The Dining Hall Dance

Ah the dreaded Freshman 15, which I’ve learned can actually apply to Freshman, Sophomore, Junior, Senior and Fifth years. If you add it up that’s a whopping 75 pounds! There is no way on this earth that gaining 75 pounds in college is healthy – forget acceptable. However, it happens, and it happens because of the dining hall. Where else in your life will you have a required dining plan that gives you access to pretty much unlimited food 24/7? My university essentially requires us to stuff our faces every year because own dining dollars don’t roll over. Maybe they’re hoping we’ll use the new rec center (where classes cost $50 a semester plus a $200 fee that’s part of tuition) if we’re a bit chunky.

If you’re like me you’ll soon realize that no matter how much you work out you can’t burn off all the unneeded calories in your unlimited pizza, never-ending pasta bowl, or even the salads (which should be healthy right?) in a single day. Now, you do need to take in calories each day, at least 1200, and definitely talk to your doctor about what your own body needs to stay healthy and functional. But it’s becoming increasingly obvious that abs are made in the kitchen – or dining hall.

So how do you stay healthy while eating on campus? You may not, but here’s what I do.

  • Avoid fast food like the plague. My school has decided that the majority of our dining venues will be restaurants – take out or fast food – like Chickfila (my weakness), Panda Express, Papa John’s, Denny’s and there’s even rumor of a Burger King. Needless to say, I limit eating at these venues to special occasions – or Fridays haha.
  • Know your options. Every school should have an online dining guide that lists available venues, what’s served, and the calories in each item. I personally like to sit down at the start of each semester and look through the nutritional information for items I eat regularly. I’m all about tracking my calories (it’s a great idea if you’re trying to lose weight – try myfitnesspal), but even if you don’t keep a food diary it helps to know the general nutritional content of your favorite campus meals. For example, some of the salads at my dining hall are 3000 calories! while a meal at Panda express can be over 2000. Who would have thought? That’s enough to feed you for almost 2 or 3 days people! Forget about 3 square meals a day.
  • Spend at the campus grocery. One of my favorite way to use up my dining hall money is at a small convenience store we have in my college. Yes, it’s significantly more expensive than Publix or Kroger, but it uses up your money so that you can’t buy a pint of ice cream for breakfast. Stock up on lunch meats, diet sodas, water, crackers, PB&J, bread, toilet paper, paper towels, medicines…whatever you can find that will help you actually COOK your own food at home.
  • Don’t eat anything fried, creamy dressings/sauces, or super cheesy (aka a full calzone).
  • Eat only half of what you’re given. Portion sizes have exploded on college campuses. The homemade pizza in our dining hall looks healthy, but a slice is larger than my head – literally. I’m normally full after half of whatever is served, and I’ll take the other half home to have as a later meal. The point is to eat until your full. You’re mom didn’t cook this so you don’t have to clear your plate in order to avoid offending her.

Those are my tips for navigating the dining hall. Obviously, I’m all for indulging occasionally, but don’t go overboard. If you stay away from the unhealthy stuff for about 3 weeks, you won’t crave it anymore. Eventually you’ll realize that fresh healthy food tastes better anyways, and you’ll certainly feel better too.

Do you have any good tips for eating healthy on college campuses? I’d love to hear them! Comment now! 🙂

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