College is a time for learning. We learn from professors, we learn from upperclassmen, and we learn from our advisors. Among the many instructors at Washington University in St. Louis's is the campus dietician. At the beginning of the 2019 school year, WashU welcomed a new teacher to the learning community and a new member of the dining services team: campus dietician Rebecca Miller. 

Prior to her arrival at WashU, Miller worked as a dietician in New Orleans, helping a range of people from athletes, to kids, to diabetic patients. I first met Miller on move-in day in August, and I am excited to have the opportunity to get to know her over the next four years. Recently, we sat down to talk about the best ways to manage nutrition on a college campus. 

Nutrition on a College Campus

Eating on a college campus is definitely an adjustment for students, especially freshmen. It’s almost like eating at a restaurant all the time. You have less control over what exactly you're eating and more constraints on time and options. Navigating dining halls can be an intimidating and tiresome process, but Miller emphasizes that in terms of nutritional needs, food is exactly the same. “There are still ways to balance fat, protein, and carbohydrates,” she tells me, even in the dining hall. When she eats breakfast in a dining hall, Miller said she chooses oatmeal or an avocado toast with egg, and she’s excited to announce that a greek yogurt parfait will be coming to a dining hall near you very soon (including Bear's Den and the Village).

Check out more of Miller's WashU dining hall favorites below.

The Dreaded "Freshman Fifteen"

Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Miller, Washington University Dietitian

We’ve all heard about (and maybe even fear) the freshman fifteen, but what we don’t hear is that weight gain could come during any year of college, and it could involve any amount of weight. People can lose weight as well. But what leads to this dreaded fluctuation? Miller chalks it up to two main factors: skipping meals and eating unbalanced meals. When we skip meals, both our metabolism and energy levels drop dramatically.

“All of a sudden, we are running on empty, walking to class, doing homework and going about our day with no energy,'' Miller says. Skipping meals results in extreme hunger, causing students to choose heavier meals, such as chicken tenders and fries, later in the day. In altering meal patterns, we change our appetites. Eating fewer meals sends our bodies the message that we don’t need to eat, causing us to consume fewer nutrients throughout the day. Later, we crave bigger portions to make up for those missed nutrients. A lack of sufficient nutrients can also increase your chance of getting sick. Check out Miller’s post about staying healthy during cold season to avoid the infamous Freshman Plague (beware - even the upperclassmen can get it) 

To break the meal skipping cycle, try to incorporate more vegetables and proteins into your meals, whether that’s adding chicken to your stir fry or substituting broccoli in your half and half. Protein can also come from other sources like beans and chickpeas. You may have to station-hop to get in your veggies, but your body will thank you in the long run. Miller supports the idea that "a diverse meal is the best kind of meal". Variety in a meal means protein, complex carbs, fat, and vegetables. You can also keep a look out for newly-designed bear balance meals coming to campus in the spring.

Smart Snacking

cutie, tangerine, clif bar, studying, snacks, study snack, textbook, notes
Jocelyn Hsu

Students are overbooked and overworked, and that’s just the reality of college. We often sacrifice meals for the sake of time, and we may rely on snacking to get through the day. Sometimes, a snack and dinner is better than just dinner if it means your nighttime meal is more balanced and more controlled.

But Miller advocates for snack planning, both in terms of when we eat and what we eat. Planning and time management are on your team in the fight for good nutrition habits. Miller knows that as college students, we are always moving. "Is it more convenient to grab chips and pretzels as a snack?" she asks. "Yes. But planning a snack of apple and peanut butter or hummus and cucumbers), for example, will provide longer lasting energy due to the protein."

It's essential that students pay attention not only to what we are eating, but to our hunger levels between meals. If we are hungry between meals and snacks, that means we aren't eating the amounts of protein, carbs, and fats.

The Takeaway

coffee, tea, milk, mug, bed, cozy, Morning
Caroline Ingalls

Snacks are not an enemy, as long as they're planned out. Skipping meals or eating an unbalanced meal translates to fewer nutrients and higher hunger levels later, leading to mindless snacking. Mindless snacking can quickly escalate and get out of control, so be cognizant of your portion sizes. 

So what can WashU students learn from our campus dietician? Overall, Miller emphasizes that food is personal. Your schedule, your food preferences, and your nutrient needs are unique," she says. Be mindful of your body, and take a moment to think about your food, whether that's planning a sit down lunch with a friend or pre packing a snack to eat in between classes. College is crazy and unpredictable, but your food doesn't have to be.