Eating well in university can be tough, especially if it’s your first time living away from home, but finding balance with the foods you eat can be a little easier with some simple tips.
But what does healthy eating mean?
Canada's Food Guide defines healthy eating as more than just eating nutritious food: it's also about your relationship with food, eating and your body. Healthy eating means being mindful of your eating habits, cooking often, eating with others and enjoying what you eat (among other things).
It's also been defined as "a pattern of eating that supports your best physical, mental and emotional health."
Healthy eating can mean choosing foods that nourish your body with nutrients, but it can also mean occasionally eating food just because you like how it tastes.
A specific term for a kind of eating that emphasizes listening to your body is intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is "an evidenced-based, mind-body health approach, comprised of 10 Principles" that was coined in 1995.
At its core, intuitive eating is an anti-diet approach. Instead, it's a weight-neutral model that is about listening to your body and its needs. Its 10 Principles put the spotlight on listening to your body, enjoying the food you consume and making peace with food.
Health at Any Size (HAES) is another, similar approach that rejects diet culture to focus on holistic well-being and health. HAES is a body positive approach that "rejects the idealizing and pathologizing of specific weights."
Both intuitive eating and HEAS are useful models that remind us that health and nutrition are about far more than weight and appearance.
But healthy eating isn't always easy. If you're struggling with nutrition, disordered eating or eating in general, there are on- and off-campus professionals to help you. Please read more to see the professionals on campus for you.
Do you live in residence? You can get in touch with Food and Dining Services' nutritionist to talk about the menu and your dietary needs or concerns.
- Check out Canada’s Food Guide for nutritional information and simple recipes.
- Make time for breakfast and other meals by planning ahead and keeping your pantry stocked (this will also help you save money!).
- Freeze food:
- Let the food cool before freezing it.
- Label the container/bag with the date.
- Seal the container/bag tightly to prevent freezer burn.
- Drink water and carry a water bottle that you like at school to make it easier to stay hydrated and not buy drinks.
- Plan and prepare snacks with protein and fibre in advance and carry them with you throughout the day.
- Treat cooking and eating like a social event and do it with family or friends.
Shake Things Up
- Mix in a blender:
- 125 mL (½ cup) milk or milk alternative
- 125 mL (½ cup) yogurt
- 125 mL (½ cup) fresh or frozen fruit such as berries, banana, mango, pineapple
- 2 tbsp nut butter
- Spice it up with some variations: add 1 tsp vanilla, 1 tsp cinnamon or 1 tbsp cocoa powder, or add a handful of nuts or seeds instead of nut butter.
- Mix equal parts oats, milk, and yogurt and store in fridge overnight (for each serving, try ½ cup of each ingredient).
- In the morning, top it off with fresh fruit, nuts, cinnamon, or coconut flakes.
- If using frozen fruit, add them when making the oat mixture.
Use Up Leftovers
- Try making a breakfast stir-fry with leftover vegetables and tofu, eggs or meat.
- Enjoy it over a bed of leftover brown rice or quinoa.
On the Go
- Prepare hard-boiled eggs in advance.
- Before heading off to that early class, grab an egg or two with some yogurt and fruit or a whole grain pita with hummus.
- If you are eating on the run, a nut butter and banana sandwich on whole grain bread or a shake in a mason jar are both convenient options.
- Can be peanut butter, hummus, tuna, cheese, eggs or a combination of all of the above.
- Get creative and add in vegetables that you like, such as spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers or avocados.
- Can be done in minutes using beans, tofu, lentils or chickpeas with fresh and/or frozen vegetables.
- Look up recipes that will help you use up leftovers.
- Start with a simple homemade dressing using olive oil, salt and pepper.
- Add your heavier vegetables like carrots and cucumbers to protect the softer ingredients.
- Add your green of choice.
- Add some whole grains (e.g. quinoa or whole grain crackers).
- Add protein (e.g. beans, tofu, chickpeas, meat or chicken) to make you feel satisfied for longer.
- Top it off with cranberries, sunflower seeds or fruit.
- Check out our Mason Jar Salad recipes for easy, portable examples!
- Veggies and hummus
- Yogurt with granola
- Smoothie made with fresh/frozen fruits and milk or soy beverage
- Dried fruits and nuts (add some chocolate chips if you want some extra sweetness)
- Crackers and cheese
- Slice of bread with peanut butter
- Chia pudding
- Easy-to-eat fruit like mandarins, grapes or berries
The term disordered eating is used to refer to a wide spectrum of unhealthy eating behaviours and can have serious consequences on a person's overall health and well-being.
Signs and symptoms
If any of these signs sound familiar, you may want to speak to someone you trust or seek professional help:
- Low self-esteem and depression related to body image or eating habits
- Preoccupation with weight, shape, and dieting
- Preoccupation with food, calorie counting and how others manage their eating
- Sudden changes in weight
- Narrow or restrictive food choices and rituals surrounding food/mealtimes
- Refusal to eat in front of other people
- Exercising excessively
- Finding excuses to immediately leave the table following a meal
Supporting a loved one
Friends and family often play an important role in encouraging a loved one to seek help for an eating or body image issue. If you think someone you know might benefit from professional help, you can:
- Read more about talking to someone about eating concerns
- Read the National Eating Disorders Association's toolkit for friends and family of someone with an eating disorder.
If you’re worried about your relationship with food and eating, there are resources available to you on campus. You can:
- Book an appointment with a counsellor or dietitian to talk about your concerns. You can also make an appointment with a doctor and receive a referral to a McGill psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders. Together, you and the psychiatrist will explore ongoing support options both on-campus and with off-campus community services that specialize in eating disorders.
- Join a support group or drop by the SSMU Eating Disorder Support Centre. In a support group, you can share your experiences with disordered eating or hear about the experience of others. You can also drop in to have lunch in a safe space, or talk to someone about what you're going through. Services are facilitated by peer volunteers who are trained in active listening, anti-oppression, trauma, eating disorders, and disordered eating.
Know of an online resource that you think should be added? wellness.hub [at] mcgill.ca (subject: Virtual%20Hub%20Online%20Resources) (Let us know)!
Finds you recipes depending on what you have in your kitchen, making it easier for you to throw meals together without buying more.
An online cookbook, crowdsourced by students who took part in Healthy McGill and Midnight Kitchen’s Recipe Swap, that includes soups, mains, side dishes and desserts.
This website (which is also an app) offers easy recipe ideas depending on the time of day, whether you’ve just worked out, and more!
Offers tips on freezing foods and has a list of foods that don’t freeze well.
Disordered eating resources
Provides information about eating disorders and disordered eating, as well as referrals, support and a free phone line service.
Anorexie et boulimie Québec (bilingual)
Provides information about eating disorders as well as support groups in Quebec and a free phone line service.
They also have a text support available from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 1-800-630-0907.
For additional resources, please check the list.
You can talk to a trained peer who understands what you're going through and can point you to other resources.
Peer Support Centre (Virtual service)
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and offers active listening by trained peers who will listen to any of your concerns.
Workshops and Groups
If you'd like professional support while hearing from peers in the same position, you can join a workshop or group.
You must consult with a McGill clinician to register for group therapy. This Fall, there is a specialized psychotherapy group on building a healthy body image.
Meet with a Professional
If you'd like additional nutritional information, have some tests done or talk about your eating habits, you can meet with a professional.
Book a consultation with one of our doctors, nurses, dietitians or mental health professionals and receive care.