How to maintain a healthy relationship with food during college

Thursday, July 29, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

New eating patterns can be part of adjusting to college life, and weight gain is a common consequence.

It is important to form healthy habits early to avoid this unwanted side-effect of life on campus.

According to Nemours, a non-profit organization founded in 1935 by Alfred I. duPont devoted to children's health, freshmen typically gain three to 10 pounds when they first move on campus. The gain usually occurs during the first semester.

“I turned into an eating machine during my first year,” said former MU student Marcel Jones. “It took me a long time to get my freshman jeans to fit again.”

Nemours researchers say students gain weight for several reasons.

For many freshmen, it might be their first time living away from home, and they are free to independently devise their own meals. This increases the likelihood of succumbing to temptation.

Another reason could be increased study and workloads that comes with a decrease in physical activity.

The stress and anxiety associated with adjusting to a new lifestyle can prompt overeating. According to Nemours, freshmen often overeat to seek comfort.

“I just didn’t think about what I was eating,” said MU student Zach Casey. “I was eating to stay awake, eating to go to sleep, eating to calm down … and it wasn’t good food, either.”

According to the MU Student Health Center, students can observe a few daily rules to prevent weight gain.

  • Choose a mix of nutritious foods, including whole grains and at least three servings of fruit and five servings of vegetables.
  • Avoid highly processed foods, especially those with artificial sweeteners and preservatives.
  • Replace empty-calorie drinks such as soda and flavored coffee with water.
  • Keep healthy snacks in the room, to minimize temptation during night study sessions.

Dining halls on campus provide a variety of nutritious food to help students uphold these principles. Several places in downtown Columbia also have healthy options on their menu.

Here's a mealtime guide to downtown dining to give you a head start:


Panera Bread, 102 S. Ninth St.; open 6 a.m to 8 p.m Monday through Saturday; 7 a.m through 8 p.m Sundays.

Recommendations: The “Breakfast Power Sandwich” is served with eggs, cheese and ham on whole grain bread.  If that’s too heavy, Panera also sells single sourdough rolls, which have no fat, oil, sugar or cholesterol. It does have a high glycemic index, meaning you will feel fuller for longer.

Footnote: While Panera’s fruit smoothies claim to be low in fat, they are high in fructose (natural sugar). Fruit is deceptively high in sugar, and smoothies typically include several fruit servings.


Main Squeeze Natural Foods Café, 28th S. Ninth St.; open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m to 8 p.m; Sundays 10 a.m to 5 p.m.

Recommendations:  “Nell’s Seven Layer Salad” has a lettuce and cabbage base, and is topped with vegetables such as carrots, beets, tomatoes and cucumbers. It is served with a whole grain bread roll.

Main Squeeze also serves fresh fruit and vegetable juices, with no added sugar or flavoring. A popular choice is “Elvis Parsley,” made from carrot, celery, spinach, parsley and beet.

All items on the menu are vegetarian, and vegan choices also are available. Most ingredients are organic and sourced from local farmers. These are chemical free and have been subject to minimal processing.

Footnote: Natural and organic foods are not necessarily low in fat. Avocado is a common item on Main Squeeze’s menu, and is high in monounsaturated fat. Natural fats are essential for a balanced diet, but should be consumed sparingly.


Bangkok Gardens, 811 Cherry St.; open for dinner from 5-9 p.m Monday through Thursday 5 p.m to 10 p.m Friday through Saturday.

Recommendations: Bangkok Gardens serves predominantly Thai food, but caters to a variety of palates. You can choose your spice level preference for each dish, and can opt for plain sauces and marinades. Serving portions are generous, and staff allow patrons to take leftovers home.

For appetizers, freshly steamed dumplings with seasonal vegetables and meat are a popular choice (“Kanom Jeip”). These are a healthier alternative to fried dumplings, which also are on the menu.

For entree, aim for dishes that offer a vegetable base. “Lahp,” stir-fried ground pork or beef, is served on a bed of greens. It does not contain any complex carbohydrates like rice or noodles, which is preferable for an evening meal.

Footnote: Bangkok Gardens serves several curries. Although they are made with fresh ingredients, they are cooked in coconut milk. This is a creamy sauce which is high in saturated fat. All curry ingredients are listed on the menu, and given the large portion sizes, you should order dishes with coconut milk sparingly.


The Root Cellar, 814A E. Broadway; open 10 a.m to 7 p.m Monday through Friday; 10 a.m to 6.p.m Saturday.

Recommendations: The Root Cellar sells organic produce and specializes in seasonal fruit and vegetables. Produce is sourced mainly from local farmers, and is rarely subject to processing.

Raw foods and groceries can be brought back to campus. Aside from fruits and vegetables, these include nuts, organic cheese and whole-wheat bread. The Root Cellar also sells its own blend of granola, which may be eaten with or without milk. The granola made with local and organic nuts, grains and seeds and lightly glazed with Boone Farm honey.

Footnote: The Root Cellar’s sauces are made with natural ingredients and do not contain artificial colors or flavorings. However, they often contain olive oil and flour, which are high in calories. They should be treated as normal spreads and used thinly.


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