Tips for Eating with Diabetes in College

Throughout the month of September, the Joslin Blog is highlighting stories about going to college with diabetes. Be sure to check in next week for updates and tips on how to navigate college with diabetes! 

Photo via Bowdoin College

College is often the first time students with diabetes are learning how to manage their diabetes on their own. This means you are responsible for your own eating habits. With a jam-packed schedule and inconsistent mealtimes, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet in college, which can be tough on your diabetes. Joslin Diabetes Center’s Adolescent and Young Adult sections offer tips on navigating the challenges that dining halls and meal plans pose to students with diabetes in college.

Limit Your Unlimited Meal Plan

Most college dining halls offer a number of different meal plans for their students. Many freshmen will enroll in an unlimited meal plan, and will suddenly find themselves with access to free food in their dining halls. Try not to treat dining halls like an all-you-can-eat buffet by making a plan for what you’ll eat beforehand, or walk around and decide what you really want before getting in line. If you go back for seconds, consider getting more vegetables and fruit instead of high-carb and high-calorie foods.  Going to the dining hall is a social activity, but lingering at the table may lead to additional munching, so make sure to remove your plate from the table after you’re done eating.

No Nutrition Labels? No Problem.

Another obstacle that students with diabetes face in dining halls is a lack of nutrition labels available for pre-prepared foods. It can be tricky to guess the number of carbs in some of your meals, especially high-carb ones such as pasta, Chinese food, or dessert. Fortunately, many colleges have registered dieticians on campus, or food services staff who can help you with choices or how to determine the carbs in the foods that do not have nutrition labels. Some dining halls even offer ways to weigh your food. If you go out to eat at restaurants around campus, consider downloading food apps on your phone to help you more accurately carb count, or ask the restaurant if they provide nutrition facts for their food.

Ever-Changing Schedules

We know it’s difficult for college students to eat balanced meals with busy schedules that change daily due to classes, work, and other activities. Establishing some sort of routine in your week will help you ensure that you have enough time to eat balanced foods. You might also find that your body reacts differently to the meals you eat in college versus the meals you ate at home. Try eating similar foods, in similar portions, at first so you can gage how your blood glucose will respond.  Another common habit that many students develop in college is skipping meals. If you find yourself on the go and can’t eat a meal at your usual time, carry a healthy snack such as an energy bar, package of nuts, fruit, or peanut butter sandwich to eat in between your classes to hold you over until you can eat a proper meal.

Late Night Eating

Eating snacks late at night is prevalent among college students, and it’s hard not to feel left out when the rest of your friends are indulging in fried foods, pizza, or other snacks. Whether you have diabetes or not, you should keep the late night snacking to an “on occasion” basis. If you do decide to participate in eating late in the evening with your friends, consider storing healthier snack options in your dorm room. Cheese and crackers, apples and peanut butter, popcorn, yogurt with granola, or trial mix are all nutritious alternatives that you can munch on instead of greasier foods. Or if you’re ordering takeout food, try sharing a sandwich, grilled chicken salad, or vegetarian wrap.

Aim for Balance

A healthy lifestyle in college is one that includes balance. Both exercise and mindful eating are important to help maintain a healthy weight and moderate blood glucose levels. Remember that there are no “bad” foods or foods that students with diabetes cannot eat; as long as you practice moderation and aim for balanced meals, there is no reason why you can’t still enjoy your favorite foods. For example, if you decide to have pizza, add a salad and an apple for dessert. Not only will this balance out the meal, it may help you feel fuller and you might find that you don’t need as much pizza to fill you up.

In case you missed it, check out last week’s post on tips on how to find and utilize diabetes resources on campus. And be sure to stop by next week for more information on how to adjust to dorm life in college!

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