Self-Reflections and Lessons Learned from Life at College

For many, as the year comes to a close, it’s often a time for self-reflection.

For me, the end of the year is bittersweet, filled with emotions, gratitude, and hopes for the new year.

~ Anita Dharwadkar
Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Folks often look back at the year and focus on what they didn’t do versus the things they did accomplish. I often hear from my clients feelings of regret that they “didn’t make enough progress” or “wasn’t able to change x behavior.”

It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of “not being good enough” and beating yourself up for it. We’ve all been there.

Then comes the beginning of January, where we are met with New Year’s resolutions that often include fad diets, intense workouts, and unsustainable wellness habits. I can already picture the diets, workouts, and fads to meet us in 2023 and I quite frankly wish we could leave them in 2022.

As we say goodbye to 2022, I’d encourage you to look at all that you endured, survived, and enjoyed this year and think about how you can continue to grow (whatever that may look like for you) in 2023.

As a young professional, I often reflect on how far I have come from my college days. Some days they seem further away than others, but I notice memories resurface as I work with my college aged clients, a population I enjoy working with!

college students can have unexplainable experiences

For many, it’s their first time living away from home and being thrown into figuring “life” out for themselves. Not only are they trying to figure out a career path but are also exploring their identity, values, and discovering what kind of human they want to be on this planet. This often leaves college students in an “othered” category; too old to be a child but too young to be a full adult.

It makes perfect sense that the transition to college is one of the most prevalent times eating disorders emerge. College aged students can “handle it on their own because they’re adults, right?”

This population is often overlooked but could use extra support during this time in their life in many areas including food, body and exercise.

Personally, looking back at my first couple of years at Michigan State, I was confused, excited, and felt like “Oh sh*t…what did I get myself into?”

If you’re a college student reading this, I wonder if you’re feeling any of those emotions? I knew attending a big ten school away from home would have its challenges, but nothing would’ve prepared me for what I experienced. College pushed me physically, mentally, and emotionally in a variety of ways. I often had times of great self-doubt and wanting to give up.

If you’re feeling alone and lost right now, know that I see you and I am with you. From my own experiences and those from my clients, I created a list of five things I wish I knew during college that would have helped me make that transition a lot easier!

5 Tips for Going into 2023 as a College Student

  1. Do not over stress about tests, grades, etc. College is stressful in so many ways. Not only academically, but relationally, socially, and emotionally. You’re going to stress and that’s a natural human response. It’s your body’s way of protecting you from a threat (even if the threat is a calculus test). I understand that stress can come from a variety of factors – whether it’s perfectionistic tendencies, pressure from your parents or professors, or just the stress of change getting to you – it’s all normal. What I want you to remember is that in five or ten years your boss won’t care if you got a 3.0 or 3.5 in that accounting class or if you submitted that paper on time or a day late. I promise you it won’t make or break your future or career. As a perfectionist myself, I understand how hard it can be to let go but I’m also here to tell you I didn’t get to doing what I love to do with stellar grades – there’s so much more that goes into it.
  2. Navigating dorm food, body expectations & rigid exercise routines. In our society, it’s nearly impossible to avoid diet culture and diet talk. It is especially prevalent among college aged individuals. Hearing things like “don’t gain the freshman 15” or “the dorm food is really unhealthy” may start to have you questioning what is true versus what is not. You might feel pressure to fit a certain mold to be accepted in college. Not to mention figuring out when you are going to make time to go to the dining hall or do basic self care. With so many things feeling out of control, some find comfort in wanting to control their food and exercise habits. However, this is where disordered eating comes into play. If any of this is resonating with you, keep reading.
  3. Say it with me – It’s okay to say no! This is a tip college aged Anita needed. As a type A “want to do it all” person, I often found myself juggling a full course load, a sorority, 2 jobs, and 4 clubs more often than I wish to admit. If my schedule wasn’t packed from 8am to 10pm daily, I felt like I was slacking. I often got asked “how do you do it all?”. Truth is, I couldn’t. I’d end up feeling burnt out, sick, miserable, and attributed my worth to productivity. I often had no time to enjoy the little things which are really the big things. So the big message here – don’t overstretch yourself. There will always be another party, another club meeting or another volunteer opportunity. You deserve to rest and take a break. Your mind and body will thank you for it.
  4. It’s okay to try something and fail. Whether it’s one, two, three…or ten times. Try a new sport or join a new club. Maybe you’ll love it or maybe you’ll hate it but at least you can say you tried. I cannot express enough that now is the time to try anything and everything that interests you. Maybe you came into college knowing you wanted to study engineering and you took an art class that really interested you. Lean into that! Follow what you care about and have passion for. At the end of the day, you are building a foundation for your future – YOU need to love it.
  5. Lean on your support system. Whether its family, friends, professors, mentors, coaches, etc. I want you to talk to whoever feels comfortable. With so many unknowns, it’s comforting to have your people to turn to. I learned in college that misery really does love company, so head to the study lounge with your peers from chemistry, get a fancy coffee that makes you happy and get to it. However, also keep in mind to reach out for help if you need it. This is something that is hard for so many people, especially young adults. You crave independence but also don’t have it all figured out yet. Remember to reach out to your student center for resources on just about anything.

If food, body and exercise are topics that consume your brain space and often feel overwhelming – you are not alone. As I mentioned earlier it is this time in life is one of the most prevalent times eating disorders develop. This is why we offer a support group just for college students, Eating Healthy and Living Well at College, navigating the challenges of college life and needing extra support around it.

These groups we offer create a space where college aged folks can feel seen, heard and supported by me (a registered dietitian) and their peers. Follow the link below for more information.

Click here to fill out the application.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season, filled with friends and family, self-care and gratitude.