Living the College Life: Tips for Maintaining Healthy Eating Habits

Students taking notes

Whether you have struggled with an eating disorder or not, going away to school can present challenges in maintaining a healthy, balanced eating pattern. Below are some tips to consider as you settle into the collegiate lifestyle.

Maintain a consistent eating pattern

We know from both research and clinical experience that maintaining a consistent 3-meals-plus-snacks pattern decreases eating disorder tendencies (1). It also ensures that your body is receiving the energy and nutrition needed to support the life of a busy college student. Remember, you are feeding both your brain and your body.

Mind your macros

College cafeterias can open up almost endless food choices. Remember what your meal plan emphasized, balance your meal with foods that provide protein, fats and carbohydrates. Avoid falling into diet fads that restrict one food group or another. A balanced meal provides balanced energy and satisfaction, which prevents feeling overly full or being hungry again quickly.

Beware the 24-hour open sign

College meal plans, student centers and dorm fridges can present almost continuous access to food. This can lead to mindless eating, bingeing or discomfort from the constant presence of food. Check-in with yourself, mind and body, when considering whether getting food at off-hours presents potential problems. If so, plan your trips to the café in advance and carefully consider whether or not to store food and beverages in your living space.   

Eat, drink and be mindful

Practicing intuitive eating can help you stay in touch with what your body needs and what you are hungry for. Dr. Susan Albers’ self-help workbook Eat, Drink and be Mindful, is a great resource for staying on the path of mindful eating.

Don’t get into food fights

A meal or certain food can sometimes take on too much importance. Try to not be overly rigid, controlling or worked up about any particular eating occasion. Practicing flexibility and openness to letting a meal just be a meal can help negate catastrophizing.  

Don’t struggle in silence

If you find that you are having disordered thoughts, slips, urges or behaviors, remember, help is available. Friends, family, treatment team members, school counselors, resident advisors and peer-support staff can all be valuable resources to address challenges that might arise when settling into this new phase of life.

References:

Overcoming Binge Eating, Dr. Christopher Fairburn, 2013, Guilford Press

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


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Hilmar Wagner, MPH, RDN, CD

Hilmar Wagner is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist (RDN) and Certified Dietitian (CD) in the state of Washington. Hilmar joined the Emily Program in 2006, and currently serves as the Training Coordinator for Nutrition Services and Clinical Outreach Specialist. In this role he initiates and coordinates training of new dietetic staff, dietetic interns and continuing education for nutrition services for all Emily Program locations. He has presented on a wide range of nutrition topics at local, regional and national conferences. Hilmar received his Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and Master’s in Public Health Nutrition from the University of Minnesota. He has worked in the field of eating disorders for the past 12 years. Hilmar has extensive experience working with clients of all eating disorder diagnoses in both individual and group settings. He has a particular interest in mindfulness and body-centered approaches to eating disorder recovery.

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