There’s no other time in your life quite like the time you spend in college. It’s an exciting era of opportunity and growth, yet there are also hectic schedules, little to no sleep, and a fair amount of stress to handle. Juggling classes, exams, papers, a social life, and maybe even a job keeps most college students occupied 24/7. That means you’re probably going to fuel yourself with the food that’s easy to grab. Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons today’s college life is often synonymous with pizza, burgers, and just about any other junk food, washed down with sugar-laden, caffeinated drinks for those late nights studying. With this in mind, following an AIP-friendly diet during college can sometimes feel as if you’re swimming against the current.
Four years is a long time to compromise your health by not taking care of yourself, and it can potentially extend longer if you add a master’s degree, medical, or law degree. This impact can be even larger if you’re already dealing with an inflammatory condition such as asthma, eczema, seasonal allergies, or an autoimmune condition. An inflammatory diet and chronic stress—on top of the extra viruses and bacteria that come with living in the dorms or a shared apartment—can lead to frequent illness and set you on the path to autoimmunity or worsen an existing condition.
This was also a primary concern of my patients who were either college students or had college-aged children and wanted to protect against autoimmune conditions or other chronic illnesses. I recommend building a foundation of health with essential supplements to sustain you through the hectic college life. My go-to for promoting optimal health during busy times is protein powder. Protein is the building block of all your cells and supplementing with a clean protein powder will help you stay energized after a long day in classes. You might even make it to the gym after all!
You don’t have to sacrifice your health to get your degree or have the “time of your life.” I managed to do this in college because I was fortunate enough to have parents who taught me the importance of nourishing my body with real, whole foods.
The great news is that following The Myers Way® protocol, or other inflammation-fighting diets is now easier than ever. There are so many options for the busy college student to eat healthy, delicious foods that support the gut and immune system. By eating right and adding a few essential supplements, you can ensure you or your college student build a strong foundation of optimal health. After all, your health is the foundation on which you build your future!
Before we dive into navigating living the AIP lifestyle in college, let me refresh your memory on the “AIP” basics. If you’re new to this lifestyle, I’ll highlight the main ideas and show you where you can read more.
What is the AIP Protocol?
AIP, or the Autoimmune Paleo protocol, is a lifestyle approach centered on eating an anti-inflammatory diet to promote an optimally functioning immune system. An immune system that does not malfunction, attack your own cells, and lead to autoimmune conditions of all types. I explain this in my books, The Autoimmune Solution and The Thyroid Connection.
In my books, throughout my blog, and in my programs, I explain how I reviewed the research on the AIP protocol, refined it based on what worked best for myself and thousands of patients, and expanded it to include all of the environmental root causes of chronic illness beyond diet. From there, I developed my own program for preventing and reversing chronic illness called The Myers Way®.
The five steps of The Myers Way® include:
- Repairing your gut
- Optimizing your diet
- Taming the toxins
- Healing your infections
- Relieving your stress
In this article, we focus on step 2, optimizing your diet. You can read about the others at the links above or in my books.
The Why and How of Following an AIP Protocol During College
If you have an autoimmune condition such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, Crohn’s Disease, Grave’s, asthma, eczema, or psoriasis, it’s in your best interest to follow The Myers Way® to maintain optimal health. Additionally, a family history of autoimmune disease or chronic illness may induce to you take proactive measures to protect your health.
If you need a little extra motivation, consider that the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that 23.5 million Americans are now affected by autoimmune disease. The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA) puts the estimate even higher, at 50 million.1 The number of young adults and children with autoimmune conditions is on the rise, and women are at an even higher risk than men.2
In terms of optimizing your diet, you’ll want to focus on eating plenty of leafy greens, organic vegetables, lean animal protein from a clean source, healthy fats, and organic fruit. Ditch toxic and inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and packaged or junk foods. During your time in college especially, it’s important to moderate your consumption of sugar, alcohol, and caffeine. I offer a full breakdown of foods to enjoy and foods to toss in my blog so that you can stay on top of your food choices.
Now that you understand what AIP is, I’ll give you some tips on incorporating it into your college life. Remember, this is a lifestyle, not a diet. That’s why I call my program The Myers Way®, because it truly is a way of life. You can start slow if this is new to you. Even a few steps in the right direction can set you on a completely different path. College can be demanding to say the least, and I don’t want to add to your stress. My goal is to encourage you to make gradual changes over time that will allow you to take back your health!
Easy Tips for Following an AIP Protocol During College
1. Start Your Day with a Protein Smoothie
To keep your body and mind fueled all day long, protein is paramount. It is literally what you’re made of! All of your body’s functions require protein to operate optimally, and animal protein from a clean source is the best form to fuel your body. Thanks to convenient protein powders, you can start your day or enjoy a mid-day pick me up with a delicious, protein-packed smoothie!
Even now, I start my day with a smoothie because it is a quick and nutritious way to get a ton of vitamins, minerals, and protein into one meal. There’s not too much prep, and very little clean up, so I can get on with my day feeling energized and ready for anything.
I formulated my own protein powder because I found that many sold in stores are filled with ingredients that do not sit well with my body and could possibly exacerbate symptoms associated with autoimmunity. To maintain optimal health, read the labels on your protein powder to know what you’re putting in your body. My Paleo Protein Powders are sourced from grass-fed, pasture-raised cows who were never given GMOs, hormones, or antibiotics. It even comes in the flavor Salted Caramel, to satisfy any collegiate craving for a sweet milkshake, without ingredients that may harm your gut.
To supercharge your smoothies there are two other convenient additions to include. The first is collagen. Unlike Paleo Protein, which includes all 9 essential amino acids, collagen is not a complete source of protein. However, it is particularly rich in 4 key amino acids that support a healthy gut, beautiful hair, skin, and nails, optimal metabolism, and healthy bones and joints. It also now comes in single-serving packets and dissolves instantly with a quick stir. Add it to your regular morning drink—iced or hot!—for a pick-me-up that will benefit your gut and your digestion, as well as keep your skin and hair fresh, glowing, and strong.
The second ingredient to amp up your smoothies is a scoop of Organic Greens powder. Any clean brand that you trust will do the job, however, my formula contains a powerhouse blend of 14 organic plant foods rich in the phytonutrients missing from our modern diet. It’s also mildly sweet with absolutely no grassy taste. It’s an easy way to get your daily dose of greens without needing a fridge full of fresh, organic produce!
2. Pack Snacks
Be prepared for the day by throwing some snacks in your bag the night before a busy day. This is the key to your success as a college student (preparation is key in other areas of life as well!). I want to encourage you to be prepared and be present over perfect. If you’re prepared with healthy snacks ahead of time, you can avoid the pitfalls of eating inflammatory foods out of hunger. Those cafeterias and coffee shops can be tempting. A good way to steer clear is to remind yourself not to waste the delicious (and inexpensive) AIP snacks you already have ready to grab out of your bag.
So, what do you take with you to eat and drink? First and foremost, take water—stay hydrated and alert. Use a reusable water bottle made with glass or stainless steel to avoid toxins, as plastics leak chemicals into your water. I recommend avoiding drinking out of plastic bottles whenever you can to limit your toxic burden
While packing real whole foods such as organic fruits and veggies is ideal, sometimes you don’t have a fridge available, and need simple grab-and-go options. For those of you who completed the reintroduction phase of The Myers Way® Autoimmune Solution or AIP protocol, my Chewy Chocolate Paleo Bars are perfectly balanced to handle those between-meal cravings. They contain 12 grams of clean-sourced, grass-fed beef protein per bar. If you can find similar options in your nearby health foods stores, I once again want to say, “Read the labels! Look at the ingredients!” The fewer ingredients, the better. Protein bars with a short list of ingredients often have little to no additives.
My Coconut Joy Fiber Bars will also satisfy your craving for something sweet. They’ll keep you full, energized, and focused. Want to know why? These decadent chocolate-covered coconut bars contain 11 to 13 grams of prebiotic fiber to support a healthy microbiome and blood sugar balance. Fiber is important for your digestion, and prebiotic fiber helps your gut products probiotics. If you’re not getting enough whole foods containing these nutrients, you may need to supplement with a snack similar to my Fiber Bars. They’re also rich in healthy medium chain triglycerides (MCTs) to support fat burning and weight control.
If you need ideas for healthy snacks that won’t derail your foundation of wellness, here is a list of some of my favorite prepackaged options:
- Organic freeze-dried fruit
- Wild salmon jerky or free-range bison jerky
- Organic Gemini Tiger nuts
- Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips
- Bone broth (such as Kettle & Fire or Bonafide)
- Epic Hickory Smoked Bacon Bites or pork rinds
- Unsweetened Coconut Chips
- Artisana Raw Coconut Butter Squeeze Packs
- Plantain chips (such as Terra)
Lastly, I want to add that if you have access to a kitchen, you can make your own The Myers Way® approved energy bites for a snack that will keep your stomach and your wallet fuller. Recipes for approved energy bites are all over wellness blogs, and they’re usually easy to incorporate into your diet plan once you’ve completed the first 30-days of The Myers Way®. That’s because many energy bite recipes include ingredients such as nuts and seeds and sweeteners including honey or maple syrup. These are okay if you’ve reintroduced them without experiencing uncomfortable symptoms of inflammation that could exacerbate autoimmune conditions and chronic illness.
3. Make Smart Choices in the Cafeteria
In the dorm, fresh fruits, vegetables, and salads are always a great choice! Most dorm cafeterias likely do not stock organic produce (although hopefully, this will change as more research emerges!). So that’s an area where you may need to compromise. You can also stock up your own favorite organic produce for your dorm fridge if it’s available. When you have to select fruits and vegetables from the dining hall, use the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) website or download their app as a reference. That way you can choose the non-organic fruits and vegetables from the Clean Fifteen list to minimize chemicals and GMO’s.
Keep in mind that not all fruit needs to be refrigerated. You can keep apples and oranges out of the fridge for about a week. Bananas can stay out as well, but they ripen fast! Fresh fruit is always preferred to dried fruit to help avoid unnecessary sugar in your day.
When it comes to meat in the dining halls and cafeterias, look for grilled or roasted meats without sauces. Sauces often hide butter and other inflammatory ingredients. Seamed vegetables are always a great option if you’re looking for warming and nutritious foods to fuel your day. Always ask for gluten- and dairy-free options. I recommend calling your university cafeteria to find out if they label their gluten-free and dairy-free foods. Don’t be afraid to politely inquire about what’s in the food before you make your choices. When in doubt, leave it out!
4. Cook Simple Meals Packed with Essential Nutrients
If you have your own apartment in college, with very little effort on your part you can stock your fridge and prepare simple meals. They will satisfy your taste buds and support your immune system. In minutes you can have a meal you made yourself that you can feel good about eating! You’ll train yourself how to cook for a lifetime of vibrant health, and feel proud of your effort and your success!
For starters, make sure your freezer is stocked with grass-fed, organic meats and organic fruits and vegetables. If you can’t afford to buy everything organic, focus on the meat first because it’s at the top of the food chain. Non-organic meat can be full of pesticides and hormones. I love Butcher Box’s grass-fed, pasture-raised meats available as a monthly delivery option. Now, I know those freezers in your dorm’s mini-fridges are small, so if you’re interested in these options, I’d recommend finding a handful of like-minded students on campus with similar health goals to split a subscription with you. Otherwise, make smart shopping decisions at the local market, or have a fun day out with friends at a local farmers market! Regarding produce, prioritize buying organic fruits and vegetables on the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list, which are the 12 conventional produce foods with the highest concentration of pesticides.
Stock up on pantry staples such as coconut oil, coconut aminos (a delicious soy sauce replacement), gluten- and grain-free flours, and other autoimmune-friendly items. Thrive Market offers tons of AIP-approved choices at prices 25-50% lower than you’ll find in health stores and they deliver straight to your door. There are also options becoming more widely available and local health food chains to make college life easier without the shipping.
Choose simple, AIP approved recipes that you can prepare as staple dishes for the week. You can even prep them ahead of time and store in your fridge or freezer to enjoy throughout the week. You can find over 150 easy and mouth-wateringly delicious recipes in my cookbook, The Autoimmune Solution Cookbook, which are perfect for people who don’t have hours to spend in the kitchen. My family cooks meals from this cookbook almost every night and even my toddler daughter, Elle, enjoys them!
5. Get Right Back on Track If You Get Derailed
Living a healthy life is about balance and no one is perfect! So if you do get derailed, I have some great resources to get you back on track. First, take digestive enzymes to help you quickly digest and flush any inflammatory foods you eat. The ones I carry in my store contain a special enzyme, DPP-IV. It specifically helps you break down gluten to get it out of your system faster.
You can follow that up with binding agents in the form of activated charcoal, which absorbs toxins from your digestive tract so that you can flush them out. Make sure you drink plenty of water during this process as well, to help you pee, poop, and sweat any toxins out.
Next, you’ll want to take Omega-3 fatty acids to support your body’s inflammatory response.
Finally, to repair your gut, I recommend a supplement containing L-glutamine. My favorite supplement, Leaky Gut Revive®, is packed with nutrients to repair your gut lining and soothe any digestive symptoms that may arise from getting off track. However, L-glutamine itself is the most common amino acid in your body and a critical building block that your body uses to produce proteins. It helps regenerate cells faster and turn over your gut-lining. L-glutamine is the best ingredient for repairing a leaky gut!
6. Build a Strong Foundation with The Myers Way® Essential Supplements
No matter where you are in your health journey, there are four supplements that I recommend virtually everyone takes in order to maintain a strong foundation for optimal health. These include a high-quality multivitamin, a potent probiotic, Omega 3 fish oils, and vitamin D3/K2. You can find all of these (and save 10%!) in my Essentials Kit.
I hope after reading this that you’re feeling empowered and confident that you or your college-aged child CAN maintain (and even improve!) your health during this exciting time in your life.