Gut feeling

Advice for eating well from a UNR nutritionist

Maureen Molini is a registered dietician nutritionist who knows how difficult it can be for students to maintain a healthy diet while in college.

Maureen Molini is a registered dietician nutritionist who knows how difficult it can be for students to maintain a healthy diet while in college.

Maureen Molini has been a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN) for the past 15 years, eight of which she spent as the RDN at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Student Health Center. As head lecturer at the Department of Nutrition, she emailed the RN&R with advice for students looking to stay on top of their diet, plan meals around a busy schedule, or simply broaden their understanding of how to eat healthy.

What resources are available for students on campus when it comes to understanding and planning their nutritional needs?

For students who are interested in individualized nutrition counseling, I would recommend setting up an appointment at the UNR Student Health Center with registered dietitian nutritionist Renee Bauer. This service is available at no additional charge to students if they have paid their mandatory Student Health Fee [per semester].

In your experience, what are the greatest challenges to understanding nutrition or maintaining a healthy diet as a student?

For the vast majority of “traditional” students, this life stage means they are now independently making their own food decisions without support, input or resources from family. This can be a tough transition for some, and, in my experience, many found it difficult to consistently make healthy food choices on their own while trying to balance their school commitments, and, often, work obligations as well. … Often, there are a variety of reasons they are challenged with nutrition–limited skills/experience with grocery shopping, food preparation, meal planning, etc., as well as changes in availability of foods they are used to eating, and, for those on campus, consuming the majority of meals through campus dining.

In the grand scheme of staying healthy, where does nutrition fall in the hierarchy of physical exercise, sleep schedule and mental well-being?

Of course, all of the lifestyle factors you mentioned are important. I am biased, but, in my opinion, for college students, nutrition should be at the top of the list, perhaps only with sleep above it. Consistently fueling their bodies and brains with nutrient dense foods is extremely important. I observed many students with very erratic eating patterns—skipping meals and going long intervals without eating. These patterns are just not conducive to intellectual thriving, in terms of having adequate energy to get through the day, to think, to be studious and to collaborate well.

While everyone’s body is different, and people should plan according to their own needs, are there any hard and fast advice/rules you would give college students for staying on top of healthy eating? Any big misconceptions you’d like to address?

1. Maintaining consistent eating patterns throughout the day and avoiding long stretches without eating. For some, getting overly hungry—ravenous—means it can be more challenging to make a healthy choice when they do get around to eating.

2. Paying attention to their internal signals of hunger and fullness and trying to honor them as consistently as possible by eating when physically hungry—not waiting until they are ravenous—and stopping when comfortably full.

3. Aiming for balanced meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats.

4. Staying mindful about snacking—especially while studying or late into the night—on very energy dense foods like chips, pizza, fast food, cookies, candy, sweetened beverages and energy drinks.

5. Staying hydrated by choosing water most often—use those hydro flasks.

The “Freshman 15” is a well perpetuated myth. While it is true that some students do gain weight during their first year of college, the research shows, on average, it is only a few pounds, and, of course, some students don’t gain any weight and others may lose weight. In my experience, incoming freshman are fearful of this and may respond by trying to intentionally modify their food intake, which is not always done in an appropriate or healthful way. The UNR Student Health Center and UNR Counseling Services are both great resources for any UNR student that might be struggling with disordered eating.