A Cheat Sheet for College Women (Or Anyone with a Busy Schedule) on Preventing Chaotic Eating and Weight Gain
College can be one of the best times of our lives. But it can also be one of the most chaotic. Living on our own for the first time, making our own schedules, figuring out meals in the dining hall or trying our hand at shopping and cooking can be a set-up for chaotic eating. And that can ultimately lead to unwanted weight gain.
College Scenario #1
Your roomie orders a large pepperoni pizza at 11 pm. Even though you think you’re not really hungry, you end up eating your share. You justify it because, after all, you didn’t have breakfast so a second dinner should be okay, right?
College Scenario #2
You’re on the go from class to class. Before you know it, 7 pm rolls around and you haven’t eaten since you had an early lunch at 11 am, which was early because you skipped breakfast. You’re now starving and the easiest and most available food is the unopened box of cheese crackers on top of your mini fridge. You reach for a few, but in just a short time, the box is empty.
College Scenario #3
Money is tight after paying tuition, room & board, and books. You go grocery shopping with your roommate at a warehouse store and come home with several large boxes of cereal because they were on sale. Soon, cereal becomes your go-to breakfast, lunch and dinner. That and coffee.
At our healthy weight loss spa program, we help women understand why skipping meals, waiting too long to eat, and not having balance in food choices can throw your metabolism out of sync. Your body slows down because it doesn’t get a steady supply of fuel and doesn’t know when calories will come again. With poorly balanced food choices, hunger signals can be all too frequent and physical food cravings off the charts.
Help to find some structure in your eating and give your body the fuel it needs.
- Eat every 3-5 hours. The cardinal rule of feeding yourself well is to honor your hunger. That means to eat when you’re hungry. If you don’t always know when you’re hungry, eating every 3-5 hours helps keep your energy levels up and prevent overeating or stress eating later.
- Eat balanced. Give your body the nutrients it needs to work well. You get them from fruits and vegetables, protein foods, and grains and starchy vegetables. Try to include a mixture of all three groups in your major meals. See our Green Mountain Plate Model.
- Don’t sleep through breakfast. Eat within a couple of hours after waking; it doesn’t matter if you were up late and start your day late – breakfast is simply the first meal of your day. And it’s essential for healthy weight management. It doesn’t have to be a huge meal. Start with toast with peanut butter and banana, a bowl of cereal with fruit, or some fruit and cheese. Take an extra 10 minutes in the morning to get some food so you’re not ravenous by lunch and your body has fuel to run off.
- Stock your mini fridge, fridge or pantry. Veggie sticks, peanut butter, whole-grain crackers, fresh fruit, hummus, yogurt and nuts make great snack options. Also stock up on small containers for snacks to carry snacks with you. Smart snack options that satisfy and stick with you combine carbohydrates (like fruits or crackers), protein (nut butters or yogurt), and fat (cheese or nut butters).
- Quick scan your choices. Whether it be the dining hall or an all-you can eat-buffet, survey your options before deciding what to take. Salad bars are popular meal options, but make your salad really work for you by balancing it. Add lots of color, a protein (beans, tuna, chicken, nuts, cheese), a carbohydrate source (fruit, roll, beans, potato) and fat (salad dressings or nuts/seeds) to keep you satisfied until your next meal.
- Make the best of your options. Sometimes the only thing available is the closest vending machine. It’s not the end of the world. Remember that eating well most of the time should be the goal – not perfection. Just make the best of your choice and make your next meal more nutrient dense. Try these vending machine options: Trail mix, pretzels, granola bars, chocolate covered peanut M&M’s (more protein than most sweets) and popcorn.
- Shake up your take-out. Let’s face it — take-out is a fact of life. But you can make it healthier. Try ordering pizza loaded with veggies, or if you’re ordering a burger, load it up with tomatoes, lettuce and onions rather than cheese and bacon.
- Eat well on weekends, too. Weekend parties can mean late nights snacking and drinking alcohol. Eat regularly and well-balanced regardless. It will help you metabolize alcohol better and party snacks will be less appealing. Enjoy party food, but walk away from the spread to socialize. You can always go back for more, but stepping away decreases mindless eating. Always drink plenty of water but particularly when you drink alcohol, including before going to bed.
College provides endless opportunities to try new things. Take advantage of being on your own for the first time to explore your likes and dislikes. Sample new foods and learn what foods work best to get you through your day. Cementing healthy lifestyle habits now can help you prevent chaotic eating that gets in the way of long-term weight management success.