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Navigating the College Dining Hall: Tips to Maintaining Your Weight

Navigating the College Dining Hall - Tips to Maintain Your Weight

Written By: Samantha McCarthy, MS, RD/LDN

I must admit, one of my favorite things about college was the dining hall. You could get a delicious meal in less than 10 minutes all prepared for you and paid for by your parents. I never had to worry about going to the grocery store or not having enough food. The dining hall was always available.

This can be a good and bad thing for college students. The good part: you have healthy, delicious options available to you at all times. The bad part: you have unhealthy, delicious options available to you at all times. Temptation is everywhere and in unlimited quantities. Dining halls are typically buffet style so you could stack up 8 cheeseburgers and a pound of fries each meal with no issue. This availability of food is often what leads to the typical “freshman 15” and beyond.

How can you maintain your weight in this plethora of food? Planning and mindfulness. For many of us, dining out, whether it be at a restaurant, party, or college dining hall, is a free for all. We let down our guards and overindulge later regretting it. This is ok every once in awhile, but at college, all of your meals could fall into this category. That’s where trouble lies. We have to change our thinking when at college and remember that the dining hall is not a free-for-all. Imagine it is just like at home where you plan your meals ahead of time and control your portions. Follow the tips below to help you stay focused:

  1. Use small plates - try to find the smallest plates and bowls available so you don’t feel you have to fill and finish a huge portion.

  2. Avoid the areas with unhealthy options you can’t resist - if you know the grill area with burgers, hot dogs, and french fries or the dessert counter leads to bad choices, try not to stop at those areas. Stay in the safe zones where you can find healthy options.

  3. Look at the menu ahead of time - pick the healthiest option available and go for that when you get into the dining hall. Ignore all of the other options.

  4. Be realistic - allow yourself one indulgence here and there so you don’t feel deprived. Let yourself have some dessert during the week or indulge on some pizza. That way you are less likely to binge eat.

  5. Listen to your hunger cues - be mindful of your hunger levels and how you are feeling before, during, and after meals.

Avoiding the typical college weight gain is certainly doable with the right mindset. Avoid peer pressure and just focus on you. Listen to your body and feed it what it needs. Not only will healthy eating help you with your weight, it will also improve your energy levels and mental clarity making you a better student overall.

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