Anytime you mention ‘college’, it seems like everyone likes to talk about the “Freshman 15” – the dreaded fifteen pounds all freshmen gain in their first year of college.
While the myth of the Freshman 15 has largely been debunked, studies have found that the rate of weight gain among freshmen is nearly six times that of the general population. That’s a scary number, and this trend in weight gain is usually contributed to the high-calorie fast food options, late night snacking, and sedentary lifestyle that college students trend towards.
It’s out of necessity, right? Nobody has time for cooking, so fast food is convenient. More studying means more sitting down, and late night study sessions mean late night brain food. Right?
I hear you, and I’ve been you. My freshman year of college, I gained 30 pounds. EEK!
But the truth is, healthy dorm eating doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to take up a lot of time. Being able to eat healthy is a skill, and it takes time and effort to build, just like any other skill. But once you do establish these healthy habits, you will have them for life – and it’s not impossible to do! I’ve gathered some essential tips that, when followed, will set the stage for keeping your mind and body healthy so that you can be the best student you can.
1: Learn to Balance Your Meals
I know that giant plate of pizza seems tempting, but learning to balance your meals is very important. What I mean by “balancing your meals” is to have a meal with the right ratio of protein (meat, fish, eggs beans), carbs (grains, rice, bread, pasta), and veggies (fruits and vegetables).
In general, half of each meal should be in the veggie group. The remaining half should be split between protein and carbs. A basic example would be two cups of broccoli, one cup of rice, and three ounces of salmon. For the pizza example, you could have a slice of pizza along with a salad, which would create a more balanced meal. While not every meal has to be 100% balanced, analyzing your plate for that ratio is a good habit to get into.
2: Drink More Water and Less Soda
Honestly I can’t emphasize this one enough. Just by cutting sugary sodas and sweet tea out of my daily diet, I lost five pounds of that weight in a month. Five pounds on one decision!
The easiest way to do this is to keep a water bottle with you at all times. In class, at home, at work, or studying. Find a nice water bottle that you enjoy and keep it with you! I recommend this Camelbak with a no-spill straw. It’s not expensive, easy to wash, and comes in lots of colors.
Drinking more water is one of the biggest tips of healthy dorm eating. Water is good for your skin, great for fat burning, and amazing for your brain. It’s one of the healthiest things you can do for yourself.
3: Avoid Snacking and Studying
This is the most common trap ever, and I’m so guilty it isn’t even funny. Who doesn’t snack while they study? I mean…brain food! Whole meals are eaten in front of essays.
But when you consider that a lot of the snack choices we make aren’t healthy (chips, Oreos, entire pizzas…) it definitely serves as a reminder to put the snack aside when you’re studying for the same reasons that dietitians recommend avoiding snacking while watching TV. It’s easy to get lost in your task and eat too much without even realizing it.
There are a couple of ways to avoid this one. The easiest, of course, being to completely separate your eating times and studying times. If you really love snacking and studying, choose better options. I like to slice up fruit and have it in a bowl at the ready. Whatever you do, don’t set the whole bag of chips at your desk. It’ll be gone before you know it. Instead, portion out a serving size and put the rest of them completely away.
4: Keep Your Dorm Stocked with Healthy Snacks
Of course, snacking is unavoidable, and there’s no reason to swear off of it altogether! Better choices are the key here. Instead of chips and Oreos, keep your dorm nicely stocked with some better-for-you options that you like.
My go-to snacks are fruit, cheese sticks, and veggie straws. Hummus and carrots, popcorn, applesauce, whole wheat crackers, and various nuts like almonds and pistachios are also good choices. Just make sure it’s something you’ll actually eat! Don’t forget a treat once in a while, too.
5: Try Some Microwave Mug Recipes
There’s no doubt that sometimes, you just get so darn tired of eating the dorm cafeteria food. Or maybe it’s raining and the dining hall is a five-minute walk in the downpour. Any of these scenarios make it very easy to fall into the trap of frozen burritos and mac n cheese cups. Even those get old after a while, and eating them consistently is so bad for you.
6: Exercise a Few Times a Week
I don’t know about you, but I find that I’m in a much healthier mindset if I’m exercising at least a few times a week. It’s easier for me to focus on eating healthy. In addition, I feel better about myself.
Of course, you don’t have to do long, intense workouts in the gym. Take an hour walk around campus a few times a week, or join a recreational sport. Exercising a few times during the week can drive you to want to eat healthier in the dorm – which makes it easier!
7: Keep a Food Journal in a Planner or App
When your focus isn’t on your food, it’s easy to overlook and underestimate how much you’re actually eating. The easiest way to combat this is by keeping a food diary or journal. Some planners offer this built in, and there are apps you can use to keep track as well.
That said, I offer you a challenge: keep a simple food journal. Track what you’re eating and review your choices. To make it even easier, I’ve created a printable weekly food journal where you can keep track of what you’re eating, how much water you’re drinking, and your goals for each week plus how well you feel you’ve done.
I will admit that this food journal is simple and doesn’t cover everything, like calories or nutrients, but it’s a fantastic start to tracking your habits and holding yourself accountable for your choices – both good and bad! I’m going to put together a post in the near future for those who are already more serious about their nutrition, so stay tuned!
So now you’ve seen that eating healthy in a dorm doesn’t have to be impossible. With the right tools it can even be easy – and yummy!