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How to maintain a healthy eating schedule in college

College can be one of the most exciting transitions in a person’s life. For many, it provides the first taste of independence, with complete control over all the decisions that make up their lives, including their food choices. 

But without the structure they’re used to, it can be easy to slip from healthy eating into disordered eating behaviors, such as binge eating, drunkorexia, purging, and restriction - which are highly prevalent in US college students.1

And research indicates that eating disorders in college students are on the rise. A large-scale study on the subject reported a 13% uptick in eating disorder risk for college students, from 15% in 2013 to 28% in the 2020/2021 school year.2

Still, some tips can help you resist feeling overwhelmed by all these changes and curb or avoid unhelpful thoughts and eating behaviors.

 minute read
Last updated on 
December 28, 2023
Eating disorders in college students
In this article
Healthy eating in college

Maintaining healthy eating in college

Gaining weight is a common experience for many college students. And while health can be found at every size, there are some ways to stay accountable to a healthy eating routine in college.

Preventing disordered eating behavior in college can come down to instituting some healthy eating habits. Cultivating a solid routine can give you something to fall back on if stress or other factors impact how you start thinking about food or yourself.

Learn what a balanced diet is

Even in college, there can be more to learn, including the best way to eat for you. While there is no "right" diet or way to eat, it's helpful to consume a diet that includes a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals from various nutritious foods.

Some suggestions for the best ways to consume these macronutrients on a daily basis include:3

  • 1-2 servings of fruit or vegetables
  • 1 serving of carbs
  • 1 serving of fat
  • 1 serving of protein

Start with breakfast

Starting the day with breakfast is an almost-cliché piece of advice by now, but there’s a reason it always comes up: It’s true. Eating breakfast when you wake up (even if it’s not until the early afternoon) will help kickstart your metabolism, stabilize your blood sugar, boost energy, and control hunger pangs.5

Studies show that eating breakfast can be a mental health boon, boosting concentration, memory, attention span, and overall cognitive performance.6 On a practical level for college students, research has also shown that GPA increased significantly with the number of days students reported eating breakfast.7

Stick to a routine

Breakfast isn’t the only meal it’s important to eat consistently. The body is a fan of routine, and that’s especially true when it comes to eating.

Whether you like three square meals a day or smaller helpings throughout, sticking to a regular schedule for when you eat will help maintain a more stable energy source for your body, as your metabolism will be engaged at optimal levels throughout the day.8

If you know there will be a conflict in your schedule— such as a class or practice that pops up around mealtimes—plan ahead when possible. Bring a healthy snack with you instead, which will help your body stay on track and prevent you from getting over-hungry and making poor choices later.

Stock healthy snacks

It’s important to listen to your body’s signals and eat when hungry. Stock your dorm room with healthy, nutritious snacks, such as fresh fruit, protein bars, granola bars, unsalted popcorn, nuts, and seeds, etc., so you don’t reach for high-fat, high-sugar convenience foods when hunger strikes between meals.

Tips for sticking with your healthy eating plan

Making a plan is easy. Following it is less so, especially in an environment where anything could happen at any time. But that’s why every good plan comes with a backup plan.

Anticipate time crunches
Manage your dining hall options
Lean on social support
Get enough sleep
Don’t stress

Finding help for eating disorders in college

If you, a friend, or a loved one are struggling with bulimia nervosa (BN), anorexia nervosa (AN), binge eating disorder (BED), or other commonly diagnosed eating disorders, it's important to seek out help.

You may be able to find some guidance at your school's wellness center. Many college campuses offer additional resources and information for concerned students, and some even have more comprehensive mental health treatment programs for eating disorders.

Get help from wherever you are

At Within, our programs are tailored to each patient's specific history and needs, and through our app and website, the entire course of treatment can be followed at home, school, or wherever you are.

Get help today

Regardless, seeking help is an essential step that usually leads to a healthier and happier future.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Disclaimer about weight loss drugs: Within does not endorse the use of any weight loss drug or behavior and seeks to provide education on the insidious nature of diet culture. We understand the complex nature of disordered eating and eating disorders and strongly encourage anyone engaging in these behaviors to reach out for help as soon as possible. No statement should be taken as healthcare advice. All healthcare decisions should be made with your individual healthcare provider.


  1. Lipson, S. K., & Sonneville, K. R. (2017). Eating disorder symptoms among undergraduate and graduate students at 12 US colleges and universities. Eating behaviors, 24, 81-88.
  2. Daly, M., & Costigan, E. (2022). Trends in eating disorder risk among US college students, 2012-2021. Psychiatry Research, 317, 114882.
  3. Healthy diet. (n.d.). World Health Organization. Accessed November 2023.
  4. Peaslee Levine, M. (2013). Loneliness Updated. Routledge, 1st edition.
  5. Breakfast benefits: Energy, weight control, and more. (n.d.). WebMD. Accessed May 2023.
  6. Benton, D., Parker, P. Y. (1998). Breakfast, blood glucose, and cognition. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67(4), 772S–778S.
  7. Reuter, P. R., Forster, B. L., & Brister, S. R. (2021). The influence of eating habits on the academic performance of university students. Journal of American College Health, 69(8), 921–927.
  8. Manoogian, E. N. C., Chaix, A., & Panda, S. (2019). When to Eat: The Importance of Eating Patterns in Health and Disease. Journal of Biological Rhythms, 34(6), 579–581.
  9. Benjamins, J. S., Hooge, I. T., Benedict, C., Smeets, P. A., & van der Laan, L. N. (2021). The influence of acute partial sleep deprivation on liking, choosing and consuming high-and low-energy foods. Food Quality and Preference, 88, 104074.
  10. Molecular ties between lack of sleep and weight gain. (2016, March 22). National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on 15 November, 2022.
  11. Understanding eating disorders in college. (2022, January 19). BestColleges.com. Accessed May 2023.
  12. Eisenberg, D., Nicklett, E. J., Roeder, K., & Kirz, N. E. (2011). Eating disorder symptoms among college students: prevalence, persistence, correlates, and treatment-seeking. Journal of American college health, 59(8), 700–707.
  13. Black Becker, C., McDaniel, L., Bull, S., Powell, M., McIntyre, K. (2012). Can we reduce eating disorder risk factors in female college athletes? A randomized exploratory investigation of two peer-led interventions. Body Image, 9(1), 31-42.


How can I eat healthier in college?

There are many ways to maintain a balanced, nutritious diet in college. Planning ahead, stocking up on healthy snacks, instituting a regular eating routine, ensuring enough sleep, and de-stressing when needed can help with diet and mental health.

What are the risk factors for developing eating disorders in college?

While eating disorders impact people of all ages, genders, and body types, some studies show that factors like gender and weight can make a difference in who is more likely to develop eating disorders.

Some results showed female college students presenting at a higher weight were more at risk for developing eating disorders. At the same time, other studies found higher rates of these conditions among college athletes—once again, primarily females.1,13

Coming into college after already struggling with an eating disorder or related mental health conditions, such as anxiety disorders or depression, can also be a concern. If you're worried about managing these issues while at school, you can contact your university's counseling department.

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