous power and frustration I felt over my stockpiles of Plus Dollars, resulting in a continual catch-22 of needing to get rid of them but not wanting to consume the extra gummy worms, dumplings or Ben & Jerry’s as a consequence. Though I liked the freedom and convenience of having a meal plan, my health — unbeknownst to me — suffered for it.
This semester — three years later — I stopped going out to eat almost entirely. This is partly because I do not have enough time during the day to go out of my way to grab food, and partly because I have just grown exhausted of feeling like I’m not in control over what I use to fuel my own body.
Back when I used to have a meal plan, eating at the dining hall felt more like a test of strength than a means of replenishing myself. I always knew I’d leave feeling defeated by all the temptations and deeply unsatisfied by my lack of willpower to eat healthily. My goal was to get in, fill myself up as quickly as possible and get out. It didn’t help that the dessert trays were often the most tantalizing option, or that I knew I wouldn’t be losing any more money by filling up my cup with soda or sweet tea rather than water.
It felt like torture to be surrounded by foods I knew I shouldn’t really be eating. Though it would have been wrong to constantly restrict myself in the dining hall, it felt equally wrong to allow myself to eat and drink things of no nutritional value. I could have tried to work around the system, but I couldn’t justify a nine dollar meal swipe on just a soup and salad. Oftentimes I would avoid going to the dining hall altogether because I knew there was only a slight chance I would find anything worth eating.
My third year was the first in which I did not have a meal plan. Granted, I did not yet understand the art of efficient grocery shopping, so it was difficult for me to resist the occasional Chipotle bowl or Cook Out milkshake. Nonetheless, it was my first step towards complete liberation. I had the power to listen to my body and decide what I felt like I wanted to eat. Because I was now in control of my food choices, I no longer felt the shame of succumbing to the uncontrollable forces of the dining hall.
My problem with the dining hall was that I felt like I was being targeted by foods I didn’t actually want. I felt there was something wrong with me for not being able to discipline myself into eating properly. Over the years, I’ve learned that the key to having a positive relationship with food is to surround myself with an abundance of foods that don’t intimidate me. I plan my meals in advance, and I make sure to pack them with foods beneficial to me. This way, I know I will never feel guilty, because I do not have to resist anything for the sake of it being “unhealthy.”