“I find it time consuming to prepare myself a healthy meal, when I can walk down the street and get a lunch menu somewhere,” says Otar Lolashvili, 23, a full time business student from Georgia.
University students’ lifestyles are often fueled by cheap, fast and unhealthy foods. This might be because during high school their daily diets are based on the more healthy items found in the kitchens of family homes. Busy college schedules also make it difficult to keep a regular eating schedule.
American nutritionist Victor Lindlarh once said, “You are what you eat.” How much does this apply to college students?
“It’s just a question of time, when our body shows us the consequences of our lifestyles,” says Michaela Moudra, a Czech wellness coach and full time business student. Still, says Moudra, every person has different needs.
University represents a transition phase in students’ lives: they begin building a life of their own while adapting to a new environment, customs and culinary habits. Eating tendencies can be one of the factors the most affected.
“During my first year in Prague, I simply didn’t care what I was eating,” says Milana Alieva, 21, a business student from Russia. “Everything was too ‘new’ for me and I would say that ‘food hunting’ is part of the cultural shock too.”
A survey of 47 foreign and international AAU students shows that most believe they generally eat healthy. Yet, about 78 percent admit to skipping meals – 48 percent skip breakfast – and 56 percent confess to eating in a restaurant three to five times a week.
“There is no excuse for those who skip breakfast,” says Moudra. If nothing is consumed one hour after waking up, she explains, metabolism will work slower throughout the day for want of needed calorie intake.
Good nutrition is necessary for achievement, which goes further then the ability to concentrate in class and succeeding at exams. A 2008 study reported by the British newspaper The Telegraph showed that students who eat a lot of junk food are more likely to fall behind in school.
The majors factors influencing students’ eating habits have been identified as unwillingness to shop and cook, easy and cheap access to outside foods, a focus on one type of food, skipping meals, late night dinners and the relatively high price of healthy food such as fruits and vegetables. Some 81 percent of those surveyed admit they don’t eat the recommended five fruits and vegetables per day.
“Today, in the Czech Republic, the quality of vegetables and fruits is decreasing; the nutrition values are minimal,” says Moudra. But she says these foods are still essential as it is the best source of vitamins.
This problem doesn’t affect just foreigners. The hustle of university schedules jeopardizes good diets for all students.
Adam Radil, 24, a Czech international relations student, says, “The irregularity of my schedule keeps me from eating at appropriate times.”
Without the proper calorie intake, students tend to not have the energy required to power the brain. Nutrition scientist Claire MacEvilly explained in a 2008 BBC report, that the brain, weighting only 2 percent of our body weight, uses approximately 20 percent of our energy at rest.
MacEvilly also warned of the bad habits students form: meal skipping – especially breakfast – and turning too often to one foodstuff only, like pasta or rice.
“When I lived at home, my mother used to cook for me but now, it’s all on me and it gets quite expensive,” says Dominika Chorvatova, 21, a Slovak international relations student.
Among the survey respondents, 82 percent admit spending 500-1,000 Kc per trip to the grocery store. Ensuring that buys healthy food is tough, which contributes to the reluctance to cook.
As for studying, Moudra advises carbohydrates over heavy greasy food. “Otherwise the body is focused on digesting the food, resulting in a loss of concentration and getting easily tired,” she says.
Healthy lifestyles benefit everybody – but regulating consumption and exercising is not all there is to it.
“Water intake is a crucial factor that most people tend to forget,” Moudra says. Other critical factors are avoiding stress and getting enough sleep. Only a harmonious combination of these are likely to produce long and high-quality life.
Indeed, we are what we eat. Food affects daily life, beginning with the mood. It’s only with a healthy combination of eating habits and other lifestyle factors that students can be successful; not only at school, but in all areas of their lives.
Dedication to health allows you to feel better, look better and work better.