As student affairs administrators, we face formidable challenges to living a healthy lifestyle. For instance, with the prevalence of live-on entry level positions in our field, it can take more work than usual to live anything but a sedentary and gluttonous life, especially if one lives on a smaller campus.
The food that is most readily available tends to be ultra-processed. The supply of Otis Spunkmeyer muffins, Pop Tarts, and potato chips is inexhaustible, while ripe fruits and fresh vegetables make occasional cameos. Sandwich lines appear to be a decent choice, until the sodium content is analyzed – bread, lunch meat, and cheese usually add up to over half of one’s sodium allowance for the day. Sodium is also a problem with many dishes in many all-you-care-to-eat facilities.
The notion of exercise in our field is ironic. We have better access than many people to a fitness facility, but the nature of our jobs, especially for those in residence life, makes scheduling this time into our schedule appear to be impossible. The weight room and gym are usually crowded at your only available times throughout the day, and while you might want to take care of your body, standing around and waiting for equipment to become available is frustrating.
While many of us don’t want to intentionally endanger our health, there are, of course, other forces coming into play. As I just mentioned, the notion that we are already too busy makes many appearances in excuses for not going to the gym (I speak from experience here). It also can lead to increased consumption of the aforementioned processed foods. Put simply, after a long day of work, your couch’s value skyrockets. Inversely, the idea of making a fresh, nutritious meal in the kitchen has never been so repulsive. At this point, sodium-laden TV dinners make an appearance, or, if one is particularly motivated, he or she may visit their fast food joint of choice for a low-thought, high-everything else meal.
If you’re reading this and don’t recognize yourself in the preceding paragraphs, or do but don’t care, then you may stop reading here if you wish (I don’t want to come off as preachy – some people are happy with where they are). If you do wish to change some things about your wellness routine (or just create one), I have thought of a few ways to begin. Disclaimer: I’m not an expert, and I want to make sure I’m not perceived to be one.
- Examine your thought process: Yes, we like to help people. It's noble. And sometimes we like to think of it as selfless. But when it gets to the point that it's harmful, it's a problem, and it can limit our effectiveness. We help the best when we feel good and have added credibility. So frame your efforts as a way to help students. By taking steps to improve your quality of life, you'll be role modeling excellent role modeling skills!
- Gather support among colleagues: Even taking a few steps can require support (challenge and support!). Find some colleagues — those who you trust and those who you might want to get to know better — and explore whether or not they might be interested in joining you. In attempting to avoid conventional office fare — M&Ms, baked goods, etc. — an ally or two to assist you in resisting the peer pressure to binge can not only be helpful, but it can also create opportunities for establishing better relationships.
- Take advantage of on-campus resources: Yes, the gym might be the go-to place for too many people, why not be different? Instead of walking the track every day, make that your rain location, and walk outside. Is your campus hilly? Find a hill to run or walk, or find a set of stairs for a good cardio workout. And start slow — identify two days a week which could contain a good time to exercise. If it doesn't work out, don't just quit, but go back to the drawing board. Try it again. For nutrition, campus health centers are usually an overlooked resource. Many have staff members prepared and ready to assist you in changing your dietary routine.
- Plan a program: Find a few students who might be interested in encouraging positive wellness habits on campus and invite them to help you plan a large-scale program on campus to raise awareness. Farmers Markets in appropriate climates, for example, can bring the campus and community together, while encouraging sustainability and wellness simultaneously.
- Eat fish for dinner: In my own effort to eat better, I have discovered fish as a good compromise meal. Fish delivers you the protein found in most red meats, but contains a quarter of the sodium and far fewer levels of cholesterol, saturated fat, and calories. The compromise comes into play in the preparation. Most fish can be baked for 20 minutes. Pair the fish with some rice and your vegetable of choice, and voila! A substantive and healthy meal. (One should be careful to avoid overconsuming too much seafood due to the possibility of mercury poisoning. Also, be sure to check the nutrition facts prior to purchasing the fish; I'm not talking about fish sticks here.)
Again, this isn't the be-all, end-all of exercise/nutrition programs, but I felt it was an important topic to broach among student affairs practitioners. Many of us (including myself) are so absorbed in our work and helping others that we neglect ourselves. Do you have any tips to add?