I have had a request, from an incoming freshman who has heard too many horror stories about the Freshman Fifteen*, for a post on how to eat well while at college—i.e., while living in a dormitory and on a dining hall meal plan.
Here is what I know about general good eating.
"The best way to nourish your body is not by a) counting calories b) adopting a diet c) depriving yourself of dessert or any other foods. It's to listen to your body’s internal cues, and respond as best as you can."
One. You can listen to your body and give it what it wants; it knows when you're hungry, restless, full, or tired. Eat what will satisfy you when you're hungry, stop when you're full, sleep when you're tired, get out of your room and exercise when you're restless.
The body (clever thing) hasn't been conditioned the way our heads have been to think in terms of good foods and bad foods, diets and rules and plans and wagons, guilt and "self-control." It still knows what it needs and how it works. And shockingly, the way it wants things will generally keep your weight stable.
Two. If you strive to pay attention to what you're eating, you will enjoy your food more, notice when you get full, and be more aware of what will satisfy your body.
Three. Three regular meals plus snacks is the Best Way. Eating frequently in smaller amounts does wonders for keeping your mood, metabolism, and energy stable and your appetite under control.
Four. Restricting what you eat confuses your appetite and metabolism. Even if you overeat at one meal, it's best not to attempt to compensate at the next meal, or at your next workout. We don't give much credit to moderation and regularity in eating, but they work extremely well. (Imagine that!)
Oh, and? No offense, but dieting is a rubbish idea. It's crap for your health and crap for weight loss.
Five. Being thirsty can make you feel hungrier, but eating obviously doesn't make you feel less thirsty, so keeping well hydrated helps keep you from overeating without meaning to.
Six. Not every meal has to be perfectly rounded, but if you stay slightly conscious of what you've been putting in your body, you can adjust accordingly for any deficit at your next snack or meal. E.g.: If you feel like you've been low on protein, have a hard-boiled egg or some roasted chickpeas at your next study break. If you're feeling sluggish and you realize you have been subsisting primarily on carbs for the past couple days, tacking a salad onto your next meal will probably be a help.
I highly recommend reading "What is Intuitive Eating?" and this interview about beginning to adopt intuitive eating principles.
And what's different at college?
The dining hall where you'll be having many of your meals might be buffet-style.
This is where intuitive, mindful eating comes in. Overeating ceases to be a worry if you listen to your body. Your stomach doesn't want to be stuffed; it's either previous calorie restriction or emotional factors that make people overeat.
You have to choose your own snacks and keep them in your bedroom.
Hopefully your residence hall does have a kitchen where you can cook if you're so inclined, but the bedroom-snacks thing can make it easier to eat out of stress or boredom. Again, work on becoming a mindful eater, and be thoughtful about how the snacks you keep around will fit in with your dining hall meals. For example, when I'm at school the snack foods that I keep in my room are things like dried fruit, yogurt, almonds and roasted chickpeas, and not because I don't like sweets or carby things. Rather, it's because fruit and vegetarian protein are the things that my dining hall doesn't offer as much of, whereas it's pretty good at doing desserts, fresh breads, and cooked vegetables
But the dining hall doesn't provide all of your meals, most likely.
Some people are used to cooking when they leave for college; others not so much. For the meals you have to prepare for yourself, you kind of just have to figure out what's doable and affordable for you. Of course there's a ton of almost-prepared food to choose from in the supermarket (canned soup, freezer food, sliced bread and peanut butter and jelly, etc.), and sometimes that's all it feels like you have time for. For when you can dedicate a little more time to those meals, though, why not copy some of the simpler recipes your family uses? Or take a look in this free e-cookbook? You'd have to get some less-basic ingredients, but it promises that each of its recipes requires a max of 5 ingredients and 10 minutes to prepare.
There's nothing wrong with being a night owl (I love the late hours) and there's nothing wrong with eating at night, but 1) sleep deprivation can mess with your appetite, and 2) the quantities you eat should ideally taper off before you go to sleep. I think nights are when it's easiest to overeat. Probably the best safeguard against this is, as always, remembering to take notice of how hungry your stomach actually is: just because it's been six hours since your last meal and someone's ordering a pizza, that doesn't necessarily mean you're hungry for another full meal, especially if you've just been sitting at your desk. I tend to drink a lot of hot tea when I stay up late; it's good for when your mouth is hungry but your stomach isn't.
Accordingly, if your class schedule allows, you may be waking up at lunch time.
That's rather tricky. What I've found works best for me when I sleep in like that is to eat something small as soon as I wake up, and then wait until I'm feeling normal meal-type hunger signals (n.b. not the same as hunger pangs!) for my first meal. After that, proceed as normal, i.e. snack when hungry and have a meal sometime in the evening or late afternoon. I insist on having that morsel upon waking because I know it's not that I haven't gotten hungry; it's just that I slept through the hunger! Bottom line, the body still needs fuel to start the day, even if you don't feel like it and no matter what time it is.
Anything I haven't covered? Any advice of your own?
*which, it turns out, may be closer to the Freshman Five