Via Formspring: Thanks for your advice before! I have a question about eating. It’s probably the thing I struggle with the most. Based on the college life, what would one eat at let’s say, the dining hall?

Eating well in college is difficult. My experience was rather strange but since I switched around to five different colleges in five years, I feel that I had a pretty decent grasp of what it could be like for others.

My first year in college was a military school, so I was pretty much force-fed pre-planned meals to begin with. Weekends, however, were a completely different story! I can still remember all of the trips to the base commissary to pick up blocks of cheese. *sigh*

Then there was junior college. The only food I could eat was on campus from the bookstore. The selection wasn’t exactly exciting — mostly chips and soft drinks — and I ate out a ton. At the time I was still eating meat so I got a lot of cheeseburgers, chicken burgers, pretty much fast food all of the time. (That’s also when I gained the most weight, along the lines of 30 pounds!!)

When I transitioned into the state university, things were a little better but not my much. As an art student I had refined my coffee intake to about 60 oz. a day (terrrrrrrrrible!!!!!), only to be coupled with the finest Twinkies or cheese danish available (double terrible!). My food was limited to what I could find in the small food trailers nearby or in the bookstore. My efforts to eat healthy — i.e. cottage cheese, fruit juice, etc — were sidelined when the school realized that no one ate healthy in the first place and ended up accidentally selling me food that had gone bad. So I went back to my coffee and pastries lifestyle.

In my last semester of college they had just put the finishing touches on a food court inside of a brand new student union. Lots of different types of food was available, like Pizza Hut and fried chicken, and they even built a pub on the second floor. Unfortunately the healthy food was regulated to ONE small cooler tucked away in a corner. There was fruit, packaged sandwiches, NAKED juice, vegetables, etc. It was fresh but the produce was not organic, so it tasted radioactive. I subsisted on meal bars and shakes since I didn’t find any of the food particularly good, nutritious, or filling.

That said, unless you’re at a school that is very health-conscious, you will probably find yourself surrounded by the exact same scenario. Unfortunately, universities are prone to sponsorships and brand placements, just like sports team and supermarkets. Honestly, your best bet is to pack your food from home or to drive off campus to a market to pick up some goodies for the day. If you can, pre-plan your meals and snacks. Pick up everything you need on an off-day, and put together your meals ahead of time. It’s easier said than done but I prefer this method over having mini-freakout sessions during the week about where I’m going to pick up food since I didn’t plan ahead.

This will obviously depend on what part of the country/world you live and if you commute to school or live on campus. As much as it might be a time drain, you’ll be surprised at how much money you’ll save to do cooler things (like go on a fantastic spring break trip or enjoy your weekends off from work) and how you won’t gain any weight but everyone else will.

Plan ahead but also plan for some cheat meals. Don’t forget to enjoy the college experience and what goes with it. Sometimes it might mean grabbing a pizza with friends or kicking back a drink or two (when/if you’re of legal age). Just keep things in moderation and you should be fine!

Also, you will probably struggle less with eating if you couple it with exercise. By exercising, you’ll probably feel healthier and will opt to eat better as to not undo the exercise you just did. It’s kind of like a self-fulfilling prophecy. Exercising gives you a reason to eat better, and if that’s the motivation you need to keep with good eating habits then so be it!

Ask me anything