Dear Mark: How to Stay Healthy in College

College students and healthy lifestyle. On the one hand it seems like the ultimate contradiction. Pizza boxes, Red Bull cans, Doritos bags, beer bottles, Captain Crunch at every cafeteria meal. They’re as much a cultural vision of college as John Belushi’s sweatshirt. If there were a Primal no man’s land, you’d think the residential campus experience would at least be a top contender. Nonetheless, college needn’t be the physical wasteland it’s made out to be. And, let’s be honest: most students do not really live/eat/drink this way. As many students exercise regularly and eat decently as send their bodies through the wringer during their college careers. Nonetheless, campus living is its own kind of existence, and it presents its own challenges for maintaining a Primal routine. Not surprisingly, I get emails from college readers asking for tips on how to live a healthy lifestyle. Here’s one:

I love your blog and try to stick to my own modified version of the blueprint whenever possible, but lately I’ve been finding it a lot harder. I just started undergrad, and besides having less free time, I’m finding it harder to eat primal foods and snacks in a dining hall. Any tips for college students on how to stay primal? Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks for all the great help!


This is an especially timely subject for me, since my daughter just started college this fall. She went armed with a few strategies that have served her well, and the transition has taught her to be flexible in making a healthy life for herself. With some inspiration from her and other friends’ experiences, here are some tips for our college crowd. As I always say, let’s break it down….

College Dining

The dining hall of course can be a blessing and a curse. You have ready access to a fairly wide variety of options, and (let’s face it) you don’t have to prepare anything yourself. Nonetheless, the majority of cafeteria food is decidedly un-Primal. You’ll clearly need to break from the typical patterns (like those eight glasses of milk so many athletes fill their trays with) and learn some strategic foraging techniques to scavenge the best in meats and veggies. (On a side note, you’ll actually be getting more of your money’s worth than a student who hits the cereal bins at every meal.)

Get the lay of the land.

Figure out what food lines/stations are the best sources for meats and veggies, your Primal staples of course. Of course the salad bar will be top on this list, and the main course offerings will usually include some kind of meat dish (which might need de-bunning or other adaptation). Is there a stir fry station? Soup counter? Sandwich section with meats you can mix in with a Primal salad? Learn to see the stations as less than meal offerings than ingredient sources for your own creative mixing (e.g. chicken from the stir fry station on a fresh salad) And don’t forget the vegetarian section. Although pasta, soy and rice usually reign supreme here, you can sometimes find a good vegetable stew or side dish. Get a sense of the weekly patterns in food offerings, and adjust your strategy and anticipated menu accordingly.

Use the suggestion box (or better yet get to know the director of food services).

Don’t be hesitant about lobbying food service with some of your ideas. They genuinely want to hear from students, and they’ll especially love getting health conscious suggestions. Granted, they have to keep the bottom line in mind, but they’ll likely at least work out some compromise offerings.

Get out and explore.

Some colleges offer partial board arrangements (so many meals a week) or use an account balance that students tap into for each visit to the cafeteria, campus coffee shop, student union “grill” or other campus outpost. This kind of flexibility can allow you to get some grub off campus when you need a break from the dining hall fare. (Probably any student, Primal or not, could agree with this.) Check out what the surrounding neighborhood has to offer for a quick bite, or hop on the bus and expand your horizons. Although it’s possible to find a good surprise or two at local burger joints, check out ethnic eateries, independent delis and the eclectic hole in the wall type diners. You’ll likely find more budget-conscious menus as well as varied food selections. Create your own collection of off-campus options that you can access when needed.

Keep your own stash.

It could be as simple as a tub of Primal protein bars for the early morning run to your 8:00 class, or it could mean skipping the meal plan entirely if you like to cook for yourself. Even if you don’t want to nix the cafeteria all together, keep some basics on hand like fresh fruit, nuts, nut butter, and eggs. I’d recommend having a good supplement on hand too. It can help cover you on compromised days and just add to your overall defenses against stress and the latest bug circulating among the campus population.

Preempt social temptation.

Thursday night pizza, weekend chips and beer, Sunday night pizza. Am I sensing a pattern here? Eat before you head out on the town or to the “gathering” in the next dorm over. Stash your own snack or play host yourself for a small group that doesn’t mind your Primal eccentricities. As for alcohol, of course there are more reasons than the Primal Blueprint to limit or abstain. Nonetheless, it’s not a bad reminder.

A few notes on other aspects of campus living…


Just about every campus has a decent gym that’s free to full-time students. Access isn’t an issue, but time can be. My daughter likes to go either in between classes in the afternoon (when she doesn’t feel she’ll be as productive studying) or early in the evening before she hits the books again. The key is to find times that consistently work for you and make the date. As busy as college can be, students are oftentimes derailed by the lack of schedule more than the actual lack of time itself. It’s too easy to keep putting things (like exercise) off because there’s so much “open” time. Make the gym (or local trail/bike path/climbing wall/etc.) a fixed part of your week. Nonetheless, make it fun too. Join an intramural sport or try out a campus yoga class. Enjoy working out as a break from the daily grind.


Just about every college student I’ve ever met is guilty on this count. Though you’re young, you’re still human like the rest of us. Staying up late to study, carouse or probe the meaning of existence will eventually catch up with you. (And, yes, I say this in part from personal experience.) Not only will you feel like crap physically, you’ll suffer cognitively. (So much for late night cramming.) Your brain ultimately needs sleep to function. Why would you starve it? During sleep your brain catalogs the information it’s received in a day (everything from Bio 101 lecture material to social interactions). It helps put together the big picture (“All right, maybe my roommate isn’t such an idiot.”) and frees up space for new information (“Onto the next chapter of organic chemistry.”). Of course, sleep is also crucial for your immune system. Do yourself a favor and go to sleep an hour earlier. (And try to do it in bed instead of slobbering all over your text books.) It might spare you five days of misery and two missed exams.


A friend of mine who works in student life at a nearby university absolutely dreads the month of March each year. The stress finally hits such a high point, she explains, that it’s like an all out campus melt down. Campus officials see a spike in roommate conflicts, residence write-ups, campus arrests, counseling usage and health clinic visits. The real need for spring break, she says, is to get everybody the hell out of the fish bowl for a week. (Thanksgiving break, she says, offers the same respite during fall semester.) A combination of academic anxiety, social tension, roommate issues, sleep deprivation and cabin fever is eventually too much. The wheels just come off the bus. Of course March and late November aren’t the only times stress reigns on college campuses. The key to keeping stress manageable is to maintain equilibrium as much as possible. Keep on top of your work, get enough rest, stay healthy and get off campus now and then. It’s a cycle you choose: procrastination leads to cramming, leads to poor sleep, leads to stress. Alternatively, keeping up allows for a manageable schedule with time for exercise and adequate sleep, which allows for a healthy and sustainable balance that will keep you sane while others are hanging from the rafters gnashing their teeth over midterms. Not exactly the kind of picture you see in the campus guidebooks now, is it?

Last but not least, and as you can imagine, I’d recommend picking up a copy of my new book, The Primal Blueprint, to any new college student. It contains the framework for a long and healthy life that I wish I would have had 40 years ago. I know many Mark’s Daily Apple readers feel likewise. (If only, right?…)

Let me know what you do/have done to balance a Primal lifestyle with student life. And good luck to all of you starting or continuing college this fall. Thanks as always for all your questions, and keep ‘em coming!

TAGS:  dear mark

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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56 thoughts on “Dear Mark: How to Stay Healthy in College”

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  1. I just wanted to say how cool it is that we have a good number of teens and college age young adults on the forum here. How great that they are even asking the questions that Anna did here 🙂

  2. Hey Mark, my name is Brian and I’m a 22-yearold college student at the University of Central Florida. I’ve been living the Primal lifestyle for about 5 months now, ever since my friend Cody turned me on to it. 185lbs then 155lbs now, 18% body fat. I live in an apartment complex near school and I find that it’s so simple to stock the fridge up with lots of veggies and meat; cooking every meal for myself really helps to know exactly what’s going into it. I usually make a Big Primal Salad for the times then I know I’ll be out. The really funny part is when I go into the backyard between the apartments to barefoot exercises (ants suck in Florida), people look at me doing unconventional bodyweight exercises and swinging my Kettlebell like I’m nuts. I do talk to a lot of college kids and refer them to MDA, as well as, invite them to workout with me, so far, it’s a no go. I find it’s the easiest to just get up, workout, eat, and get on with the day at school. Sleep I’d have to say is my downfall, I pull about 5hrs a night and 8-9hrs on the weekend. This is a great post and I hope it helps lots of other student Groks maintain their Primal lifestyle throughout college.

    Brian C.

    1. Thanks for referring your friends to the site, Brian, and congrats on your weight loss success.

      How does 5 hours of sleep each weekday night work for you? Are you left feeling tired throughout the day? Are there ways you could makes some changes to your schedule to squeeze in a little extra sleep?

      Don’t forget about naps:

      As for the no go, this might help:

      Thanks for the comment and stay in touch!

      1. Oh Mark, on days that I get 5hrs of sleep I love my naps.

        Thanks for the reply and the info.

    2. Hey Brian,

      I’m a grad student here at UCF. I’m probably one of the only other people in the gym that use the kettlebells the way they were meant to. Do hand stand pushups, Bridges, and pistols. I’m working on getting my food more primal. I haven’t found ANYONE else like that in the almost 6 years I’ve been here. hit me up iobsolescenti at yahoo dot com

  3. I’ve been following this blog for a little over two months now, and I finished reading The Primal Blueprint last week. The insights of Mark and the MDA community are sobering and invaluable.

    The peer pressure of college makes it difficult to live a healthy life. I find that the easiest way to eat healthy during school is to cook and grocery shop individually for yourself, rather than with your roommates or friends. It’s much easier to avoid temptation when there aren’t other people grabbing for the pre-made microwaveable meals and pizzas. Plus, when you buy fresh food, you can opt out of wings/pizza/nacho nights in favor of “eating the food in the fridge before it goes bad” – it makes for a good excuse.

    For those of us not so lucky to be living in California, winter is just around the corner. How is a college student (who doesn’t particularly enjoy the gym as much as the outdoors) to survive when the sun disappears and the snow falls? Sprinting in the snow becomes difficult and uncomfortable, and the vitamin D we receive from the sun will be limited due to excessive clothing. Does anybody have primal snow-workout suggestions, or ways to remedy the lack of sun exposure?

  4. I think the hardest part of studentlife (or life in general) is when friends want to hook up and socialize – they always go for the “food that isn’t food” – loading up on potatochips, candy, pizza and the like. I purposely keep myself less around my friends at evenings for this reason.

    Luckily – I have a kitchen I share with 6 people at a studentvillage here in Oslo, and have some fridge and freezer place for real , and nutritious, food. My roomates are pretty cool about my diet – though they are seemingly nevver ging to let go of their pasta and noodles, lol. Some of them evens til think it’s ok to eat “It’s whole grain, that’s good for you” – not really caring about phytic acid.

    I am so glad I have this site – You help me remember what is best for my health Mark, and I thank you for that.

    I even made kale chips – from the youtube video that someone did for the primal challenge, and they’re really good 😀 Even one of my pasta eating roommates liked it 😀

    I just wish I had more willpower to get back on track the day after eating unhealthy with my friends (with as much modification I can), instead of fighting my cravings , and falling for them, for several days afterwards. I read the blog about training up ones willpower – and I’m trying… lol

    Luckily I get atleast eight hours of sleep on a regular basis – someitmes abit more – I have a huge need for sleep. Though I notice I need more sleep when my foodintace has been more on the Not side of food, than when I keep to the lifestyle.

  5. Brandon: Pull a Rocky and sprint with boots uphill in the snow, heh.

    I’m a junior at Villanova and I have a kitchen in my apartment on-campus, so it’s easy to eat Primal. But for those who don’t have one, I highly recommend keeping your own stash, like Mark said. For my freshman and sophomore years, I had a mini fridge and kept nuts, nut butters, fruit, beef jerky, vegetables, HB eggs, and leftovers from home in my room. The nuts/nut butters saved me because I could rarely find a good source of fat for most of my meals. Also, be really nice to the people serving you. I was and it paid off, I was able to get extra meat/veggies whenever I wanted.

  6. Hey Mark,

    I’m a 21-year-old college student at the University of Florida. Though it takes some effort and planning, as well as a lot of dedication, once you get primal/paleo eating down it becomes habit. Switching for 6 meals a day to 2 or 3 (and sometimes one) really helps for meal planning. For anyone living on campus I recommend upping fat intake (buy a big tub of tallow from US wellness, keeps at room temp. for years) and cutting meals down to maybe just one or two a day. Makes life a whole lot easier and when you have time you can do your meals right.

  7. Hey Mark, I’m a fully primal student at UPenn and ive found it really isnt that difficult to keep it up. Our dining halls are about 80% locally grown organic food. They also have take-out boxes that i load up with veggies, take back to my place and grill up some chicken to put on top of.
    The best thing is like you said, get a lay of the land, and plan out what your meals will be so you don’t end up having to compromise on the fly.
    and p.s. canned tuna is a life saver in the dorm 🙂

  8. I’m a senior at UC Santa Barbara and live off-campus. I’m fortunate to go to school in an area that has great farmers markets. Every Sunday I bike to the farmers market and pick up at least fresh, local, organic vegetables. Sometimes I will spend $4/dozen on eggs or buy some grass-fed beef, but most of the time I purchase 5 dozen eggs for a little over $5 from Costco and whole chickens for 99 cents/pound at Albertson’s. But after recently seeing the documentary Food Inc., I’ve made a decision to buy as much as I can from the farmers market. I do not support the way the animals are treated, not do I feel comfortable giving me money to greedy food corporations. I’ve made the compromise that I’d rather spend a little more every week if it means I get to support my local farmers and support my long-term health. I go to the gym three times a week to lift weights and I workout with a great friend. We normally do some strength work and then a met-con (courtesy of CrossFit). I’m not really into drinking, so I’m able to get 8-9 hours of sleep almost every night. School is stressful, and I sometimes I am pro-active, but most of the time I procrastinate. I ride my bike everywhere or take the bus (it’s free), so I don’t own a car…One last thing: as a college student, it can be hard to find time for cooking. A year ago I was introduced to the crock-pot or slow cooker and it has saved my life. Throw in a whole chicken or a beef roast before you go to class, and come home to a good smell and an even better dinner. Then take the left-overs and use it for a couple more meals. Hard boil a bunch of eggs for quick snacks. Hope this helps.

  9. I’m more of a canned salmon man myself.

    PS. I am actually Tim Tebow. My name and avatar are all a front.


  10. Awesome, Mark!

    I’m a third year at the University of Texas at Austin, still living on campus with no kitchen, and it can be tough! I’ve been following the site since the summer and I got your book last month. I’ve had a sugar addiction since I can remember, but I’m workig really hard on breaking it. I find myself eating a lot of eggs, both scrambled and hard boiled, and frequenting the salad bar. I am able to go to the grocery store this year, so I also buy nuts, fruit, veggies, and I recently bought some canned sardines!

    People look at me strangely when I work out, but I think I’m having more fun playing medicine-ball-catch by myself then doing endless crunches. I’m something of a leadership figure in the local parkour community, too, and that’s always a great workout!

    It is hard to find people with similar viewpoints, though…anyone out there from Austin?

    Anyway, just wanted to say thanks for this post. =)

  11. Mark,

    I’m a 20 year old college student that has been reading your website for around a year. So the second semester of last year I tried to go as primal as I could while eating at campus dining halls. It was somewhat difficult, but not at all impossible. Some of the tips that you give are very helpful: stick to the salad section, etc. The cool part about having an all you can eat dining hall(as I did) is that you can make some really cool salad combos that I can’t make now that I live off-campus.

    Now that I live off campus, I just try to eat as primally as possible while still sticking to a budget. Not having quite as much money as someone with a full time job makes eating well a bit harder. But hitting up the weekly farmer’s market in town and trying to buy more organic meats hasn’t been to difficult nor expensive.

    I would say easily the hardest part about being primal in college is the social aspect. I try to just group some of what I do in the 20% of your 80/20 😉 All in all, I am not going to pass up a social event just because it doesn’t fit in with my primal lifestyle all the time, but trying to compromise isn’t that bad…and a lot of my classmates have been genuinely interested…I try to ease them into the idea of primal (aka michael pollan’s books, not perfect but provide a logical argument for what im doing).

    I would encourage anyone in college to give it a try…I think it’s really easy to figure you can just wait a couple years, right now we have the metabolism that we can eat and drink just about whatever we want, and a little bit of weight-lifting will keep us in shape…but all in all you feel a lot better and have more energy when you eat primally.

    And the hangovers aren’t as bad :p

  12. A step up from intramural sports would be traveling club teams. Pretty much all decent-sized universities have ultimate frisbee teams at this point, and they are used to teaching complete beginners to the sport. I probably would have sat on my ass through the winters at college if I hadn’t been dragging myself to practices multiple times a week, and feeling so much the better for it.

    You could also look for local community rec leagues. I know a lot of bigger cities (and even a fair number of smaller college towns) have ultimate frisbee winter leagues that are very beginner-friendly.

    I know I’m plugging my own beloved sport, but I’m sure the above applies to other sports too. 🙂

  13. Thanks for this post!

    I found out yesterday (by looking through the ingredient list they gave to a super-allergic hallmate) that my university puts margarine in everything! Forget macaroon bars, even the brussels sprouts have it! Pretty much ruined my day.

    My school (Brown) has hamburgers as an option every day, and though I know they’re unlikely to be grass-fed, I grab one of them and slap a bunch of salad stuff on top for breakfast/lunch. (I’ve been doing the 11-5 IF thing since last week and it’s been awesome, by the way.)

    Honestly, it’s a lot easier for me to forgo most of the desserts now that I know about the margarine thing.

  14. I’m a Junior at UC Davis and I’ve been Primal for over a year. Last year I was doing primal workout with the gymanstics ring and pullup bar that I made in my apartment with some extra weights. Eating right really isn’t a tough thing that I’ve found and Intermittent Fasting is awesome during midterms and finals (especially going into a final without having eaten for a day…really helps with focus). I’m an early riser naturally and usually fall asleep around 10 at night so I get between 8-9 hours of sleep a night. Sleeping isn’t hard after school, work, and crossfit!

    The hardest part about being Primal in college is the constant nagging from friends for not drinking massive amounts of alcohol and eating the piles of sweets that they are constantly baking.


  15. Despite the obvious difficulties, trying to be primal in college is a great exercise because you learn to develop habits that will stick for the rest of your life. You also learn to be primal in less convenient circumstances (no kitchen, roommates who eat pizza, dining halls with limited options), so it will only get easier when you have more control over your living situation. I go to school in NYC and take advantage of Greenmarket, where I get all of my fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, and cheese. It forces me to eat a lot of vegetables (as they are very cheap) and to eat seasonally. I know the meat is good quality and grass-fed, even though it is expensive so I can’t eat as much of it as would be ideal. The most difficult thing for me is stress management and trying not to be antisocial when many of my friends want to go out for drinks or pizza many nights of the week. But it’s worthwhile to go through the process of developing good habits now, that will stay with me well after college. It’s definitely worth it to see if there are farmer’s markets near your colleges because fruits and vegetables are very reasonably priced, and very fresh.

  16. I am a full-time student at FAU and the Primal lifestyle is actually pretty easy for me to follow. I live off-campus at home and most of the time I just IF during school hours, which I have two days a week. The only problem I ever encounter is massive amounts of beer. It’s really no problem though since I barely have to drink any to get to my limit.

  17. easiest primal law to follow as a college student…walk a ton! especially with a big campus.

    hardest thing for me isnt choosing the food, its affording it. I do have a job but it barley covers food. I cope by making sure my animal foods are relatively clean(no hormones/antibiotics but not always grass fed/pastured) and veggies arent always certified organic(sometimes they are locally grown but not certified)

  18. I’m a college student as well – third-year grad student in SoCal – and I make a point of always having eggs, bacon, ground beef, etc. available. I used to be a chronic eat-outer, and when I started Primal, I’d moan about how much it cost to buy all this stuff until I realized that hey, I got a two-pound pork tenderloin from Trader Joe’s for thirteen bucks – that’s two meals right there. The same thing in a restaurant would have cost me twice what I paid for the meat, and I have a crockpot and an oven, so I should use them. It put my whole life in perspective when I did that, although I have to remember to buy only enough veggies for one meal at a time, as they tend to go bad pretty quickly since I rarely eat them. (Diabetes – they spike my blood sugars too much.)

    It is hard to socialize without the drinking and the high-carb fried food and pizza, but I do it anyway and just take the ribbing about my menu choices from the Noodle Eaters. I’m dropping weight so fast that my clothes are falling off, and I can have an icewater and a Big-Ass Salad with chicken or beef in it and be totally satisfied and energized for most of the day, while they’re eating Top Ramen or pizza every two hours trying to keep up their carb levels and smirking about my “unhealthy” meals. We’ll see who lives longer. 😉

    I’m trying to get brave enough to go to the school gym. Haven’t gotten to that point yet, but soon… In the meantime, just hiking all over campus has been giving me plenty of exercise.

    My biggest problem, as for most here, is stress and sleep. I don’t meditate well, and I rarely sleep well. I’m working on that. My main problem is that my school/work schedule doesn’t really allow for naps most days.

  19. Am I the only one who made sure to get enough sleep in college? I never crammed studied or pulled an all-nighter. Sleep took a priority over studying. I went to class and took good notes and paid attention so I didn’t have to study as much. Problem with cramming is you shove in too much information and can’t recall it later. I can still remember a lot of information I gleaned in college, but not many of my peers.

    Though, I lived off-campus and was responsible for cooking my own meals. I wasn’t primal then, or even close to it (vegan, oh the shame), but it’s easier to make your own food choices when you’re responsible for your own cooking. I find it a bit of a joke that you’re supposed to be this independent responsible adult, yet someone else is cooking for you.

  20. What a great post! Our daughter is off to University next year and we’ve been having conversations about food options. I’m a big fan of the dehydrator for travel. I plan on experimenting with some pemmican and jerky recipes. For fat, I’ll send her with some bison tallow, ghee, and coconut oil as it’s all very stable. I figure that if I can get her the healthy fats and some of her protein she should be o.k. Organic veggies are in almost every supermarket or farmer’s market now. I also like the idea of soaking, sprouting, dehydrating some nuts for her. Oh, and cultured veggies! They will keep for a very long time in a little bar fridge.

  21. Going Primal isn’t really all that difficult when you’re at college-I started during the last two months of my sophomore year at Duke University. In fact, my hardest times are at home when my mom tries to ply me with fresh peach cobblers!

    Probably the biggest problems I have are food quality and the social pressure. Duke University requires a meal plan for all its on-campus residents, so I’m forced to eat a lot on campus. Although there is one eatery devoted to organic/local foods, it’s also geared to the whole grain/vegetarian/vegan crowd, so I can rarely find things there to eat. In general, I’ve had to sacrifice organic/hormone-free/grass fed food and just take a bunch of fish oil to counteract it. I hard boil a dozen eggs at a time (bought at the on-campus mini-market with Food Points) and eat those for breakfast.

    Stashes are super important. I chose the smallest food plan on purpose so I could afford my forays into outside supermarkets. Costco is amazing-canned wild salmon and frozen wild blueberries, not to mention the nuts and fish oil. I have stocks of nut butters, teas, and organic chocolate (to get me through the rough patches!). Every other week or so, I get organic yogurt and cheese at local markets.

    My biggest failings are definitely the little temptations-the squares of Ghiradelli with caramel or one of my roommate’s french fries. And the 3 am odysseys to McDonald’s provide a host of temptations, though I can usually restrain myself to the apple salad thing, eating only the apples.

    I get through the rough patches (the smell of hot pepperoni pizza) mostly through taking a step back and looking at how I compare to my peers. I get plenty of sleep, I don’t get sick, my skin is clear, I have less stress than I ever have before, I appreciate little things more, and I’ve gained more muscle and lost more fat in six weeks than all of my elliptical-obsessed friends have in three months. I feel more powerful-my will and my body are both stronger now-and I’m happier with myself and the world. When I think about how much this lifestyle has bettered my entire life, it’s easy to pass on the birthday cake!

    Please contact me if you’re a primal Duke undergrad, too, because I haven’t met a single one (and all my friends think I’m either going to become morbidly obese or keel over from a heart attack any day now).

  22. Really great article. I remember my time in college and I discovered both perspectives. In the end I was used to do some workout and tried to eat healthy food. In my experience studiying and learning was easier this way.

  23. Hey Mark, I’m a fourth year college student. Luckily we have a Whole Foods right next to our campus, and a Farmer’s Market every Friday afternoon at the university hospital. I stock up on snacks including carrots, apples, greek yogurt, and an array of spices from the spice bins at Whole Foods. I do consume grains like quinoa and buckwheat flour. 1/4 cup quinoa made with coconut, stevia, hemp protein powder, flax meal, canned pumpkin, goji berries, and a little honey (if I’m relaxed with the carbs that day) is such a tasty quick breakfast that you can make in the microwave in 9 minutes! I keep canned coconut milk in my mini fridge, covered in plastic wrap, for coffee (have a little coffeemaker). My Magic Bullet is so convenient for blending hemp protein smoothies, grinding flax meal, almond meal, and coffee beans. For those keeping a “college budget,” it might be interesting to note that one can find reasonably priced coconut products, miso, and goji berries at any asian market in town.

    I don’t really eat in the dining hall ’cause it’s too tempting and very expensive for anything with protein. The salads are sold by weight, so if you like to load up on veggies, you’re looking at $10 for one meal! There are omelets, bunless burgers, rotisserie chicken pieces available in a pinch, though.

    I’m following your philosophy of 80-20 now, which makes eating primally/lower carb so much easier than when I was super strict about avoiding everything with white flour, sugar, and veg oils. I’ll indulge in the occasionally white chocolate chip macadamia nut cookie every now and then when I’m out with friends, or popcorn for movie nights. A rum and diet coke every once in awhile won’t kill me (although you have to be so careful when you’re cutting carbs!). Not shooting for perfection is definitely the best advice I could give to fellow students!

  24. Alice hinted at something that I think is definitely another variable to consider when filling your tray at the dining hall: food origin, freshness, and quality.

    There’s a lot of variation in the quality of on-campus dining from school to school, and I’m guessing that the type of ingredients (organic, free-range, etc) and their freshness varies with this as well. It’s worth finding out which, if any, of their meats are grass-fed and/or organic, fish are wild, produce is organic, etc. My school (uchicago) even had different quality ingredients for different dining halls on campus, so this is something else to keep in mind (but we weren’t allowed to switch dining hall affiliations).

  25. Hey Mark,

    Thanks for the post! I’m a college sophomore, so I’ve had one year of experience with college dining halls. Everything you mentioned rings true, and yes, we do have to go slightly out of our way to make sure that we are still able to eat healthily. Protein powder does help out a ton in a pinch, but most of the time I hung around the salad bar. Eventually, I ended up talking to the chef and requested to have some plain chicken breasts grilled for me everyday (no added oils or sauces). Worked great. I exercised in the mornings before classes (and still do), and usually get between 7-9 hours of sleep a night. No procrastination.

    It is awesome living this way. Less stress, more rest, and a happier college student all around!

  26. Hey Mark,

    I’ve been following your site for about 6 months now. I started doing primal over the summer and I just came back to law school starting this fall. As busy as school is I’ve found that a lot of what you recommend is all possible. I CrossFit about 5-6 times a week. The way I handle meals is by cooking and preparing all my meals for the week on Sundays. I also make sure to get my 8-9 hours of sleep. I receive criticism from all the other students everyday as most of them scarf down sandwiches and chips. Either way, I just wanted to tell everyone that it is possible, you have to want to do it.

  27. Thanks for the great article, Mark! Back when I was in college, if you lived in the dorms you were REQUIRED to be on a campus meal plan. That was so awful! There was virtually nothing of nutritional value. The meats and veggies were poorly (over) cooked, the salads were iceberg with few nutrients. The only things that tasted halfway good were the desserts and the french fries. The best thing I ever did for my health was to get an apartment off-campus. But my first two years of on-campus living certainly took its toll on me.

    Thanks for giving the college students here some great information that will hopefully help them survive their college years in good health!

  28. Hey Mark!
    Thanks so much for answering my question so quickly! I’ve already started using some of your advice, and so far so good. Thanks for the help!


  29. Hi Mark!
    Many thanks for this post; it’s good to see that I’m not alone! I’ve been following a strict Paleo lifestyle for a couple of years, and for the longest time thought I must be the only one under 25 doing so!

    I’m 19 and just started college in the UK. I’m originally from LA though, and (secretly) I sometimes miss Whole Foods more than I miss my family! I was able to get a self-catering dorm and can cook all my own food – the trouble is finding anything of quality. “Healthy” unfortunately equates to “not particularly, we think, unhealthy” (read: canned pasta or sometimes a sad looking head of iceberg) and if I want free-range meat or organic vegetables I’m looking at around $90 in groceries per week.
    Still though, I see it as an investment. I read recently that Americans now spend less than ever on food, and that really put things into perspective for me. Why shouldn’t we spend more on our health? It’s way more important than all the expensive clothes, nights out, laptops…. and my parents, luckily, agree.
    Now I sit back and watch as my classmates slowly fade, eyes dark, hunched over textbooks, a few cans of Red Bull and many bowls of Cocoa Puffs their only hope at staying awake. And there’s some small satisfaction in it, after all I’ve been mocked for my “crazy LA health things;” but still I’m amazed at how living healthfully is seen as somehow inferior.

    Thanks for continuing to be a source of inspiration and encouragement! It keeps me motivated – you know, when NOT packing on the Freshman 15 isn’t enough.

  30. great article i go to kennesaw state. I live in a house right off campus and eat pretty much 100% primal. Mostly organic as well. We have a mandatory meal plan but i dont eat it. I just give my brother or his friends meals or barter with them. I am very lucky. A local farmer has a drop off very close to my school and there is a harrys farmers market(whole foods basically) 10 minutes down the highway as well as 2 other natural foods store locations. I am still trying to find the best mix and cheaper options but food is basically my hobby so it works for me. I try to get a good night sleep. I will sleep over studying. If anything i will go to bed early and wake up really early(4 am or so) to study for a test. I exercise at home mostly. The campus gym is way too crowded. I used to do parkour with some people but we got in trouble for “jumping on things” and “liability”…no bueno

  31. Definitely agree with eve M

    My dorms are equipped with kitchens and we have the opportunity to cook our own foods. There are no organic places nearby so the quality of the food suffers but cooking your own meal definitely puts you in control.
    (Not something you look forward to doing after a day full of classes might).

  32. what should we do about eating in the cafeteria regarding grass fed, organic meats? im really worries about this :S

  33. I’m a sophomore at Rutgers University and I just started eating primal. My eating used to be all over the place but I love primal. I keep stashes of HB eggs, coconut milk, nut butters, nuts and dark chocolate in my room and the salad bar is a life-saver at the dining hall since I still am in a dorm. Even though I know the meat I eat is nowhere close to organic or grass-fed, I try and make do. Keep up the great advice and anyone in the New Brunswick area should reply, there aren’t any Primal students around here that I know of. Maybe there should be a forum group for college students? And any additional advice about eating in dining halls would be a huge help!

  34. I’m a senior at Washu and it’s good to know there’s other primal college people out there. I live in my own apartment so I can cook my own food which is really nice. My checkout person at the grocery store always asks why I’m buying so many eggs and meat.

    I generally try to avoid the dining halls, but usually if you can find a salad and go to the grill to get them to cook up some meat, it’s alright.

    My biggest catch is drinking. I’m not sure I can give that up personally because going out makes up a good portion of my experience. My deal that I made with myself is that as long as I’m compliant in other areas, I’ll cut myself a break.

  35. I know this is an old post but I have a question for Mark (or anyone I guess who could answer!)

    I graduate in two weeks so it’s not too big of a deal as I’ll finally be living with a kitchen but I’ve only just started trying to live more Primally. I’ve started going to the dining hall in the morning for takeout breakfast and getting a large omelette (meant and veggies) and a heaping pile of bacon.

    My question is this: because my dining hall obviously uses veggie oils, should I forgoe my attempts at Paleo while still on campus? The bacon has no transfats but would eating the veggie oil do more harm than good? I’m not saying I’d go back to carbo loading (I’m gluten intolerant anyway!) as I usually just eat a big salad for dinner, anyway.

    Also, has anyone else ever been starving the first few days? I don’t know if it’s just because I’m so used to eating all the time or what, but I’ve only been up for two hours and I’ve eaten a massive omelette, heaps of bacon, and more food is calling my name!!

  36. I’m a residential student at my uni, and have been looking for ways to avoid the usual pitfalls.
    We are required to attend 2 to 3 campus meals a week. Usually the salads are pre-loaded with dressing and the meat has processed carbs and sauces mixed with it.
    If you speak to the chef in advance, they are more than happy to prepare an alternate meal for you.

  37. great site! really good tips for stay healthy. I came across another really cool site that is for college kids that sells personal care and cleaning essentials delivered to their door. Its called check them out!

  38. Joining a Fraternity was the best choice to help me push on with the primal life. Having full access to a commercial kitchen (not to mention rent is about 1/2 the price = more money for quality food). They also provide outlets for play. I can walk around the house anytime of the day and grab 3-4 guys to go outside and play some sort of sport. Def worth it to check out some chapters for anyone interested.

  39. I know this post is old, but I see some fairly recent comments on it so I’ll have a go too. I go to UC Berkeley and the way our meal plan works is 1250 points per semester that we can spend anyway we want at the dining halls, convenience stores, and restaurants on campus. Meals in the dining halls are 6-8pts. depending on the meal and they charge you .75pts. if you want a to-go box. Some people think the .75 isn’t worth spending but it TOTALLY IS!!! I can fill up a box and get 2 meals out of it! Or at least 1 and enough veggies for part of a second meal. We’re also allowed to take 1 item with us when we leave if we eat in the hall. Since they don’t check us I usually slip 1-2 hardboiled eggs into my bag and take an apple in my hand. I justify this “stealing” by saying that I already paid for the meal plan and the food will go to waste if I don’t eat it, hahaha. Salad bars and deli stations are your best friends (w/o croutons and bread, of course). The other food is good too most of the time (I check the menu beforehand to know which stations I should eat from). The one downfall is that I have no control over the oil they use, so that part of my diet is definitely unPrimal. However, I can’t eat only salads all day so I let this detail slip. Good luck to all the other Primal students out there. We are modern-day foragers!

  40. I have currently begun grad school and our hours are intense! In addition, we are not able to use the meal plans at our school. I love eating primal and enjoy precooking and planning meals for the week (cooked on the weekend while I have time), but most of the meals I plan for the week are so inconvenient (ex: grilled pork chops with peaches). I’ve been making spinach bread and nori for sandwiches and wraps, but I am getting bored with the same routine. Do you have any other suggestions for me?

    p.s. power bars, nutrition bars, supplements, smoothies, etc just aren’t my style and leave me unsatisfied.