Simple Tips for Eating Healthy on Campus
By Jasmin Ilkay, MPH, RD
Reprinted from Eating Disorders Recovery Today
Winter 2006 Volume 4, Number 1
©2006 Gürze Books
Living on campus requires college students to determine when to eat with an erratic schedule and to be more responsible for their food choices in the dining hall. For those recovering from an eating disorder, the stresses of the college environment can make healthy eating feel impossible. Fortunately, eating healthy on campus can be achieved with a little bit of planning, common sense, and creativity.
1. Survey the Dining Hall
Before you begin to make food choices, walk around and see what your options are, as well as what appeals to you. Build meals around the food groups that you need. If you had a large pasta meal with little protein for lunch, build dinner around the protein options with lower amounts of grain foods.
2. Include Fruits and Vegetables
MyPyramid, the new US food guidance system (www.MyPyramid.gov), recommends four to six cups of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables are important sources of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and fiber. MyPyramid divides the vegetables into subgroups based on nutrient content: dark green, orange, starchy, beans and peas (if you are vegetarian, keep the beans as a protein), and others. Each subgroup should be eaten daily to maximize nutrition intake.
3. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Get into the habit of eating breakfast daily. Skipping it will make you feel tired and irritable, decreasing your ability to concentrate. Breakfast can be defined as eating within an hour of waking up, so for some, lunch may be considered "breakfast." A healthy breakfast should include some protein, carbohydrates, and a little fat. Low-fat yogurt and granola, or eggs with whole wheat buttered toast are good choices. If you are late for that 8 a.m. class, grab a whole wheat bagel with cream cheese and some fruit. Supplement bars (e.g., powerbars, zone bars, etc.) can be good on the go breakfast items as long as they are not consistently used as a meal replacement.
4. Stick to Whole Grains
At least half of your grain intake should come from whole grains. These include whole grain breads, oatmeal, brown rice and whole grain cereals. Although whole grains may be limited in the dining hall, breads and cereals are usually available and you can supply your dorm room with other whole grain favorites.
5. Stock Your Dorm Room
A majority of students have inconsistent schedules and study late at night. During these times, having healthy "on the go" snacks is convenient. Stock your room with healthy treats such as yogurt, granola, fruits, vegetables, hummus, popcorn, cheese and crackers. If you have a history of binge eating, buy individual sized portions, or portion your foods in plastic baggies. Avoid having foods that trigger binges in your room.
6. Plan Ahead
If you know that you are going to have a busy day, be prepared by packing a meal or snack. Skipping meals will just make you hungrier and increase the chances of bingeing or making unhealthy choices.
7. Enjoy Your Food
Include "fun foods" in your meal plan. Fun foods, such as regular soda, candy, baked goods and chips can be eaten as part of your "discretionary calorie" allowance, a concept introduced by MyPyramid. Discretionary calories are used to account for foods that are higher in sugar and fat or contain little nutritional value. Use discretionary calories to eat higher calorie forms of foods (such as whole milk, cheese, sweetened yogurt), add fats or sweeteners, or to eat or drink foods that are mostly fat or sugar. These foods can still be part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation.
8. Ask for Help
Assistance can also come from individual and/or group therapy with a team consisting of a medical care provider, therapist, and registered dietitian. With the support of these professionals you will be better prepared to face the challenges of eating healthy on campus.