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Balanced Eating

What Is Balanced Eating?

  • A balanced eating pattern contains foods from all food groups. Emphasis is not put on one food group over others.
  • Variety, moderation, and adequacy are all necessary for balanced eating.
  • Enjoyment, fun, and satisfaction during eating are part of balanced eating.
  • The benefits of a balanced eating pattern includes provision of adequate energy and nutrients for daily needs while fostering long-term health and disease prevention.
  • Balanced eating is achievable at any weight. Being in a larger body does not mean someone is unhealthy, or overeats. In fact, nearly half of people who are in the “overweight” category of Body Mass Index (BMI) are metabolically healthy and about 30% of “normal” weight individuals are not (1). The belief that BMI is a proxy for health contributes to weight stigma.
  • Check out Dining Made Easy at BC!
  • Read about Balanced Eating in NACUFS Fall/Winter 2018 magazine.
  • BC's Campus Nutritionist Kate Sweeney is available to speak with students about balanced eating. Make an appointment online.


1. Tomiyama, AJ., Hunger, JM., Nguyen-Cuu, J., and Wells, C. Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005-2012. International J of Obesity (2016): 40, 883-886.


Balanced Eating at BC
mexican plate

Balance in the diet emphasizes that all foods fit- there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods. Food groups that contain nutrient-rich foods like whole grains, vegetables, fruits, lean proteins, calcium-rich foods, and healthful fats are encouraged. At BC Dining, we emphasize these foods regularly in our menu. In fact, a variety of menu items follow many of the healthful eating and sustainability key messages of Menus of Change.

‘Fun’ foods, like desserts, chips, etc, are also encouraged as part of balanced meals. When we give ourselves full permission to eat ‘fun’ foods, we eat them in moderation and don’t feel deprived. Research has shown that eating according to internal cues improves eating habits, lifestyle choices, psychological well being, and body image (1).

Here are basics about nutrients we need on a daily basis to provide optimal fuel.

  • Carbohydrate: Found in oatmeal, bread, pasta, fruit, quinoa, beans, rice, cookies, chips and starchy vegetables like potatoes and winter squash. All carbs break down into sugar and fuel our brain and muscles. Our brain needs constant sugar in the blood stream since we cannot store enough to last us the day. When we don’t eat enough carbs, our bodies break down muscle to provide energy. We can also end up craving carbs and feeling fatigued. Complex carbohydrates have fiber. Examples include brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal and fruits. Complex carbs are digested slower than refined carbohydrates like cookies and white rice. However, they are not necessarily ‘better’ than refined carbs. It is all about context. If you’re having an appropriate portion of white rice with chicken, this will potentially digest slower and raise your blood sugar less than just having brown rice.
  • Protein: Found in eggs, beans, tofu, edamame, chicken, fish, beef, nuts, seeds, Greek yogurt, cheese, and lentils. Proteins build and repair muscle, assist in enzyme functioning, and ensure nail, hair and skin strength. Protein slows down digestion of carbohydrates, and keeps us full. Without enough protein in our diets, we can feel fatigued.
  • Dietary fat: Dietary fats, found in nuts, seeds, salmon, sardines, avocado, olives, full-fat yogurt and milk, cheese, and oils are essential for hormone formation and brain function. Dietary fat does not turn directly into fat in our bodies. Eating more carbs, protein or fat than we need can lead to an increase in body fat over time. Not eating enough fat can increase risk for depression and cause hormonal changes that result in lack of menstruation and poor bone health.
  • Vitamins/Minerals: Examples include iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and zinc. Eating a variety of foods in adequate amounts ensures adequate intake of these micronutrients. These do not provide calories, but give our bodies essential nutrients needed for functioning. For instance, calcium helps our muscles contract. 
  • Fluid: Our bodies are about 60-65% water. We need to stay hydrated for bodily functions to occur normally. Dehydration can lead to fatigue, low blood pressure, and more.


1. Schaefer, J and Magnunson, A. A Review of Interventions that Promote Eating by Internal Cues. J of Nutr and Dietetics; 114(5): 734-760.


Balanced eating requires having variety, moderation and adequacy in one's eating pattern. Without these components, meeting nutritional needs and having a healthy relationship with food can be difficult.

No one food or food group provides all essential nutrients. We need to consume a variety of foods among and within food groups to obtain all essential nutrients, and to get satisfaction from eating. 

Tips to achieve variety:

  • Have colorful foods on your plate. The more color, the more diversity of nutrients are on the plate. Phytonutrients, like flavonoids that contribute to the blue in blueberries, have anti-inflammatory effects. 
  • Having the same meal every single day can get old. Our taste buds are smart, and they get fatigued with the same tastes. We can crave certain foods if we have no variety, leading us to sometimes overeat and feel guilty as a result. 
  • Variety is key to prevent vitamin and mineral deficiencies. For instance, if we don’t eat a variety of foods like firm tofu, cheese, yogurt, milk or milk substitutes, then getting enough calcium can be challenging.



Balanced eating requires having variety, moderation and adequacy in one's eating pattern. Without these components, meeting nutritional needs and having a healthy relationship with food can be difficult.

Giving yourself full permission to eat from all food groups, including ‘fun’ foods, is key to moderation. Just think about the last time you didn’t allow yourself a particular food. What happened when you finally ate it? Chances are, you overate it or felt badly about eating it, even if you didn’t eat that much. Or, you may have felt unsatisfied and like you wanted more, but wouldn’t allow yourself. By giving yourself full permission (i.e. not putting conditions on your food intake- i.e. ‘if I eat this, then I will need to run an extra mile on the treadmill’) and listening to what your body wants, you will vary portion size and food choices. 

Tips to achieve moderation:

  • Avoid using food rules (i.e. ‘If I have bread at lunch, I can’t eat bread at dinner.’)
  • Give yourself full permission to eat all foods. This includes ‘fun’ foods.
  • Be mindful of how satisfying foods are. When you’re mindful about sensory pleasure from food, you feel satisfied with a moderate portion. 
  • Make it a point to enjoy your eating experience. Set aside time to eat and be with people you enjoy eating with. Mindful eating can help improve your satisfaction and moderate portions.



Balanced eating requires having variety, moderation and adequacy in one’s eating pattern. Without these components, meeting nutritional needs and having a healthy relationship with food can be difficult.

To function optimally, it is necessary to eat enough. Without adequate calories, we can have a hard time concentrating; have worsened mood and be more vulnerable to depression and anxiety; adapt poorly to athletic training, which negatively impacts sports performance; and have medical complications. 

In our society,  “healthy eating” is often portrayed as restricting calories, avoiding sugar, going Paleo, and more.  This is largely due to the promotion of the ‘ideal’ body as one that is thin and lean. In truth, “healthy eating” does not mean having rules around food or going on a diet. Balanced eating includes eating with flexibility.

Tips to achieve adequacy:

  • Adequacy generally means eating 3 meals and 2-3 snacks per day including dessert for college students, and incorporating carbs, protein, and dietary fat into each meal and snack. Here are some snack ideas from the Nourish campaign. To get individualized advice, make an appointment with the Campus Nutritionist, Kate Sweeney, MS, RD.
  • Adequacy is NOT using food choices or amounts of food consumed to manipulate weight or ‘make up for’ exercise or drinking behaviors.
  • If someone is not eating adequately, or has an erratic eating pattern, it can be difficult to rely on hunger because our bodies will not get hungry if they aren’t used to eating. 


Eating a moderate amount of protein at each meal and snack, along with an adequate amount of carbohydrate and fat, provides long-lasting fuel and optimizes body functioning. 

BC Dining offers a variety of foods for you to achieve adequacy, variety and moderation in your eating pattern. We are also part of the Menu of Change Research Collaborative, and promote sustainable, delicious and healthy foods on campus. 

Here is an example day that includes balance, adequacy and variety- and sustainable, local ingredients: Acai bowl for breakfast at Addie’s, where ingredients are sourced locally, then Eagle's Nest for a homemade chocolate chip cookie and a Harmony bowl with brown rice, roasted veggies, and chicken for lunch. In the afternoon, grab Greek yogurt, cereal and fruit for a snack from Lower. Then, for dinner, head to Lower for the Thai Peanut Crunch Bowl with Salmon from and quinoa. Or, eat dinner at Stuart and have grilled chicken with potatoes and a side salad. End the day with locally-sourced ice cream from Addie’s!

Other examples of balanced meals from BC Dining include the Mexican plate, which you can make vegetarian or vegan; the overnight oatmeal with fruit; the Holy Grain bowl with tofu and wheat berries; pasta with meatballs and a side salad; the vegetarian chili with a side from the grain bar; a turkey panini from Hillside with fruit; and Greek yogurt, fruit and omelet with veggies. To get some ideas for snacks, check out this helpful guide from the Nourish campaign.

Put simply, the “Freshman 15” is a myth. In fact, a meta-analysis looking at 24 studies of weight gain during freshman year showed mean weight gain to be 3.86 lbs (1). Another study using a nationally representative random survey showed a gain of between 2.5-3.5 lbs per year, on average; this was only a half-pound more than their same-age peers who do not attend college(2). 

It is actually normal to gain weight during college. Weight typically:

  • Increases 10-20 lbs from the age of 16-20 years old as part of normal growth.
  • Fluctuates 5-10 lbs per day if you’re eating appropriately and drinking enough water.
  • Fluctuates 2-10 lbs during ovulation and before menstruation.

Unfortunately, weight stigma in our society and concern about the “Freshman 15” impacts eating behaviors in college. In the Spring 2016 National College Health Assessment (NCHA) that surveyed 80,139 undergraduate students, 45% of females and 32% of males reported dieting to lose weight and 60% of females and 46% of males reported exercising to lose weight. Many students perceive themselves to be a higher weight than they are. Studies show that 20-60% of female college students try to lose weight despite having a normal BMI of 20-22.0 kg/m^2 (3). 

Have you done a cleanse, counted calories, gone Paleo, or done other types of diets? You’re not alone!! About 57% of women and 40% of men diet each year in the United States (4). By diet, we mean restrict food intake (even if done in the name of being ‘healthy’). Unfortunately, research shows food restriction is not effective. Research shows only 3% of people who lose >10% of their body weight keep off the weight (5). Weight regain is just one side effect of dieting. Dieting also depresses our metabolism, meaning that we need less food to maintain our weight (7). And, dieting can increase cortisol and insulin, and decrease leptin, which together can lead to increased appetite, erratic hunger cues, obsession about food, and poor ability to build muscle (8). Evidence shows that the societal focus on weight and dieting is linked with diminished health like worsened blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and more (6). People often feel they ‘failed’ their diet. The reality is the diet failed them- but, the diet industry certainly doesn’t want you to know that! 

Bottom Line: While diets often feel great in the beginning, in the end we cannot control our weight through any means- whether that is diet, exercise, surgery, medication, appetite-suppressants, and more. Weight is influenced by many factors including sleep, stress, hormones, food intake, exercise, fluid intake, sodium intake, the environment, medications, medical diagnoses like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and genetics. When individuals take a weight neutral approach (versus weight loss approach) to health, health benefits like better cholesterol levels are achievable without loss of weight (9). And, when weight loss is sustainable, it is usually done through Intuitive Eating. Intuitive Eating is a process where focus is not on weight loss but on giving full permission to eat, not putting food in ‘good’/’bad’ categories, paying attention to what foods are satisfying, and eating for hunger as well as practicality.  

To get more help on how to manage your weight, body image, relationship with food, and nutrition make an appointment with BC Dining’s Registered Dietitian, Kate Sweeney, MS, RD, LDN.



1. Vella-Zarb, RA and Elgar, FJ. 2009. The ‘freshman 5’: a meta-analysis of weight gain in the freshman year of college. J of Coll Health. 58(2):161-166.

2. Zargosky, J and Smith, P. 2011. The Freshman 15: A critical time for obesity prevention or media myth? Soc. Science Quart. 92(5): 1389-1407. 

3. Mikolajczyk RT, Maxwell AE, El Ansari W, Stock C, Petkeviciene J, Guillen-Grima F. 2010. Relationship between perceived body weight and body mass index based on self-reported height and weight amount univeristy college students: a cross-sectional study in seven European countries. BMC Public Health. 10:40.

4. Yaesmiri S, Slining MM, Agarwal SK. 2011. Perceived weight status, overweight diagnosis and weight control among US adults: the NHANES 2003-2008 Study. Int J Obes (Lond). 35:1063-1070.

5. Anderson JW, Konz EC, Frederick RC, and Wood, CL. 2001. Long term weight los maintenance: a meta-analysis of US Studies. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 75:579-584.

6. Tylka T, Annunziato R, Burgard D, Danielsdottir S, Shuman E, Davis C, and Calogero R. 2014. The weight-inclusive versus weight- normative approach to health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. J of Obesity. Available online:

7. Fothergill E, et al. 2016. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity. Vol 00:1-8.

8. Sumithran P and Proietto J. 2013. The defence of body weight: a physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss. Clinical Science. 124: 231-241.

9. Mensinger J, Calogero R, Stranges S, and Tylka T. 2016. A weight-neutral versus weight-loss approach for health promotion in women with high BMI: A randomized-controlled trial. Appetite. 105:364-374.

Dieting is one trigger that can lead to disordered eating (DE) and eating disorders (ED). In fact, the National Eating Disorders Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress into disordered eating and as many as 25% advance to full-blown eating disorders. Since the age of onset for eating disorders, according to the National Institute for Mental Health, averages 19 years old for anorexia nervosa, 20 years old for bulimia nervosa, and 25 years old for binge eating disorder, college students are at highest risk for DE/ED- especially if dieting. In fact, research shows that 4.4-5.9% of teens entering college have a pre-existing, untreated eating disorder.

Key Points:

  • Eating disorders are a way to self-medicate- a very effective coping strategy. They are not a choice. Usually, there is a trigger that initiates the onset of an ED. This trigger could be trauma, going on a diet, or history of neglect. In addition to triggering events, genetic factors like perfectionism and environmental factors are essential for ED development.
  • EDs do not discriminate. They occur among every ethnicity, socioeconomic class, gender, sexuality, etc. One in ten people with EDs are men, and the LGBTQ+ community has high rates of DE/EDs.
  • DE includes some components of EDs, but without meeting diagnostic criteria. Someone with DE may be restricting their food intake, but not have a distorted body image. This does not mean that DE is not as severe as ED. 
  • Social media impacts eating behaviors, and may be triggering for someone with ED/DE. Research shows that use of Instagram, for instance, is linked to increased disordered eating symptoms (1).
  • People struggling with ED/DE need to be referred to appropriate medical professionals. Getting help soon after onset is associated with higher recovery rates. For assistance at Boston College, reach out to the University Counseling Service and/or the Registered Dietitian on campus, Kate Sweeney, MS, RD, LDN.


1. Turner P and Lefevre C. 2017. Instagram use is linked to increased symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Eat Weight Disord. DOI: 10.1007/s40519-017-0364-2.

For More Information on Eating Disorders and Disordered Eating, go to:

Multi-disciplinary Eating Disorder Association

National Eating Disorder Association