Going off to college brings with it an obvious amount of newfound freedom including the sudden ability to eat whatever it is you want and buy whatever it is you want, which means that suddenly all of that junk food that you were most likely forced to eat in moderation back at home becomes readily available 24/7. And, unless you are a college athlete with a consistent workout schedule, sometimes it can be hard to create an exercise routine. What is even harder: staying motivated to eat right and exercise.
The “Freshman 15” is a term that a majority of universities and colleges refer to as the general weight that college freshmen will gain during their first year of college when healthy diet and regular exercise are thrown out the window in favor of the not-so-healthy alternatives. Luckily, according to several different resources including studies by Cornell University and the University of Guelph as cited in The Freshman Survival Guide, the Freshman 15 is different for everybody. Some may only gain a few pounds; others maybe will gain more than fifteen. You may even be like me during my freshman year and actually lose weight! The point is everyone’s body is different, so adjusting to the college lifestyle will take a toll on everyone’s body differently too. Nevertheless, here are some universal tips and tricks when it comes to staying healthy throughout your college experience regardless if you are a health nut or a Red Bull junkie.
Eating right can be difficult in college, especially when everyone’s favorite college delicacy, Top Ramen, is 58 cents per pack while buying the healthier food options seems to add up to more than your college tuition. And The Freshman Survival Guide said it best when they stated that “dining-hall eating is more like eating at a restaurant (not always a five-star) for almost every meal.” Fortunately, there are easy ways to make slight adjustments to your eating habits that make for overall healthier results.
- Eat three meals a day! It may be hard to eat breakfast when you are rushing out of your dorm to get to your 8am class, but grabbing a granola bar, piece of fruit, or even dry cereal helps you from overeating during later meals and also provides brain food during those early mornings before lunchtime.
- Snacking can help to keep your appetite in check! This one comes with an asterisk- by snacking I don’t mean an entire bag of Doritos between lunch and dinner. Snacking moderately on something light and healthy actually helps keep you going during the day and lowers your appetite with those bigger meals. Personally, I have a bag of trail-mix for such a purpose. A handful here and there between my meals does wonders. Other snack ideas may be yogurt, pre-cut fruit, or string cheese.
- Balance Your Food Groups! We aren’t saying to never indulge in those 3 slices of pizza on a Friday night when kicking back with your buddies. Just don’t eat it every day. And when eating at the dining halls, try your best to get a good balance of dairy, grains, fruit, vegetables, and protein. Don’t go for the cheeseburger & fries every single meal. A salad never hurt anybody.
- Some colleges provide special kitchenette areas in the common areas of their dorms, or have apartment style Housing with a full kitchen available for cooking. A quick Google search will find you easy college recipes that will not break the bank. A common website frequented by myself and one I share with my residents at the beginning of the school year is www.supercook.com. It allows you to enter in the ingredients you have, and pops out a meal you can make using those ingredients. Pretty nifty!
Staying active while in college is very important. Regular exercise not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but also increases mental alertness in class, clears your head, keeps stress at bay, and helps you sleep better every night. Personally, I treat exercising and going to the gym like an additional class that I cannot skip, and I almost always work out with a friend in order to keep my motivation high. Most colleges offer a free or discounted gym membership with tuition, so take full advantage of it! But, if the gym isn’t exactly your scene, there are still some other strategies to staying active:
- Walk or bike to class! Depending on your class schedule and size of your campus, this could easily add anywhere from 20-60 minutes of exercising every single day! Also, take the stairs in your dormitory instead of the elevator when going back to your room.
- Join a fitness class or an intermural sports program. These are generally always free with tuition as well and are fun ways to get exercise with friends!
- Some people may enjoy doing workouts in the comfort of their own dorm, which is perfectly all right too! An awesome website I share with my residents is www.gainfitness.com/strength. It allows you to set how long you want to work out, the type of work out, and set a fitness goal, and it will crank out an entire workout for you that you can do completely in your dorm room.
Sure, between the late night study sessions and last minute homework assignments at 3 in the morning, sleep can be a scarce thing for any college kid. While sometimes our all-nighters are born out of necessity and cannot be avoided, try not to make it a habit of it. Lack of sleep can reduce brain function, bring on physical and mental fatigue, make it difficult to concentrate, and produce killer headaches (not to mention a crabby mood.) Try your best to stick to a sleeping schedule, preferably one that allots for 6 or more hours of sleep a night. And, obviously, avoid eating or drinking anything before bed. Especially caffeine.
College is no doubt a stress fest, but having down time is also essential to staying healthy. I make it a point to always find time to relax and have fun with friends on a regular basis. Yes, while grades are incredibly important, you aren’t doing yourself any favors by overworking your brain either. Finding that balance between school, work, sleep, and a social life is difficult, but definitely possible. And once you find that balance, you will find yourself healthier and happier. Guaranteed.