Dining hall food can be pretty awful to be forced to eat on a daily basis. Naturally, the only way to avoid the long lines and sub-par, repetitive meals is to stock up on snacks or meals that are dorm-room friendly — aka easily popped in the microwave and doesn't spoil easily.  

Pasta, oatmeal, and cereal practically saved my life first semester, but I didn't realize how centering my diet around these certain kinds of foods could be detrimental to my health until I stepped on the scale.  After taking a closer look at my diet, I realized that I had to learn to eat low-carb on a college campus, and there was so much for me to research in order for me to eat efficiently and nutritiously. 

Carbs Are An Important Macronutrient

bread, chicken
Alex Frank

Protein, fat, and carbohydrates are grouped into a unit known as macronutrients.  Macronutrients make up all of the food that you consume and each specific group offers you essential benefits (which is why it's crucial you get a balance).  Carbs are known to provide the main source of energy throughout the day, and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests that 50% of your diet should be carbohydrates.  

There are Different Types of Carbs

sesame seed, porridge, rice, corn, wheat, cereal
Sarah Silbiger

When you hear the word carbohydrate or carbs, you probably just think of things like bread or pasta.  Those foods are made up of grains which can be broken down into two different groups: whole or refined.  Whole grains literally contain the whole grain whereas a refined grain removes the part of the grain that gives texture and most of the nutrients.  Some products may be "enriched" with vitamins again, but they still lack the fiber lost in refining which is why 50% of the grains consumed are supposed to be whole grains.

ooking at carbs at a molecular level reveals that they're all composed of single chains of sugars.  The more chains that compose them, the more complex they are.  Complex carbs are found in potatoes, beans, veggies, and whole grains.

Simple carbohydrates are made up of only one or two sugars and these simple carbs make up the sugars in fruits and milk as well as in processed candy and sugary drinks.  Both complex and simple carbs are broken down by your body into a smaller form a sugar called glucose.  All of the cells in your body use glucose as their form of energy which is why your diet must contain carbohydrates.

Excess Insulin Prevents Weight Loss

bread, sweet, pastry, wheat, cereal, chocolate, cake, candy
Eryn White

According to the Mayo Clinic, insulin is the hormone in your body that allows your cells to absorb the glucose in your blood. When your blood sugar rises due to the consumption of carbs, your body produces more insulin to get the glucose into your cells.  When your cells don't need anymore glucose to function, insulin signs to the body that the glucose needs to be stored as fat.  

Eat Complex Carbs and Starches

sweet, cake, pastry, chocolate, bread

These types of carbs are digested and broken down more slowly because of the many chains of sugar.  They won't cause large spikes in blood sugar or insulin. Replacing simple sugars and refined grains with starches and whole grains is key.

For example, brown rice is a complex carb and it contains more fiber and protein compared to the "empty calories" in white rice. Potatoes contain tons of other nutrients and vitamins that are important for a proper diet and the starch and fiber will help you feel full longer. These changes will not only help you get essential vitamins, but you can eat the less of these than you would of the empty carbs because these are much more filling.

Eat Protein

omelet, spinach, sauce, vegetable, cheese
Photo courtesy of pixabay.com

This is definitely something you hear all of the time, but subbing out some of your carbs for protein can cut some unnecessary/unhealthy carbs while still providing energy.  It takes more for your body to break down protein which is why it is a popular macronutrient for weight loss. That being said, it important there is a balance kept between carbs and protein.

Don't cut either completely out of your diet. Eggs, meat, tofu and beans are abundant forms of protein and they're pretty easily accessible in the dining hall.  Throwing some hard boiled egg slices on a salad with chickpeas aka garbanzo beans is a reliant staple on the salad bar. Black beans and tofu are usually available in the vegetarian section of the dining hall as well.

Avoid High Sugar Foods and Drinks

This includes any type of dessert along with drinks like pop and even fruit juices.  Fruit juices may seem like they are healthy, but most of them have crazy amounts of added sugars and are stripped of their fiber.

Another secret source of sugar is cereal. While it's is easily stored and doesn't spoil for a long time, they often contain tons of hidden sugar. These types of sugars are also very easily broken down by your body and are quickly turned into fat.  Instead of buying a bowl of Fruit Loops or Trix, try grabbing a box of Cheerios or Honey Bunches of Oats to get some complex carbs in your diet.

Low-carb fad diets can be very dangerous to your overall health because they dramatically cut out one of your bodies main energy sources.  Instead, only cut out empty carbs that offer no nutritional value as well as any added sugars in your foods. If you can, focus on getting protein from eggs, meat and beans, and supplementing that with healthy sources of whole grains and starches to help you feel full longer.  This way, you can diet without being hungry all the time.  It's all about moderation.