Students need to take care of their overall health instead of focusing on their weight, according to registered dietician Kimberly Green of the UTM Health and Counselling Centre, who stresses the importance of a balanced lifestyle over a focus on weight.

Green splits her time between meeting with UTM students one-on-one for nutritional counselling and developing and delivering health education activities in the community.

She believes the key problem students have is that they don’t take care of themselves, don’t sleep enough, have under-nourishing diets, and put all their energy into studying. “The number-one thing for students is to take care of their bodies, which leads to a healthier mind, and [makes them better students],” says Green. “The reason you want to eat healthy is not so much to drop that five pounds that magazines are always talking about; it’s because it’s going to help you pay attention in class and process better.”

Green advises students to follow four of the most important self-care steps: getting a good night’s sleep to control the production of ghrelin (a hormone secreted by the stomach to stimulate appetite), being physically active to release the excess energy not used up during sedentary tasks like reading and studying, eating at regular times every day (preferably every four to six hours ), and choosing low-fat, high-nutrient foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy and meats.

Green says that as a dietician, she tries to move her clients’ attention from their weight to their health. “When I see a student for an hour, I never bring up weight unless they do. Rather, I focus on specific goals they can achieve in their daily lives to improve their healthy habits,” she says. “For example, if someone’s eating too much junk food, then I’ll work with them to come up with fast and healthy recipes they can do, if even for only one meal of the day. Most of the time it’s these healthy changes to the way that people eat and their level of activity and getting a good night’s sleep that lead to feeling better, [with] an increase in energy and mood.”

Beyond the focus on weight, Green says that poor eating, sleep, and exercise habits contribute to the development of many chronic diseases, including an increased risk of cancer, heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes, and generally feeling unwell and experiencing fatigue, low energy, and low mood.

Green also works closely with the Peer Health Education program on campus. The PHE nutrition team works on regular outreach and education about nutrition and the positive effect of healthy eating on overall health and academic performance.