Perfectionism in a Stress Culture: The Eating Habits of AUC Students

By Jasmin Ronach

Along with ‘excellent’ and ‘diverse’, students of Amsterdam University College (AUC) are often described as ‘ambitious’. Though this ambition may be a source of pride academically, the responses of 60 AUC students surveyed on Facebook indicate it has both positive and negative impacts on the non-academic areas of their lives, such as their eating habits.

Almost three quarters of the students who were surveyed, see themselves as generally or even very healthy. Two thirds cook for themselves five to seven days a week and a great majority also claimed to almost never order food. The majority only get takeout on the weekends or once to twice a month.

The consumption of fast food however, is significantly more common. Close to a third reported that they consume it at least once a week, especially after a night out.

Most respondents agreed that an ever-changing schedule with no fixed eating times often leaves them hungry and nightly study sessions mean a lot of snacking. The temptation of sweets and alcohol is the greatest issue for many.

Third-year Social Science major Anne Oor said that “When it is really busy, we all definitely gravitate towards fast food”, adding that her food-related expenses are highest during periods of academic stress. A source who preferred to stay anonymous agreed with Oor, saying that “During stressful periods healthy eating is one of the first things to suffer.”

Rather than stressful periods, there is, according to first-year Social Science major Yosra Kok, a stress culture at AUC, which has affected her focus on health. “There is no time to take a step back and focus on me for a second”, she said, adding that even during the fall break there was plenty of reading to do.

Valuing homework over the preparation of a healthy meal, many respondents stated they feel guilty for not eating better, and that they binge-eat when they are feeling sad. A female second-year student who preferred to stay anonymous, said: “‘Healthy’ should be a realistic process, and not pressured on anyone, not a standard of moral purity and displaying control over yourself.” While she believes that some people genuinely seek such moral purity and self-discipline, and feel good about it, she thinks most people are fuelled by negative feelings they do not want to admit. “I think it just reflects high rates of perfectionism at AUC that is equally applied to food,” she said.

This account is supported by some respondents, who stated that they feel judged for the food they consume publicly, as there is a “pressure to look as healthy and fit as the rest of the community”, as put by one respondent. Even in private, cooking has become associated with feelings of anxiety rather than pleasure for some.

However, not everyone believes that living in this community has had a negative impact on their eating habits. First-year Social Science major Thekla van Oijen described that while being with friends may sometimes mean over-consuming snack foods, cooking together can lead to healthier eating. Many respondents were in agreement with Oijen – they stated that health-conscious friends have improved their own habits and made them motivated to cook.

Oor sees the freedom of choosing your own groceries, that comes with moving away from your childhood home, as a great contributor to healthier choices, as well as knowing that “friends are experiencing the same [adjustment].” Similar views were expressed by some respondents, who pointed out that living alone leaves more room for experimentation with new dishes and ingredients, thus making healthy eating a learning process.

 

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