Balk: Health and diet underemphasized at Northwestern


Tim Balk, Assistant Opinion Editor

I ate a boatload of candy on Saturday.

I inhaled Hershey’s Kisses, Kit Kats, Snickers, gummy bears (I accidentally got the sugar-free kind — kind of gross), Nerds and one sublime York Peppermint Pattie. What can I say? I know how to do Halloween right. Always have.

Tom Brady probably would have disapproved, though. The star quarterback has been on a health tear of late. First he called out major American food corporations and American food culture. He took on junk foods like Frosted Flakes and called Coca-Cola “poison.”

Then he moved on to candy, recently promoting UnReal Brands Inc., a Boston start-up company that makes candy with natural ingredients. No artificial ingredients, GMOs, gluten, corn or soy for them. And, of course, less sugar.

Although Brady might have left Patriots fans like me shaking their heads back in September when he said it would be “great” if Donald Trump won the presidential election, a comment he later backed away from, he had me nodding following his comments on food.

Brady may be no political junkie, but he certainly knows a thing or two about health. According to a 2014 Sports Illustrated feature, the future Hall of Famer has a scrupulously designed diet: 80 percent alkaline, 20 percent acidic, and it changes with the seasons. Brady hits the pillow every night by 9 p.m. and tries to avoid alcohol.

Sure, Brady’s lifestyle sounds a little over the top, but unhealthy it certainly is not. In fact, Northwestern students might want to take heed of Brady’s habits.

For most NU students, college is not a particularly healthy place. All-you-can-eat dining halls with food of questionable quality coexist with late nights pounding jungle juice and beer all finished off with unfortunate visits to Cheesie’s.

Side note: The existence of Cheesie’s, which can only be aptly described as an appalling rip-off, is an indictment of all of us, myself included, who keep its greasy doors open.

Many NU students develop outrageous and often insufficient sleep schedules and spend their weekend afternoons in alcohol-induced torpors. When the Midwest winter rolls through, exercise becomes unattractive, diets worsen, classes seemingly get harder and general health and well-being on campus plummet further.

It’s no wonder mental health is a big problem on college campuses.

The connection between physical and mental health is well established and should be familiar to anyone who attended a high school with any sort of health curriculum. Eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep all have beneficial effects on mental well-being.

Yet, NU has Essential NUs for new students on inclusion, mental health and sexual health, but not on physical health.

Currently, NU is embarking on a plan to phase out water bottles over the next couple of months. The environmental aspect of the plan is commendable, but the wisdom of phasing out water bottles instead of say, bottles of Coke and Sprite, is questionable at best.

To be clear, the administration is not to blame for NU students’ unhealthy lifestyles. And at least we do not have a Burger King in our student union the way Big Ten rival Indiana University does. But the school could do more. And if the Norris Subway had to go, I would not complain.

NU students are far from the unhealthiest section of American society. I would say we generally have a decent idea of what good nutrition is and what a healthy lifestyle looks like. Obesity here is far from endemic. Compared to the rest of America, we look good.

Nonetheless, focusing on health, both on the individual and community-wide level, is a good idea. I write as someone who has fallen prey at times to the pitfalls of an unhealthy college lifestyle. I also write as someone who has found that exercise and healthy eating have had a profound effect on my own mental health.

Winter is coming soon. Staying healthy and happy will prove to be a challenge for many NU students. Let’s all pull together and try to put physical health, as well as mental health, at the forefront.

Let’s try to emulate Touchdown Tommy, even the Bears fans among us.

Tim Balk is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.