How to properly take care of yourself for the first time

Jackson Bettis

Image by Isabel Sperry

Eating is hard. It’s no wonder that for centuries the entire day was spent in the pursuit of nothing more than nourishment. 

Since then we’ve found so many other ways to spend our time that eating and preparing food can easily fall by the wayside, and I think this is especially true in college when many of us are first learning a work-life balance. 

The campus provides meal programs but not everyone has one and some don’t use it for every meal, plus it’s gone as soon as you graduate. Students are forced to learn immediately after college how to provide meals for themselves.

 Adequate nutrition is essential to not just physical health but also mental and new studies are showing it can even impact mood and ailments such as anxiety and depression. In light of this, I’d like to pass along some tips and tricks I’ve learned myself, to hopefully save you time and stress. 

According to the Washington Post, the rise of ‘fast food’ has correlated with a historic rise in rates of obesity, heart disease, cancers and mental health issues ranging from depression to dementia. There are so many factors of change in the past several decades to attribute all of these increases to fast food, but there is evidence that eating processed foods increases an individual’s risk of those life-threatening conditions and eating healthy, “whole foods” decreases that risk. 

The fast-growing field of nutritional psychiatry has sought to explore the links between diet and mental wellness. According to Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal this field has begun to depict a “gut-brain” axis, in which microbes found in the digestive tract produce neurotransmitters (such as serotonin and dopamine) which influence mood and mental state. 

A team of scientists including Thomaz Bastiaanssen wrote in the Harvard Review of Psychiatry that “a growing body of literature shows that the gut microbiome plays a shaping role in a variety of psychiatric disorders, including major depressive disorder.” 

While assistant clinical professor at Columbia University Drew Ramsey described that “the risk of depression increases about 80% when you compare teens with the lowest-quality diet, or what we call the Western diet, to those who eat a higher-quality, whole-foods diet.”

There was also a study done in 2016 by Anahed O’Connor where 12,400 people were tracked for about seven years about their increase of vegetable consumption or lack thereof. The people with a higher vegetable intake ended up rating themselves higher on questionnaires about general happiness. 

All of this research emphasizes how crucial a healthy diet is to quality of life, and yet, it’s become difficult for many to obtain. 

I’d like to knock down the myth that fast food is just easier. It can be even easier to come home and find several ready to heat meals in your fridge that someone lovingly whipped up. That someone of course, can be you. The main trick to master is getting good at planning, which means you should also plan for failure, being tired, and feeling lazy. 

An important step is to get to know your storage options. Foods that can be stored for weeks in freezers, pantries, cabinets, etc. are your best friend and come in clutch when you inevitably run out of prepared meals. I recommend getting an assortment of canned and frozen meats, fruits and vegetables, plus rice, pasta, broth, beans, nuts, nut butters and any other staples. 

Planning meals is essential to the process of learning how to eat better and taking care of yourself. Pick simple recipes to start, but they should include some protein, some produce, and sometimes grains. Then find one or two days a week that you can consistently carve out time to make meals. 

Here’s another tip: make extra of everything. I aim for about 3 servings of 3 or 4 different meals. You can then pack up each meal so it’s ready to go when you need to eat. Another trick I’ve grown fond of is keeping lists. 

I made a list of every recipe I know how to make with the recipe attached so every new week all I have to do is pick a few from the list to make. There are also many different platforms like Pinterest where you can find quick and easy recipes.I also have a grocery master list including every item I frequently purchase. 

Having these lists helps me to never go blank on picking meals and never forget items I need. Plus, it eases my brain from constantly thinking about meal prep.  Different aspects of meal planning can be decided quickly, written down, and I can move on to all those things more important than eating. 

My hope is that this has been useful advice. I know myself that learning to eat healthy can be daunting in more ways than one, I hope that some of these tips can make it at least a little less punishing for anyone else determined to make the change. 

The best I can say about learning to cook for yourself is that it can teach a lot more skills than just nutrition like how to be self-reliant. I hope that even those with meal plans will consider it once the meal plan ends.