Healthy & Fit in College Part One: Eating for Health

This is the first article of a two part series discussing what students can do to maintain healthfulness and fitness while enjoying themselves and succeeding at college. 

Escaping the Freshman 15

Everyone wants to enter college in whatever shape they’re in and leave in a more fit, healthy shape. College is an environment of self-improvement and knowledge where students are expected to leave as a better version of themselves. 

Far too often students graduate with an improved mind at the cost of their bodies. Late nights spent studying (or partying) contribute to poor habits that sometimes last beyond graduation. 

This trend can change if you make an effort to not let college (and all its food) get the best of you. Make your body and your health a priority alongside your education so you can graduate with an improved mind and body. 

Food: Friend or Foe

Food has a direct affect on your health and well-being. Junk food full of sugar and artificial is easy to reach for, but will make you tired, foggy and contribute to excess weight. Food grown from the earth like plants, nuts, seeds, and grains, fills your body with necessary nutrients, energy and strength. 

Even though most of us have grasped this basic concept, college is a challenging time to follow through. It is hard to avoid the buffet-styled dining hall filled with unhealthy, delicious options alongside sub-par healthy options. You probably have friends who like to drink, a lot, and then order pizza. And you most likely have so much homework and so little money that the idea of spending time, energy, and potentially money to eat healthy stresses you out. 

Actual Tips to Follow Through

Take a deep breath. Eating healthy on campus, or for cheap, can be really easy once you get in the habit of abstaining from excess and making better choices. I have a couple of simple strategies that I apply to my life and diet whenever I feel myself getting out of hand (like eating six cookies prior to leaving the dining hall). Each strategy addresses different food problems people are faced with. 

1. Keep Track.

Use an app like MyFitnessPal or Lose It! to keep track of what you're eating. This can be a real eye-opener and help you to understand where you can begin to make improvements. 

Tracking your foods raises consciousness of what you’re eating. You may track a typical day and realize you're eating far too much food, or that you are eating way too much fat and not enough carbs or protein. 

The downside to food tracking is that people sometimes become obsessive and obtain their self-worth based on how well they ate that day. The best case scenario may be to use the tracking app for just a month or two until you learn your eating patterns, and then use the information to help you plan your meals better. You don't necessarily need to keep tracking unless it works for you.

2. Eat Your Veggies!

It is usually easier to focus on adding good food into your diet than focusing on taking bad food out which can leave you feeling deprived. Begin by trying to up your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Regardless of your eating situation, like dining halls or cramped apartment kitchen, you can eat mostly plant-based without much struggle. Eat as many fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, legumes, and nuts as you’d like. This is the most healthy way to eat and you probably have all of the tools to do so in either your dining hall or local grocery store. 

Eating mostly plant-based also means you don't have to feel guilty about what you're eating and you don't have to worry as much about counting calories. Like all changes, the transition period will be the most difficult. You'll need to maintain self control in order to ignore the cookies and slices of pizza in the dining hall. Focus on filling up your plate with fruits and vegetables you do enjoy and you won't have room to think about the foods you're missing.  

3. Plan Ahead

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Don't get caught on the run hungry and be forced to resort to fast food or the last slice of pizza at the dining hall. Plan your healthy meals ahead by creating a food schedule. Make a plan for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. Incorporate all different types of food and colors. After you've done this for a few weeks it becomes habit.

Here is a possible dining hall eating plan for one day:

  • Breakfast: oatmeal with fruit; cup of coffee with almond milk
  • Lunch: large salad, cup soup
  • Snack: fresh fruit, handful of almonds
  • Dinner: rice, steamed veggies, lean protein or beans
  • Dessert: 1/2 a bar of dark chocolate

Leave a few free meals in your plan so you are able to go out with your friends every now and then without worrying about it. The goal is to eat healthy about 80% of the time. This give you some wiggle room to indulge every now and then. 

4. Watch Your Liquids!

One of the biggest health challenges for many college students is drinking and going out. Eating healthy does not mean giving up your social life. However, it may mean recognizing patterns that are particularly unhealthy and taking steps to avoid them. 

Limit your nights out. I did a one night a week rule this semester because I didn’t want to be drinking that much. I thankfully have plenty of friends that aren't going out every night of the week. Do a girls' or guys' night, watch movies, or have a study session with classmates. You won't be missing out on much and you'll get a great night's sleep.

When you do find yourself socially drinking at a party learn to moderate yourself. Drink one less drink than you think you want, or set a drink end time where you stop drinking at a certain time. Limiting your consumption is healthier for you in many ways. 

Try to avoid the food that often comes with drinking. If you’re hungry at a party, opt for vegetables and hummus or guacamole rather than pizza, wings, or friend food. Fresh whole foods will also help you recover faster the next day. 

Drink lots of water. The easiest strategy to get all of your water in is to carry around a water bottle. This also also helps you save money as you won't be running to the vending machine to purchase a bottle of soda every day. 

The Next Step

Use these strategies to begin a healthier relationship with food and eating while in college and build healthy habits that will last for life. Everybody is different so try a few things and see what works best for you! 

While food is a crucial piece of being healthy, there are plenty of other habits you can employ to keep your body and mind fit! In the article I'll talk about getting exercise, reducing stress and getting better sleep in college.