Normalizing Meal Times at College

woman eating vegetables and balancing her meal times at collegeMany college students are playing a balancing act with a schedule that is often overloaded with many responsibilities, including keeping up with school work and academics, work and job duties, maintaining a social life, and more.  It is not uncommon for college students to have eating patterns and meal times at college that parallel their chaotic and busy lifestyle, with meal time becoming more about eating when time allows, on the go, between classes, and into the late night and early hours of the morning.

Maintaining a Schedule for Meal Times at College

For the college student who is in recovery, this type of chaotic schedule with eating can be difficult, especially when attempting to eat consistently and adequately.  Nourishing your body is a priority that should take precedent over many other things.  Without feeding your body adequately, you will likely begin to struggle with even the most basic things and ultimately, with staying in recovery.

businesswoman with a note-bookRelapses in eating disorder recovery often happen gradually and slowly, such as missing a meal or snack here and there.  What might seem harmless can actually begin to interfere with recovery efforts, making it more challenging for the student who is working to maintain recovery from an eating disorder.   While it is not always realistic to have regular meal and snack times during the typical day of a college student, careful planning and preparation can help the student in recovery be successful, regardless of what their schedule may look like.

Allow for Flexibility

A good suggestion is to allow for some flexibility in your schedule when you are planning your day and picking your classes.  Especially if this is your first year transitioning to college, you may consider taking the minimum course load to allow yourself some time and the space you need to be successful.  Having some breaks in your day for meal times is important to your health and recovery and can actually sustain you longer than if you did several classes back to back.  Even if you cannot schedule breaks throughout your day around your courses, try to minimize other outside activities that will open your schedule somewhat.

When you are orienting to your campus, find places that will be accessible and affordable for you to eat, should you not have time to pack or bring food with you.  Many campuses have cafes or restaurants that can be helpful if you are in a bind or unable to get off campus to get the food you need.  Preparing in advance for your day can also help ensure that you have adequate food, even amidst a busy schedule.  Try to avoid going longer than 4 hours without eating something,, as long stretches without eating can interferer with normal eating patterns.

Find Help on Campus

Colleges and universities have taken steps to address eating disorders among students by offering access to mental health professionals, specialized treatment programs, educational programs, and peer support groups.
online therapy session

Healthy Habits

fruits are used to help balance meal times at collegeSet aside time every week to grocery shop for the things you need, such as basic food items for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There will likely be times that you are eating off campus, with friends, during an event, etc., but you never want to be without food that you can easily put together at the last minute.  Having the staples on hand can help you better accommodate a schedule that is often irregular, busy, and at times chaotic.

Eating disorder recovery can be sustained during the college years.  Even with a busy schedule, eating adequately and normally to sustain recovery efforts is doable with careful planning and preparation.  There is still room for flexibility but there should be not wiggle room left for eating disorder behaviors to creep back in.  Having a strategic plan can ensure that you are getting the foods you need to keep your body, health, and recovery sustain through many of the different transitions and schedule changes that you might endure throughout your time in college. If at any point, you find yourself struggling, be sure to reach out for help.  You are worth it!

Crystal Headshot 2Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Crystal is a Masters-level Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a specialty focus in eating disorders, maternal/child health and wellness, and intuitive eating. Combining clinical experience with a love of social media and writing,

As a Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor, Crystal has dedicated her career to helping others establish a healthy relationship with food and body through her nutrition private practice.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Reviewed And Updated By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 18, 2019.
Published September 25, 2015, on