SCD in College: it IS possible!

By Alina Chandra

I am a freshman at the University of Washington, learning how to navigate on-campus dining while following the SCD. I have been on SCD for four and a half years and started in 9th grade, under the care of Dr. David Suskind at Seattle Children’s.
SCD is very important for managing and stabilizing my ulcerative colitis symptoms. When I was thinking about managing college, my diet was a major concern. I would like to say that I didn’t let my disease dictate where I chose to go to school, but the reality is that I had to let it at least influence my decision, I knew that without stable physical health, I would be unable to be successful in college.

When touring colleges, I found out that my diet could not be accommodated everywhere. One small liberal arts school told me blatantly that they would not be able to feed me every day. The key difference between college dining programs is whether the dinning program is in-house or out-sourced. For many smaller schools, it is more economical to outsource to a company, rather than preparing all their food in house. These schools tend to have less flexibility with their meal options, and therefore aren’t as good at accommodating SCD.

During my college decision process, I asked UW about dietary accommodations. Even though they gave me an enthusiastic positive response, making my diet work here has been challenging. The school is well equipped to handle common allergies, and vegetarian diets, but almost none of their meals work for SCD without modification. When I got to school, the first thing I did was meet with the dietician on staff. She laid out several options for me. One option was to have the kitchens prepare something for me separately, that I could pick up at set times. A second option was to find dishes that they were already serving, and ask for a modification to the dish to make it SCD friendly. Although the first option sounded attractive, it would have resulted in a diet with very little variety, for the only food that they could guarantee for me was just chicken with a side of steamed vegetables. I decided to try the second option, with the comfort of knowing that there is always chicken and vegetables to fall back on if necessary.

So what does my current diet at college look like?

DINING HALL MEALS:  I eat about one meal a day at the dining hall. Eating only one or two meals in the dining hall prevents me from getting too bored. I am thankful that I am on a big campus, because there are three food options that I can depend on. There is the salad bar, which I have to be careful about navigating because sometime there are things like cooked broccoli which can have some bacon (which contains sugar) sneaked into them. At the beginning of the school year, I talked with the chef of my dining hall, and he checked the labels of many of the salad bar foods to see if they were SCD friendly, which was very helpful. There is also a place on campus that has grain-bowls, and I can order the grain-bowls with everything except for the grains. This ends up being a yummy bowl of vegetables and meat. There is also a place that always has pasta. At the pasta place, I order vegetables instead of pasta, with marinara sauce and chicken on top. Occasionally I see something else off a rotating menu that I think I can eat part of, and so I ask the chefs what the ingredients are, and order it if it fits with SCD.

DORM ROOM MEALS:  For my other meals, I often prepare something in my dorm. I have a kitchen on my floor, that I can use to prepare food. I like to prepare food on the weekend to eat for lunch during a few week days. Having a mini-fridge in my room is absolutely essential! It allows me to store leftovers and vegetables. I also rely much more heavily on packaged and pre-prepared food at school than I did at home. I eat a lot of Epic Bars, Rx bars, and canned fish.

I’ve been able to manage SCD well here so far, but there are some major challenges. One problem that I face daily at the dining hall is that the people serving food often times have no idea what is in the food. So if I ask for the ingredients, they have to find a chef, which takes quite a while. Then the chef has to search for all the labels to the ingredients in the food. This is time consuming, and it makes me feel a little embarrassed, especially if I’m eating with friends. Although sometimes asking can feel hard, I’ve found that it’s much better to suffer through waiting to get confirmation on ingredients than risking it. I learned this lesson from some sneaky jackfruit that contained sugar, and sent my gut into a minor downward spiral.

Here’s a summary of my advice for following SCD while eating in residence hall dining:

*Look for customizable menu items (i.e. like fish and potatoes which you could ask to substitute veggies for potatoes, not a single entity dish like a stew which probably contains non-SCD friendly ingredients)
*Have patience with the dining hall workers and make friends with the chefs. Knowing ingredients is essential!
*Utilize off campus grocery stores, or food delivery services like Amazon to make sure that you always have backup food around.
*Make sure you have a good amount of fridge space. If there isn’t room in your dorm, you can ask the dinning halls to store food in their fridges.
*Consider meal-prepping if you have a kitchen available

I’ve been able to manage eating SCD while still living in the dorms and eating on-campus, but this won’t necessarily work for everyone.  There are several other options that may work better for you. I know someone who wanted to live in the dorms, but didn’t want to deal with campus dining. Thankfully their parents lived nearby, and were able to drop off food weekly. You also do not need to live in the dorms. People live off-campus for lots of good reasons, and it can be a lot easier to manage SCD with one’s own kitchen. Even if your school has an on-campus housing requirement, a letter from your doctor and an accommodation through the disability resources office will allow you to get out of the housing requirement.

Whichever path you choose, I wish you the best on your collegiate SCD journey.

Alina Chandra