A typical breakfast at the University might include a latte and pastry from Espresso Royale — perhaps half your optimal daily calorie intake before you even make it to your first class. With no real time for lunch, you grab a bagel from Bert’s on your way to discussion. When you finally make it back to your room, you pop open a bag of chips and a soda and prepare for your daily nap. Waking up two hours later, you finish off the opened bag of chips. Ten minutes later, you walk into the dining hall with a friend and make a beeline for the pizza station. Before you have time to catch your breath, your tray is overflowing with a mix of every food group imaginable. You’re finally full but the smell of chocolate-chip cookies coming out of the oven lures you to the extensive dessert station, so you take a handful of treats and head back to your room to shower before a night out. Five shots, two beers, a box of cheesy bread and a few Insomnia cookies later, you finally pass out in bed. College eating at its finest.

Wolverines, like most college students, can’t escape the plethora of junk food readily available on campus. But that gooey Insomnia cookie or savory box of cheesy bread might not only add inches to students’ waistlines, but may also shorten their life expectancies as well — sink your teeth into that.

A recent article in Time magazine suggests that cutting back on calories could slow the aging process and extend the human life span, a not so desirable finding for food-crazed college students (Eat Less, Live Longer?, 02/11/2010). I know many college-aged students are blessed with metabolisms that can handle calorie-packed foods, but they should still be aware of the risks associated with high-calorie diets, and maybe reconsider their next late-night trip to NYPD or call to Pizza House.

Though the Comprehensive Assessment of Long-Term Effects of reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE) study (on which the Time article is based) at Tufts University is still ongoing, results are likely to find that calorie restriction will indeed add years to people’s lives. But unfortunately, as college students, we’re almost expected to eat poorly — we’re on tight budgets, are inclined to drink and pizza is supposedly our favorite food. True, true and true. Not to mention that eating is a prime form of socializing, and study snacks are a near necessity for academic achievement.

But it’s never too soon to start eating right, and the emerging evidence about longevity associated with reduced calorie intake, combined with the many already proven health benefits that go hand-in-hand with healthy eating, cannot be ignored. So what’s a Wolverine to do?

Think. We’ve got some smart cookies (no pun intended) here at the University, so we might as well use our smarts to know when to avoid high calorie snacks. I do realize that it may be impossible for college students to restrict our calorie intake to the extent the study suggests (by approximately 25 percent), but we can begin to think more about our food choices, as they will inevitably affect our futures. Students should begin by paying attention to the pieces of paper indicating the calorie content of food in the dining halls (yes, they say more than the name of the food), avoiding ordering late-night and opting for healthier choices at least some of the time. Keeping granola bars, fresh fruit and other healthier snacks in the room certainly wouldn’t hurt either. And cutting back will not only save calories, but it will help save cash, too.

I’ll admit, when I first read the Time article, I thought it was a bit out there. We’ve all been warned of (or possibly experienced) the “freshman 15” and are informed about the obesity epidemic in the U.S. But as I continued to read the Time article, I was impressed with the amount of concrete evidence supporting the articles’ premise and even put down the bag of chips I had (ironically) been munching on. And while my life expectancy is not a major concern of mine, or most other college students, (making it through midterms alive currently takes the cake), it’s certainly something to add to the list.

Therefore, in a never-ending battle to reduce the stress in my life, I’ve decided that by simply taking baby steps (and baby bites), I can (and should) save money and calories and add years to my life — and so can we all. So Wolverines, think before you eat, and I’ll be seeing you all at our 100-year reunion (sans hors d’oeuvres of course).

Leah Potkin can be reached at lpotkin@umich.edu.

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