And Here We Are . . . The End of Term!

I used to snowboard a lot in the winter. Ever since I was about six years old, I was out on the snow-hills and riding chairlifts. But once I came to university, I stopped. I guess I got busy. Always finding myself, all of a sudden, at this same moment: The end of term.

Feeling rushed. Stressed. Panicked. Less than a week left of classes. Then exams. It’s especially hard because I can smell the winter break like it’s a warm, cinnamon-sugared beavertail at the bottom of the hill and I just want to bomb the course to reach it. But school and snowboarding, unfortunately, are two dissimilar things.

I can’t bomb school. I have to work hard. I have to do well. I have one final project this term (it’s true, but it’s my fifth year, so don’t hate me). I probably could rush it. But I know that if I take my time it will be better, more interesting, more enjoyable, and altogether more worthwhile.

The tricky part is committing, staying focused, and seeing the project through to the end. Whether it was my first end of term, or now my ninth, finding the energy and concentration is a challenge. Not to mention finding the time to eat, and to take healthy breaks.

And that’s where I bet most of us are right now. I’m assuming that everyone is busy, stressed, and resenting the day they ever chose to attend U of T. So I’ve decided to forgo regaling you with a tale of my own academic sufferings, and just get on with my schoolwork.

Yep, that’s right, I am going to study. I can do that, no problem. I’m going to take my time and do an excellent job. It’s not like I’ll slowly drift away to amuse myself with strange, funny, stupid, and generally pointless distractions . . .

Like these!

Okay, that was fun! But I should probably get back to work.

Ha, I love that! All right, I really need to study for that in-class exam on Monday.

Wow! Just wow! But that’s enough. Time to destroy this essay!

You know, I kind of want to see that. No! Stop! I need to focus!



Maybe I could become an extra once I graduate. THAT’S IT! No more! I have to finish my schoolwork!

What just happened? How long was I watching that stuff? I guess it doesn’t really matter.  It’s the end of term. Needing some kind of break from studying is inevitable. I’m not going to stress, or panic, or run away. I’m going to recognize that distractions and procrastination are normal. Good studying and good work require a break now and then.

Next time, though, I think I’ll go out for a walk. Get some fresh air. Call a friend. Eat some soup. And let my tired little brain actually rest, until it has to get back to work.


Good luck out there, U of T!

- Stephen

The Psychology of Food Labeling: Read before you feed

“50% less fat!” states the box of cookies on the shelf of my local supermarket.

“High fiber” says the box next to it.

While another box asserts “Made with goji berries!”

Have you ever paid attention to the bold claims splashed on the labels of food packaging in a blatant attempt to persuade us to buy them?  And how often we purchase these items with little deliberation because we think we are choosing a healthier option?

Society’s increasing preoccupation with health and wellness has created a heightened awareness of sensible and healthy eating ideals.  When people shop, they may now focus more on foods that are perceived as having reduced fat, sugar and sodium, as well as on foods that are organic or gluten-free.  Food companies are aware of this and market their products through “healthy” food labeling to cater to these ideals in the hopes of making them more attractive and competitive. Ironically, “healthy” food labeling can actually lead to unhealthy eating habits, such as excessive caloric intake of up to 35%1!

Let’s look at some common food labeling and how psychological mechanisms can produce paradoxical eating behaviors.

1. The “low fat/low calorie” label



When people see this label, the first assumption is that  there’s a low probability of overeating the particular food product. This assumption combined with the social acceptability of eating low fat/low calorie food triggers two psychological processes that lead to excessive intake. Firstly, cognitive dis-inhibition occurs—meaning that our mind feels less restricted about eating the food because we feel that it’s “okay.”  Secondly, the perception of the food product’s low fat/low calorie characteristic leads to lower subjective feelings of satiation—leaving us wanting to consume more2.

So the next time you’re tempted to buy a pack of 100 calorie cookies, remember that you’re probably going to feel like you have to eat another five packs just to feel full.

2. The “organic” label



Studies show that people perceive food products labeled organic as having less calories, having a better nutritional profile than non-organic products, and tasting lower in fat and higher in fiber3. This is a common misperception, however, as “organic” describes the method of food production, not its nutritional profile. An organic muffin could have just as many, if not more calories than a non-organic muffin!

3. The “reduced sodium” label



Ever since research has shown that high sodium intake can lead to hypertension, many people have taken precautions to lower their salt intake4 . Food manufacturers have indeed responded to the demand for low sodium goods and market them as such in hopes of higher profits. However, the “reduced sodium” label has a negative effect on taste perception, so people end up adding their own salt upon consumption5, in turn defeating the health enhancing purpose of the product!

So how do we make healthy food choices given the paradoxical psychological effects of “healthy” food labeling?

Read the Nutrition Facts on packaged foods. Pay more attention to the nutritional information on food packages than just the marketing labels at the front, as they reveal a lot more about the contents of the product.  Compare the information with that of similar products – you might be surprised at what you discover.  For example, cereals that market themselves as low fat and high fiber may seem healthy, but they may still be packed with lots of sugar!

Better yet, as Lesley Stoyan of Daily Apple stated at the Live Well to Learn Well conference at Hart House last week, “eat without a label.” In other words, choose whole foods such as meat, chicken, fish and fruits and vegetables that have more complete nutritional profiles more often than processed foods.

So what’s been your experience in trying to eat healthier?



Mindful eating: an approach to cause a gut reaction

“Watch what you eat” is the old adage given to anyone wishing to be healthier. Most people interpret the phrase using what as the keyword, and thus understand it as being more sensitive about the nutritional value and portion size of meals.

But watch is just as important a word.


I hear she clocks him if she catches him eating badly. And then he becomes very alarmed.

While the contents of your meals do impact your health, so does the process of how you consume it1.

In the hectic storm of classes, extracurricular and coursework amongst other things, students barely find time to sit down for a meal. Some even find it to be a bother. So they tend to compact eating with another activity. Like me — I’ve shared countless meals with my laptop while I browsed the internet or did my readings, although it has not been most appreciative of the coffee or crumbs on the keyboard.

By combining eating with another activity, the act of eating becomes secondary to the activity because there is no attention paid to the food2. This results in continual hunger and overeating because your brain has not registered the fact that you have eaten3.  This can also lead to poor eating habits because you may not even be paying attention to what you’re eating4.

What I have described above is “mindless eating” – eating without intention or attention5.

A healthful and pleasurable approach to eradicating mindless eating is “mindful eating”. It is a strategy that has roots in the concept of mindfulness in Buddhist meditation6.

I know this was cheesy.

I know this was cheesy.

Mindful eating consists of paying full attention to the experience of eating and drinking inside and outside the body7. This involves perceptual attendance to the physical characteristics of the food such as colour, smell, texture, flavour, temperature and even sound; as well as the somatic experiences of hunger and satiety. In conjunction, attention is paid to the mind to observe when it gets distracted during eating, when impulsivity arises in relation to food, and how the experience affects mood8.

Eating mindfully can contribute to the development of a balanced, wholesome relationship with food by facilitating a learning process through which an understanding of how food affects the mind and the body can be reached9.

So the next time you find yourself sharing a meal with your work, consider taking a break and making eating an experience rather than an evolutionary formality.

To discover more about mindfulness and mindful eating on campus, check out Mindful Mondays and Mindful Eating: Food & Mood.


The Juggling Act

The concept of “living a balanced life” has always been such an elusive one for me.

Growing up, I maintained a relatively erratic lifestyle, and I carried that into my first year of U of T. I’d sleep 3 hours one night, and crash for 15 hours another (no doubt after I had stayed up for at least 36 hours cramming for a paper).  I would go two days without a proper, substantial meal one week, or spend 4 hours in the cafeteria every meal, going back for fourths, and sometimes even fifths. One weekend I’d be out with my friends three nights in a row, but the next I’d neglect to do my laundry for fear that I’d waste precious “studying” time by having to fold clothes instead.

The worst of it was that I thought I had this lifestyle down to a carefully calculated system. To me, the “balance” I found was within two extremes, wrongfully thinking they’d somehow cancel each other out. Needless to say, everything started to take its toll on me – I started to get more severe mood swings, I started crashing for longer periods, and I frequently began to fall sick at least every two weeks.


How I ended up feeling most days.

Second year came around and many of my habits remained the same, but I noticed that subtle changes helped drastically improve certain aspects of my life.

I joined intramural volleyball again, but this time, I made it a point to attend practices and games weekly.  I hadn’t played competitively since my high school varsity team got cut back in junior year, but it didn’t matter – I still loved the game, and playing on a regular basis made me remember how good it felt to exercise. The endorphin rush was just what I needed to kickstart a day of studying after practice. I traded in going out every night of the weekend to give my body a chance to rest and recuperate from a hectic week of school.

Instead of listlessly doing mass sign ups for campus group memberships at the UTSU Clubs Fair (with my actual involvement going only so far as to just receiving the email updates), I decided to get more involved in Friends of MSF, a campus group that advocates for a cause I feel passionately about.

All these little changes began to make me feel better – as clichéd as it sounds, I felt more purpose day-to-day and it was refreshing to make friends with people who actually cared about the same things I cared about and who were actually excelling in school (not just getting by!).

The art of balancing life here at U of T often feels like a precision juggling act – we look to those who seem to have it all figured out as mythical creatures who have achieved the impossible and managed to maintain a life where “work hard, play hard” really does exist.

I’ll let you in on a secret – those people who seem to always get it right are not so different from you and I. They’re just doing everything they love with the right amount of time commitment to each endeavour.

I still struggle greatly with healthy eating habits, studying smart (not the same as studying hard!), and keeping an active lifestyle outside of intramural season, but my experiences have only taught me for the better (and I’ll definitely be keeping you guys updated on my progress along the way). Now that I’ve gotten a taste of a more balanced life, I’m determined not to let it slip away.


I’m still working on figuring out the magic formula to have all three.

P.S. If you have any advice to give incoming first-years on balancing academics with personal life, tweet us and don’t forget to hashtag #StartUofT!

It’s Crunch Time!

It’s crunch time! I mean that literally because I have a twenty page paper due in a few days that is still in the midst of being born from my mind. I also mean that figuratively because during what has been a very painful three day essay writing marathon, I have been relieving my stress with crunchy food.

So I started on Friday night with carrots, a healthy option. These provided me with the crunch I was seeing and had the extra bonus of not messing up my writing space. This healthy option sustained my need for crunch for the night.

Saturday was required a snack with a crunch slightly more extreme crunch factor. This is why at 11pm on Saturday night instead of writing my essay I was searching through my storage room for my deep fryer. I found the fryer and proceeded to make these little wonders…

Beer battered onion rings my fellow students…mmmmmmmm! Admittedly not the healthiest of snack options, but with all that essay writing I deserved a treat. And also, onions are a vegetable…let’s justify it like that.

These are fast and easy to make…get an onion, slice it into ring and pop out the centre of the rings, in a bowl mix up some flour, salt, baking soda, and cornstarch and and then stir in a cup of your favorite beer. (If you don’t drink alcohol you can actually replace the beer with water.) Dip your onions in the batter and fry for 3 mins in oil warmed to 375 degrees.

So that was Saturday. On Sunday, i was feeling guilty for eating so many onion rings so I turned to another crunchy alternative that is a bot more healthy than onion rings. Toasted pita with eggplant dip.

The recipe for this is a bit more involved than the onion rings, so I’ll post the link here. This provided a low fat option that gave me the required saltiness and crunch that I was craving.

Three straight days of writing is exhausting. I don’t usually do this. I like to start my papers nice and early, but this term I simply ran out of time. Now I find myself scrambling to finish the list of assignments on my calendar that are all due next week.

I find taking a few minutes to eat something really good makes weekends like this not as bad. It’s a treat for every few pages I finish. It wards off sleep and lethargic writing.

If my tummy is happy then my brain usually works a lot better!

Happy writing people.



Student Burn Out — Stressful Times Call For Simple Measures

Most of us have days when we feel overloaded, overwhelmed, and underappreciated. When the dozen or so balls we keep in the air aren’t manageable. When dragging ourselves out of bed requires the determination of Hercules. It’s called burn out. If the “lacklusterness” of school or my day-to-day routine lasts for over a month, I consider myself burnt out. But it helps in knowing that I’m not alone and that it’s not permanent. I’ve even found that it is possible to feel content and stimulated with a full course load! All it requires is a little bit of organization and a whole lot of motivation. Burn out may visit from time-to-time but it definitely doesn’t have to stay!

This school year, I have experienced greater levels of burnout than I normally do. I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve entered my senior years of university and have to start making concrete decisions about the rest of my life or if it’s because the stress of the past several years has built to the point of overflowing. In any case, the emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion that I have felt the first few months of the academic year have rendered my problems insurmountable.

I suppose that the stress of managing 5 courses, 3 on-campus jobs, and a handful of personal and professional relationships was bound to take its toll sooner or later. This past semester, every day was a bad day. The negative effects of my burn out spilled into other aspects of my life. To top it off, I was sick with headaches, stomachaches, toothaches, body aches (you get the picture!) for most of the semester.

Thankfully, after several sessions of personal reflection, I’ve been able to reassess my priorities and regain my footing. When I finally accepted it for what it was, I decided to simplify my daily activities to regain control of them. I started taking regular breaks while studying. I stopped thinking about Tasks 3, 4, or 5 when I wasn’t even done Task 1. I changed what I ate to spice things up. And I wrote. I wrote down my frustrations on a piece of paper and read them out loud. Then I ripped up the piece of paper into as many pieces as I possibly could. I can’t describe how liberating it felt. And over time, the burnout faded away.

Since then, I’ve taken several steps to prevent another burnout from becoming a full-blown breakdown:

1) Lately, I’ve been starting every day with a relaxing ritual. Rather than jumping out of bed the moment I wake up, I spend at least fifteen minutes every morning meditating, reading, or day dreaming. I’ve realized that stress-free mornings translate into stress-free days.

2) I’ve set boundaries, which has probably been one of the smartest things that I’ve done during my undergrad years. I’ve started to say “no” to requests that demand my time and willpower. Saying “no” to certain requests has allowed me to say “yes” to the tasks I truly want to accomplish.

3) I’ve resolved to take a daily break from technology. Once a day, for at least half an hour (better than nothing!), I completely disconnect – shut off my computer and turn off my phone. Somehow, I find it strangely comforting when I can’t be contacted for short periods of time.

Experiencing burn out, whether or not it’s full-blown, is a risk of being a student (especially at UofT!) Some months look bleaker than others and that’s okay. It’s important to remind ourselves, however, that the best part about burn out is that it’s temporary.

Stay healthy,


Goals That I Probably Will/Might/Probably-Won’t-But-Like-To-Tell-Myself-I-Will Accomplish This Year

Hello bloggies!

I hope you enjoyed your holidays!

I feel like I haven’t posted since last year. (Ha, see what I did there?)  I’ve spent the past few days trying to actively pull myself out of Holiday Mode (somewhat unsuccessfully I may add).  I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions because I forget what I resolved to do come January the 2nd.  But in an attempt to remind myself that I can’t lie in bed forever, I wrote up a list of goals that I probably will/might/probably-won’t-but-like-to-tell-myself-I-will accomplish this year:

1) Express my appreciation to family and friends: We live in a fast-paced world and it seems that saying “thank you” has become underrated. And so, despite having a “Go! Go! Go!” mentality, I want to spend 2013 slowing down and smelling the roses.

2) Try new things: I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I don’t like change.  I prefer predictability.  I’m used to ordering the same thing at a restaurant, shopping at the same stores, and watching the same shows.  Needless to say, my world can get somewhat repetitive and uninteresting. In 2013, I am determined to try the strangest dish on the menu the next time I go out.  Or shop at the small vintage clothing store between the bank and the bakery.  Or watch the slightly questionable T.V. show that all my friends are crazy about. I’ll mention the new things I try in a follow-up post! Stay tuned!

3) Get my G2…finally: I realize that most 20-year olds have a driver’s license by now.  But I have an excuse, I promise!  When I was 16, the “I can finally drive now” realization didn’t hit me as hard as it hit some of my friends.  And when I entered university, the subway was more practical than a car, so it became very easy to put off my driving test. But it’s probably time to get on that.

4) Watch a football game: A friend of mine is football-obsessed. Truly. He actually schedules his classes according to game timings. (I know!)   He’s been begging me to watch a game since I’ve met him.  And because I’m athletically-challenged, I’ve been avoiding it as long as I possibly can.  But sitting through a game would be the perfect way to achieve Goals 1 and 2 (see above).  So I hereby decree that I will force myself to watch 22 sweaty men chasing an inanimate object football at least once this year ;-).  If I’m honest, though, this is one of the goals that I probably-won’t-but-like-to-tell-myself-I-will accomplish in 2013.

5) Complete all readings for my courses in the week that they are assigned: Seems like the easiest way to avoid procrastination, right?

6) Fit in fitness: Have you ever noticed that laziness gives rise to more laziness?  I always seem to get more accomplished when I am swamped.  I recently found a mobile app called MyFitnessPal that calculates your caloric intake based on food choices and activity level (  I’m planning on using it to track my diet and exercise.  It’s not about losing weight.  I’m just hoping that keeping a “Fitness Journal” of sorts will reduce the amount of junk food I eat!  Maybe adding regular exercise/fitness to my schedule will increase my productivity ten-fold!  Wouldn’t that be lovely?

Looking at my list, I’m proud to say that many of my goals seem doable and realistic.  I might actually achieve them!  If I do, I’ll let you know. And if I don’t, please remind me!

Good luck with your goals this semester! I hope 2013 is your best year yet!

Till next week,


Fake it ’till Ya Make It

This is how I feel about my classes starting today.

Welcome back to mayhem. For me, the winter break has been one of rest and relaxation, balanced with an above average daily intake of food. While my mind is somewhat ready to get back to classes, my body is not exactly co-operating. There may be some kind of sub-conscious biological operation at work.

In the next few weeks I will need to muster some motivation to get my body to class. I would much rather be feasting and napping…the combined content of my winter break. Instead of looking for cheap texts online, I find that I have inadvertently  typed in the address for discounted Caribbean travel. I’m dreaming of escape and I haven’t even attended my first class of the term.

So what’s a vitamin D starved student to do? Well I could take to daily tanning sessions. I could spend my reserved text book fund on a cheap cruise to Roatan. I could take a nap instead of going to class tonight. I know I won’t actually do any of these things. I’m far too predictable for that, but I can do some things to get my head and my body back in the school game.

I have found that the ritual of clearing out last terms binders can be inspirational (sorry if you take e-notes this exercise looses some of its tactile satisfaction). I enjoy dumping binders of old notes into old boxes. It’s liberating and as soon as they’re empty and have been refilled with gleaming white rule, I get the urge to write on the pristine pages. This urge is comparable with the need to walk on a lawn of freshly fallen snow. If anything newly emptied binders make me want to take extensive notes.

This is also the time of year that I like to empty out my backpack, particularly the little pockets that I can barely get my hand in. I always end up finding school supplies, that over the course of last term, I had completely forgot purchasing. Just today I found one of those white out pens and a pack of paper band-aids. If you’re lucky you might also find some lost TTC tokens, a few twoonies, or twelve packs of gum.

I’m not saying that these little rituals will get you to class this week, but they might ignite that back-to-school feeling. You know the one, you used to get it when you were ten and you got your new lunch pail and trapper keeper. As much as you and I might be less than eager to resume classes, you have to admit that having all your school gear in order helps to ease the pain. You wouldn’t feel very motivated to go for a 5K run in jeans and a leather jacket, but if you have all the proper running attire you could at least fake it for a couple of blocks.

Whatever gets my over-stuffed body back into that uncomfortable lecture hall seat is good enough for me. Even if I’m faking it for the first few days…if you pretend for long enough, it becomes your reality.

I wish you all a painless first week back!






Looking for lunch?

As a commuter student, I’ve become accustomed to packing food (sometimes two meals worth!) and lugging it with me for a full day on campus. I’m the girl who always sits next to the aisle so I can accommodate my bulging backpack AND my handy shoulder bag that carries all my food for the day. But sometimes I run out the door without any sort of substantial meal in tow and I end up having to buy food somewhere to keep me going.

Well, last week saw one of those days, and off I went in search of some yummy healthy food that wouldn’t break the bank. And that led me to… Harvest Noon!

What is Harvest Noon? Well, in a nutshell: AWESOME! But to be a little more informative, it’s a fairly new café/co-op* located on the 2ndfloor of the Graduate Student Union Building. It’s all about serving up local, sustainable, wholesome food that is both delicious and affordable. And to top that off, it’s fast! Despite the steady flow of people in and out, my plate was ready to go before I even finished at the cash. It looked and smelled so good that I almost forgot to take a picture before I dug in:

I had the “Bumper Crop” – Butternut squash and pear soup with a side salad, flatbread and bean dip (hidden under my bread). So yum!

The café is open Monday to Friday and lunch is served starting at 11:30AM until they run out. It’s a great place to stop for a quick snack or (fair-trade) beverage, and you can even purchase a fresh loaf/half loaf of bread on Tuesdays! They’ve got vegetarian and vegan fare, with gluten-free options often available. Here’s a snapshot of last week’s menu along with their menu philosophy, which I think is really cool:

If you want in on more deliciousness, Harvest Noon welcomes volunteers of all experience levels. In fact, a little while ago, I read on their website that they were looking for volunteer bread bakers.  I eagerly went out this week to help them do just that! The small bread-making group gets together every week to bake fresh bread in-house and prepare a big container of hummus in the cozy little kitchen.  Both were super tasty, and I plan to continue volunteering there throughout the year.

Exercising is great, but before you can get moving your body is going to need some energy! If you haven’t already discovered Harvest Noon, I encourage you to check it out next time you need some good food to fuel you through the day. I also hear they plan to host a bread-making workshop and pot-luck dinner next month… so keep checking back, or find them on Facebook to get their latest news!


*Membership to the co-op is not necessary to eat at Harvest Noon, but non-members will be charged an extra 10% on all purchases. Becoming a member is as easy as donating $5 or signing up to volunteer for at least 2 shifts.

Why I Love Hot Dogs

Hi everyone. Nice to meet you! I’m Crystal, your new summer lifeatuoft blogger. I’m pretty excited – it’s not every day you can say you’re blogging for U of T. How’s that for a unique resume? I’m planning to explore Toronto and U of T a lot more this summer, and am hoping that I can blog about it. If there’s anything you want me to find out about, or write about, let me know in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do. I’m not a native Torontonian, so anything and everything is an adventure to me.

I think I’ll start off my lifeatuoft blogging career with one of my first memories of U of T. They say that our sense of smell is keenly linked to our memories. For me, that’s always been the case. The smell certain laundry detergents remind me of my mom. A whiff of cologne can me remind of my friends back home. The smell of lemongrass always reminds me of Asia. The smell of hot dogs always reminds me of my first year at U of T.

One of my favourite memories of first year was figuring out that the trucks and stands were here to stay. I remember being completely fascinated with the concept of truck food. Did you really buy food off of trucks? That is actually a thing here in Toronto? Back where I come from (it’s called Edmonton – have you heard of it?), truck food didn’t exist. If I wanted a hot dog, I would have to walk across the street to the mall and get one from Orange Julius; none of that “hundreds of toppings” business. It was either a chili dog or it wasn’t.

My first-year suitemates had to reassure me, “Crystal. Those trucks will still be there in the winter.”

“But it’s so cold!”

“Don’t worry, they’ll be okay,” they replied with a comforting pat on my back.


“Shh. It’s okay…” And that was that.

There was always this one guy at the corner of College and St. George, in front of Koffler Centre, that I would always go to. I was convinced his sausages were the best – back then, he had the cheese sausages, and everyoneknows that they’re absolute heaven. He still is the nicest hot dog guy I’ve ever met. Many of my classes and exams happened at that end of campus, so it became a thing for me to have a “lucky hot dog” before every exam.

Since then, the smell of grilled hot dogs has been etched into my mind. Every time I walk down St. George Street, I am reminded of all the hard work and harder times I’ve been through since I got here. Call it a literal walk down memory lane. It wasn’t not easy getting into U of T, and I daresay it’s even harder to stay in. When the going gets tough, I get going… to a hot dog stand. Its little things like a yummy piece of street meat during a study break that really helps me put things in perspective.

Overworked? Over stressed? Have a hot dog.


Interested in truck food? Join the Toronto truck food movement. They even came to U of T!