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Intuitive Eating In College Vs. Intuitive Eating Before College

As people and children everywhere are getting ready to head back to school, I thought now was an appropriate time to share this post from Hope, my intern.

Hope will be comparing her experience with intuitive and “normal” eating while in college and before college. I hope you will find it insightful.

I’ll let Hope take it away!

When I look back at my relationship to food before college and compare it to now, so much has changed. I really wish I had Sarah’s Ebook about Hunger and Fullness before being surrounded by diet culture. 

More than anything else, my first year of college taught me that the definition of “eating healthy” is situational and incredibly subjective.

For instance, some people consider diet soda “healthier” than normal soda, simply because it has zero calories. Others claim that brown rice is “healthier” than white rice solely because it is a more complex carbohydrate. Regardless of the specific debate, there are no strict lines of what “eating healthy” is or is not.

I would consider my eating in both high school and college to be “healthy”, but my food consumption in each season has looked vastly different. In high school, I stuck to a well-rounded and diverse but generally nutrient-dense diet; I checked all the boxes on the food pyramid.

However, coming to college, eating has to be a ton more flexible, considering I mostly eat at the dining hall. So, here’s a glimpse into some ways my eating has changed or stayed the same throughout college.

As you’re reading these, I challenge you to consider how your eating habits have changed in different stages of your own life.

Stayed the Same: Struggling to Get Creative

Many of the similarities in my eating habits between high school and college revolve around the fact that I’m a creature of habit. I most definitely love to try new foods, but when I find a favorite, I probably won’t get tired of it for at least 3 years.

That being said, both when I’m home and when I’m at school, I tend to eat the same things, simply because I know how to make them and still enjoy them.

One practice that has helped me overcome my struggle with creativity is brainstorming meals at the beginning of the week. I divide a sheet of paper into two columns then write the meal idea in the left column and any needed ingredients in the right column.

While brainstorming, I often have both Pinterest and the Bucket List Tummy recipes or Instagram page open for ideas. Other people’s creations give me inspiration, plus I can adapt recipes to fit my individual preferences.

Stayed the Same: Go-To Snacks and Breakfasts

Normally, I eat breakfast in my dorm, and the last thing I want to do before my 8 a.m. class is wash dishes. For this reason, I have a pretty steady rotation of 8-10 breakfasts that I can prepare in 5 minutes or less and clean up in the same amount of time.

I especially dig pancakes (freezer pancakes, then microwaved) with yogurt and fruit, a toasted flatbread with avocado, or a hearty mug of instant oatmeal.

I eat almost all of my snacks when I’m out with friends or studying in the library. Whether I take this food to-go from the dining hall or buy it at the store, I mostly grab the foods that are easiest for me to take in my backpack.

Just like when I was in high school, I’m still a sucker for some good peanut butter and a not-quite-ripe banana, and the dining hall closest to my dorm even has both fresh-ground peanut butter and organic bananas.

Other favorites that have persisted include RX bars, beef jerky, and nuts (especially Thai Chili Lime Cashews and almonds from Trader Joe’s — mmm).

Stayed the Same: Prioritizing Protein and Healthy Fats

I developed a circulation disorder my freshman year of high school, so I generally have to eat more protein and healthy fats than the average person — and that’s completely okay!

Intuitive eating is all about giving our bodies what they need, and my body simply needs more of these macronutrients than most people’s bodies do.

snack with nuts and chocolate chips

Continuing to prioritize protein and healthy fats was key for my transition to college, as having a loose idea of the macronutrient ratios I needed actually allowed me a lot of freedom in what I ate.

For example, having a grilled chicken salad or pork tenderloin with roasted vegetables for lunch allowed me to enjoy ice cream or a cookie for dessert.

Overall, learning to balance my diet for my body’s needs while I was in high school allowed me to continue in the same pattern in college. I’m thankful for that. 

Changed: Eating Out

In high school, both my dad and I really loved to cook, so my family rarely ate out. Even then, most times that I went to restaurants were with my family. I’m grateful that my parents raised my brother and me to be adventurous eaters, so when we dine-out as a family, we tend to sample a new South American place, hit up our favorite Vietnamese restaurant, or experiment with another ethnic cuisine.

At school, I eat out a lot more often, considering cooking in the dorm is a hassle. Plus, going out with friends is a blast! We regularly hit up restaurants ranging from the bagel restaurant on campus to a sports bar in downtown Chapel Hill, but most restaurants we go to fall into the realm of mainstream “American” food.

Yeah, I still love ethnic food, but I’m never mad about a chance to have a crazy good burger.

Changed: Late-Night Cravings

When I lived at home, I really didn’t have late-night cravings. If anything, I enjoyed dessert before I went to bed because I exercised after school and needed to replenish my carbs. Still, I didn’t crave dessert every night, since most of my school days weren’t very active.

At college, I almost always have late-night cravings, and I literally only crave pizza.

overhead table view of pizza and water

Most days at school, I exercise plus walk anywhere between 5-8 miles, which is far more activity than I ever got in high school. More activity means my body needs more fuel to recover, so my cravings are simply my body reminding my mind to give myself that fuel.

Honestly, considering how much more active my college lifestyle is than my high school one, I’d be surprised if I didn’t develop this habit of bedtime snacking.

Changed: Obtaining Nutrients

I’ll admit it: I have a harder time eating a nutrient-dense diet when I’m at school than I do when I’m at home. At home, I have complete choice over whatever I put in my body, but at school, I only have choice within the greater scheme of what the dining hall provides.

That being said, the dining hall doesn’t have as many of my favorite green veggies, and a lot of the ground meat has corn or other binders in it.

I’m really grateful for supplements (and my mom, THE Supplement Queen). I hate pills, so I don’t take many, but I make sure to use them to supplement my diet and provide what my body needs more of, like they were designed to do.

For instance, my favorites are probably biotin and chlorella, as biotin helps with the beauty benefits of nutrients while chlorella supplies greens.

While some changes to my diet came more easily than others, I’m genuinely grateful for all of them. I’ll be honest — most days, I wish I could shop at Whole Foods and cook all of my own meals, but this season of dependency on other food sources is teaching me to be flexible with my eating.

And I’ll embrace this season of eating while I’m in it, because I’m fully aware that the next one will be vastly different.

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  1. Hope, Thank you for this post. I wish there was all this nutritional information back when I went to college. I didn’t think I was eating “unhealthily” but I sure was not eating with any consideration for health…Lots of pizza, beer and trips to McDonalds.