“I Haven’t Eaten a Meal in Days!”: The McGill Diet

Graphic by Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan

Eating is one of the few things that we all do — but the funny thing is that how we eat, what we eat, when we eat, and where we eat entirely differs from person to person. Food can be a source of comfort— a warm and gooey grilled cheese on a cold day— or a sweet indulgence when you need a pick-me-up. However, it can also be a source of anxiety. It makes us question why we are eating when no one else is, or what the person beside us in the library will think of the smell of our lunch. Some eat to live while others live to eat, and these juxtaposing sentiments often go undiscussed – especially among students. Eating is something that we all do differently and view differently. Without diving into the realm of eating disorders, it’s time to acknowledge how eating habits are often compromised in the university setting. 

In university, it often seems like standard meal times and proper meals are seen and practiced as an abnormality. In my case, this change was gradual; it snuck up on me and I didn’t even notice it until it was so pervasive that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. When I think about it, it makes sense: until university, so much of our schedule is structured around mealtimes. Growing up, my classes and extracurriculars were always scheduled to accommodate meals. I would have breakfast before school, a break for lunch, and a snack during recess when I was younger. Not all of these meals looked the same every day or were even consumed all the time, but the structure of my day was centered around eating those three meals. 

[I]t’s time to acknowledge how eating habits are often compromised in the university setting.

In university, there is no such schedule. I remember being in first year and realizing that I was accountable to no one. Sure, I had class – but no one would know if I was there or not — and I certainly didn’t have to be home in time for dinner either. It was a strange sensation that was simultaneously freeing and frightening. Living in residence allows you to opt into a meal plan which, despite its downsides, is extremely helpful in transitioning into university life. But even with this option, it can be difficult for first-years to step away from their social life or their studies to go and get food. When I asked students in a survey if they prioritize their studies over eating, the majority said yes. The main thing these McGillians had to say is that they felt like their peers were not taking the time to eat because cooking is stressful and/or buying food on campus is expensive. Overall, it seems that the lack of healthy and affordable choices on campus serves as justification for students’ unhealthy habits. Pair these problems with other anxieties around eating, and you have a whole new monster. 

In high school, people would either excitedly (or begrudgingly) share when they had pulled an all-nighter to finish a major assignment. When I got to McGill this quickly shifted to a proud announcement of neglecting to eat due to academic stress, but it wasn’t once a semester; it was daily. Many students shared that they feel there is a sentiment on campus, that by not eating or prioritizing their physical and mental wellness, in some ways, they are “doing it right.” Many added that they thought skipping meals in the spirit of studying was glamourized on campus, and unfortunately they believe many of their friends see not eating as a benchmark for success and proof of their commitment to the rigorous demands of McGill. One person even said that in order to be a true McGillian your diet should be made up of mostly samosas and Krispy Kremes. Alternatively, other people admitted that they use food as a “reward” for getting their work done.  They promise themselves they can eat something once they’ve finished their work, but because their work often takes longer than expected, they end up skipping meals for long stretches of time. How did we get here? And why do we continuously put this pressure on each other when we know that it’s so toxic? Why do we believe that we can’t have it both ways: be healthy and have time for everything else? 

…In order to be a true McGillian your diet should be made up of mostly samosas and Krispy Kremes.

I entered university with what I would consider a healthy relationship towards food, good eating habits, and taking the time to eat. I sat down with people and indulged, not only in a meal, but in a social experience, and I think that unfortunately so much of this routine has perished from my everyday life since coming to school — especially after the security blanket of meeting up with friends in the dining hall was taken away. Simply put, many students struggle to eat proper meals. When we are only accountable to ourselves, it can be challenging to ensure that we take the time to grocery shop and cook nutritious meals, especially if we know we are only cooking for one. Food was such a great source of bonding in first-year; so many of my friendships were formed sitting around the huge tables of Bishop Mountain Hall. Breakfast clubs and late-night carrot cake marked my first year experience. But now, I don’t live with 750 of my peers, nor do I indulge in homefries with people that I sort of know. I no longer take a lunch break. Instead, I eat while I catch-up on readings, or I have a bite en route to a class. Every day is different. When school is most intense, my days become more unpredictable, and this affects my ability to cook and take the time to eat. 

Simply put, many students struggle to eat proper meals.

All this being said, eating habits on campus are not completely toxic. I spoke with many students who said that they still eat three proper meals a day. Nonetheless, I think our university’s eating neglects the ceremony of the meal itself. So many of us prioritize our studies over eating. It’s a chore, something on the to-do list. Still, by bringing it to the forefront and taking the time to enjoy a meal, whatever that meal may be, it can give us the time we need to socialize, debrief the day, self-reflect, and just step away from the mindset of academia. Many of us feel a little scattered when it comes to food, but I truly believe that by bringing back some order to this part of our lives and enjoying a nice meal with friends or even just with ourselves, this will give us the daily rejuvenation that we need to take everything McGill has to throw at us in stride. 

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