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Your eating habits will definitely change, but not always in the way you’ve been told.

Forget the Freshman Fifteen, Here’s What Students Need to Know About Food in College

Three Truths and a Pie

Your eating habits will definitely change, but not always in the way you’ve been told.

By Jessica Peña, University of Texas at San Antonio


“Freshman Fifteen” is a term everyone knows too well.

But here’s what no one tells you: fifteen can easily turn into thirty, and that’s not always weight gain—you might actually lose that much just as easily.

There are plenty of factors that come into play when it comes to how your eating habits go berserk when you move away from home and enter the broke, starving college kid world.

You might have thought you’d just hang out at your university’s fancy cafeteria and eat all you can whenever you want—I mean, it’s in all the brochures, right? Wrong. Besides being crazy expensive, most schools’ dining halls have specific hours that aren’t so easy to fit into a new, hectic schedule. Sure, it’s a viable option for some students, but it’s not for everyone.

That’s when things get sticky.

Student eating at cafeteria

If you live in the dorms, you more than likely will have no access to any type of kitchen or real cooking space. You might be able to have an itty bitty hotplate or microwave if your college allows, but it’s not exactly a five-star, stainless steel kitchen. So, if you don’t have time to swing by the cafeteria three times a day and you don’t have anywhere to cook, what do you do?

McDonald’s, Burger King and Chick-fil-a become your life. Permanent grease stains will appear on the passenger seat of your car, and all the employees will know you by name. Besides being detrimental to your health and weight, eating out so regularly takes a major toll on your feeble bank account.

Soon, a mini-fridge will become your newest roomie, and it’ll overflow with lunch meat and pudding (but at least it won’t steal your clothes or leave piles of dirty dishes in the sink.) Ever had a few slices of cold ham for breakfast or two pudding cups for dinner? You will.

Now, let’s say you’re lucky enough to live off campus in a real apartment with a functioning kitchen. That’s great! If you have to actual skills to cook anything decent, that is. Yup, you’re going to find out what you’re really made of in the kitchen when it comes time to have to feed yourself or starve.

It might seem pretty easy to fry up some eggs and toast a couple pieces of bread, but you’re in for a big surprise. Your mom can make it seem totally effortless—balancing three different pans on hot burners all at the same time while simultaneously managing not to burn or over-season anything. It’s a totally different story when you’re going at it all on your own.

You haven’t officially made it on your own until after you’ve overcooked a pot of ramen noodles or made scrambled eggs so salty they’re completely inedible.

Still, with all these factors already working against you, things only get more complicated.

Even if you find yourself able to overcome these obstacles (get a kitchen and learn to cook), there are still plenty of other challenges standing in the way of a healthy lifestyle.

Yes, stress eating when midterms and finals come around is a real thing and it will kick your butt. Do you know when a Whataburger bacon and egg biscuit tastes the best? It’s at 3:00am during a little break from an all-night cram session.

You won’t know how, but boxes of Little Debbie and mountains of Doritos bags will find their way into your room.

Somehow, against your own will and better judgment, these delicious, high-calorie snacks will climb into your wildly bored mouth as you type out a five-page paper every other week.

Toward the end of the semester when financial aid has dwindled and finals have you in their life-sucking grip, it’s easy to get hazy, lazy and crazy.

You’ll eat way too much junk or you’ll forget to eat all together. You won’t have the energy to boil an egg so you’ll order take out that you can’t afford. You’ll throw weenies and ketchup on a slice of bread with a slice of cheese in the microwave and call it a pizza.

All of this on top of not being able to find any time to get in a real, productive work out. Like ever.

It’s difficult, unhealthy and sometimes just a little gross. But it’s real, and you need to be prepared. So, some advice.

First of all, you need to find exactly what works for you.

If the cafeteria is your best option, go for it! You might have to schedule your classes around the dining hours, but at least you’ll be able to leave the cooking to the professionals.

For those of you living in the kitchen-less dorms, there are cool recipes and healthy ideas for you to get in your three square meals per day. The lack of a full kitchen shouldn’t hold you back.

Cooking shouldn’t have to be a handicap either. You can leave the cooking channel on in the background while you study, and some schools even offer free/inexpensive cooking classes. Take advantage of the luxury of having a kitchen, get your bloody arse in there and make yourself into the next Chef Ramsey.

Things to stay away from: fast food and binge eating.

Sure, a big ‘ol burger now and then is no big deal, but doing the drive-thru dance on the daily will get you to that Freshman Fifteen before your first Spring Break. Plus, you’ll run out of money by summer.

It’s easier than you may think to forget to eat for a couple days once the hellish reality of juggling college, friends, relationships and life sets in. But that doesn’t justify stuffing your face until you’re able to roll the next day. Study sessions are another trap for boredom/stress eating that you must find the will power to fight. It’s seriously not worth the extra pounds that make you breathless after just one flight of stairs.

Money can be one of the biggest issues any college student will face—especially when it comes to food.

If you’re looking to eat out, a lot of places near universities will actually offer a student discount. Just ask around.

When it comes to groceries, you can look into getting food stamps. It’s pretty easy to qualify as long as you’re a full time student and work at least twenty hours per week. Don’t worry, the government knows what it’s like to be broke while trying to get an education and they’ve got your back.

You’ll probably have to learn the hard way, but you’ll learn nonetheless. Eating in college is its own beast. Good luck slaying it.

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