Dear Dr. Cordain,
I’m a college student about to head into my second year this upcoming fall semester. I’ve decided to try The Paleo Diet and see how it works. I’ve always struggled with my weight and recently decided to do something about it. My school requires those who live in the dorms to have a meal plan (14 meals per week). I don’t want to waste all the meals that I’ve already had to pay for. My question is how can I follow strict Paleo with dorm food. I’m hoping to go to the onsite nutritionist and try to see if that will help (telling them I’m lactose intolerant). And, while they do have a salad bar, I’m just looking for advice so I can stay true to The Paleo Diet.
Kyle Cordain’s Response:
I am glad to hear that you are off on the right foot with improving your weight and overall health. It can be difficult at first to adhere to a Paleo lifestyle, but with time it becomes easier and your body and mind will thank you for it.
Most colleges and universities require first year students to live in on-campus dormitories. Many people perceive dormitories as a setback when going to college, but there are definitely many benefits to “dorm life.” Living on-campus is great for meeting new people and to learn the basics of being independent. Plus, it ensures that you have access to all of the study tools and resources that you need to succeed as an undergraduate. That being said, it can be quite difficult to stick to The Paleo Diet especially when your school requires you to purchase a meal plan that probably does not include many Paleo-friendly options. Fortunately, there are plenty of options that you can consider to make sure that your healthy eating plan is not compromised by your school’s conventional eating plans.
First, I would contact your school’s dining hall service and see if you can obtain nutrition facts, including labels, food sources, and the like for every item offered in the varied meal plan options. Go through the list of all food options and highlight those that adhere to Paleo. You mentioned that there is a salad bar available, so if there is a fairly decent amount of fresh vegetables and fruit, half the battle is won.
Typically, the biggest challenge with eating “dorm-food” is sourcing quality meat, eggs, and other protein sources. More often than not, the dining Halls provide meat that is far from what we would label Paleo. It is quite the challenge to find a meal plan that offers grass-fed meat, free of preservatives, salt, sugars, nitrites, and nitrates. Often dining halls will source the cheapest factory raised meat that is available, and cook up a dish that is smothered with gluten, sugar, and or salt-infested sauces that ultimately make the meat non-Paleo. It’s also worth mentioning that factory raised meat, is usually raised on corn or soy, and is loaded with hormones or antibiotics. The omega-3 and omega-6 balance ratio becomes disrupted when animals are raised on diets rich in grains and soy where the byproduct is inflammatory and not very good for you.
If I were you, I would speak to an administrator in your university’s dining services and explain that you have one or more food intolerance and that you are striving to follow a specific diet that the dorm meal plan simply does not permit. If they cannot make an exception, meet them in the middle and try to shorten your meal plan to only seven meals per week or fewer. Make sure to stock up on lots of fresh fruit, veggies, and nuts which you can store in a mini fridge in your dorm room. Depending on fire codes provided by housing and dining services, you may also consider bringing a hotplate to cook eggs, chicken, steak, and stir-fry dishes.
Many universities are beginning to diet is a heightened concern for many people and now offer public kitchens where students can cook meals on their own time. If you do not have access to a kitchen on-campus, stick with upperclassmen and other friends that live off-campus who will let you use their kitchens. After all, cooking and food bring people together.
I wish you the best of luck with school and your new Paleo lifestyle!
The Paleo Diet Team