College is a period of immense change in a person’s life, and it can lead to a ton of stress. Between papers, new surroundings, learning to “adult”, and meeting literally thousands of random new people, it’s a wonder we don’t all combust from the pressure.
It’s pretty common to fall into using food as a mode of comfort when under large amounts of pressure; it’s one reason so many students struggle with that dreaded “Freshman 15”, and some fall into patterns of disordered eating and bingeing.
The good news here is that finally, colleges are making a lot of great changes to help students avoid those lapses in health; and fitness and healthy living are discussed more and more in today’s society.
When I left home, I was determined not to allow myself to fall into unhealthy patterns and let my physical fitness lapse, and I made every effort to find a way to balance college life, healthy eating, and fitness. I struggled, and I’ll admit I failed more than a few times. After all, no one’s health is perfect: I still continue to learn from my own mistakes, but it is possible to stay healthy in college. Eating healthy and staying active is a lot easier than most people think, especially on a college campus. With just a little effort and some extra thought each day, you can do it too! Here are a few tips that I’ve learned, and I hope they help you to get started or even get back on track.
Get out and get involved!
This was a huge goal of mine, and it made being active so much easier to fit into my schedule. Universities and campus organizations often have trips or cool events that involve hiking, running, or other physical activities—and some are even free *cough cough* Fit University chapters *cough cough*. With events like these, you can meet new people AND stay active at the same time. You might even find a new way to stay active that you wouldn’t have on your own: I ran my first ever mud run 5k this year and had a blast. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
Take a lap around the dining hall before grabbing a plate.
There are typically several stations in the average dining hall, and there is almost always a healthier or lighter option somewhere. You might have to get creative, and that’s ok! Often, I go to several stations and make my plate from bits and pieces from other meals. For example, go check out the salad bar, then go to the grill and see what protein options there are, and then finish it off with any fruit that might be available. This will allow you to not only stay on track but walk away with food you hand-picked, and will actually enjoy! Plus, taking that lap will help you prioritize the food you actually want, rather than just mindlessly loading your tray as you go and ending up with 2 meals on your plate because you found something in the back that looked too good to pass up.
Make friends that have the same goals.
You mimic what you’re surrounded with, whether you think so or not: it’s just the truth. This was a huge step for me and is actually far more challenging than it sounds. The first group of people I befriended when coming to college were less interested in being physically fit than I was, and never understood why I wanted a salad instead of pizza when we would go out to eat. This led to me caving and giving in to unhealthy habits that I wouldn’t have otherwise due to peer pressure and guilt. Their mindset made me think that my way was wrong, even though I knew deep down that I was trying to do what was right for me. Once I removed myself from those negative influences and began associating with people who supported my goals and my lifestyle, I found it a lot easier to stick to my plan.
Easier said than done, I know, but it will only come with practice! AKA: you have to try. If you know that you will be running from class to class and won’t have time to sit down and have a meal, pack something to take with you. It doesn’t have to be complicated: even if it’s just apples and peanut butter or a protein bar, knowing you have something healthy packed will prevent you from grabbing a vending machine treat as you rush to class. When it comes to healthy eating, it’s all about planning ahead and being prepared! This applies to the dining hall as well. It has become extremely common for schools to post nutritional facts of their options online. Google your school and see what they are offering. It helps me to go in with a game plan and method of attack.
Staying healthy at school doesn’t require a love for lifting weights, and it doesn’t mean running 3 miles every day. Healthy looks different for everybody. Simply find something you truly enjoy and pencil it in. Treat this time just like all the other important meetings you have; it’s a meeting with yourself and your body. All it takes is one day to start. Try going to a new event or try out a new exercise. If you enjoy it, you’ll want to keep doing it. It may seem frivolous, but staying active and eating right DO actually reduce the chances of depression, sickness, stress, and self-doubt. That’s right: exercise can even boost your self-confidence. Truly being healthy (mind and body) isn’t just a chore on your to-do list: if you do it right, it can make your college experience so much more enjoyable.