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I Hate How I Eat in College! How do I Stop Binge Eating? How Do I Prevent the Freshman Fifteen?

You've been in college for a few weeks, you've learned your way around the campus, you're in your schoolwork routine, and you're fully settled into your dorm room. But eating has not settled down. Maybe you are someone who always struggled with binge eating. Somehow now that you are in college, it is worse. Why is it worse, and what can you do about it? How can you stop binge eating in college?

student going grocery shopping

Why is Binge Eating Common in College?

To understand why binge eating is so common in college, it is helpful to understand why eating in general is different in college than it is at home. At home, you have a lot of food familiarity. You know what is in the cabinets and the refrigerator. The foods you want to eat tend to be available, and meal times are when you are expecting to eat. You grew up eating a certain way, so the foods you learned to want to eat are the foods your parents tended to purchase. The generous availability of food leads to a mindset of plenty--you can trust that there will always be the food you want available for you.

In college, everything is different. Dorms do not come stocked with groceries like your own home seemed to be. The meals are not what you grew up eating. Food in general is further away and not always there when you want it. This leads to a mindset of lack--you are always doubting that you will have access to the food you want.

When people are unsure if they will have access to the food they want, it leads to trying to get it all in when they can. When people do see food that is acceptable, they will tend to eat more of it. This is triggered by a fear that the food won't be there again.

Of course, when thinking about it logically, you can establish that you can get the food you want to eat. But the instinctive mind does not have a logical internal dialogue when you enter the cafeteria or when a roommate pulls out a package of chips to share.

For many people, it is the change in food environment and the food uncertainty that comes with it that leads to binge eating. Here are a few tips to help you stop binge eating in college.

How to Prevent Binge Eating in College

If only there was a magical formula to follow to prevent or stop binge eating in college! Of course that does not exist. But for those people who notice their binge eating is triggered by a mindset of food inadequacy, there are some strategies that can help.

Strategies to Stop Binge Eating in College

  • Stock your dorm kitchen like your home's kitchen. At home you know which foods will be in the kitchen, and you know you can always go get something to eat. Take a trip to the grocery store and stock up on the foods you are used to eating at home. This will help you feel that the foods you like are always there and plentiful.

  • Grocery shop like an adult. Don't only buy sweets and treats, although these are definitely appropriate to have as part of the food in your kitchen. Also buy the other foods you like to eat. Maybe it is frozen vegetables, fresh fruits, eggs, canned tuna, pitas, tortillas... Buy the foods you are used to eating

  • Plan shopping trips. Don't head out to buy food only when you need a snack. Plan ahead and shop regularly so you don't end up having moments that you have no food around.

  • Eat how you want you eat in "real life." It is easy to think of college as different than "real life" at home. Some people tend to think of it more like a trip or vacation. That can lead to vacation-like eating habits. Vacation eating habits are wonderful for vacation, but that might not be how you want to be eating regularly.

  • Remember that you live in your dorm. Your dorm is your home. It should have the food and food preparation equipment you want to have in your home. This may involve some adjustments for the limited space, but the aim is to stock your dorm like live there.

How to Stop Binge Eating in College

One of the biggest factors in how we eat is the environment. When our environment is different our behavior is different. One of the best ways to maintain your eating habits from at home while you are in college is to make your college environment imitate your home environment. For some people, this is a way to help stop binge eating in college.

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