Typically, college students fall short of diet recommendations for whole grains, vegetables, fruits, milk, and lean meats. That’s almost everything that comprises a healthy diet! Instead, college students tend to max out on fats, sweets, and alcohol.
Unfortunately, many of these behaviors towards food continue into adulthood. So, what is it about the college life that makes it so difficult to build healthy habits?
College students are facing all sorts of new challenges such as academic requirements, interpersonal relationships, career building, and new living environments. For some, this is the first time they have been responsible for purchasing and cooking their own meals.
Stressful situations contribute to unhealthy habits. When cramming for tests or pulling all-nighters, healthy snacks are all too often replaced with energy drinks, high calorie fast foods, and sugary snacks. Physical activity is sacrificed in favor of social obligations or study time.
It all boils down to making your health a priority and getting creative with what is available to you. Here are some quick tips to get you started.
Staying Healthy In College
- Stop eating out or cut back significantly.
- Purchase food that is in-season. Produce that is in-season costs considerably less than off-season produce.
- FREEZE! Make the freezer your best friend. Buy meat in bulk or on sale and freeze. Stock up on frozen veggies and freeze excess fruit for quick smoothies later down the line.
- Get familiar with bulk bins. Oats, rice, wheat flour, seeds, nuts, grains, nut butters, and healthy snacks can all be found in the bulk section of your local grocery store. Bulk bins are notoriously cheaper and you can choose how much you want to purchase.
- If you are still living in a dorm, invest in a magic bullet or small blender for your room as well as a mini fridge with a freezer. These will allow you to keep healthy snacks on hand for the off chance you can’t make it to the cafeteria for a healthy meal.
- Stock up on protein powder, canned tuna, canned salmon, canned vegetables (low-sodium), old fashion quick oats, natural peanut butter, tea, fruit, and healthy snack bars (I recommend Quest, Think Thin, or ProBar.)
- Utilize your dorm cafeteria! The great thing about eating at your dorm is the meals are already prepped, the salad bars are usually awesome, and you can box up your food and hit the ground running. There are awesome food options, if you know what to look for.
- Reach for eggs, plain oatmeal (add your own fruit topping), whole grain toast with peanut butter, tea, black coffee, skim or 1% milk, and water. Try to avoid juices, pastries, cereal, pancakes, and pre-made breakfast sandwiches.
- Make your own open-faced sandwich with one slice of whole wheat bread, plenty of protein such as deli meat or tuna, veggies, and one slice of cheese. Be mindful of mayo, creamy dressings, and other condiments like ketchup. This is where calories are poured onto food with little knowledge. Dressing and condiments typically contain additives, like high fructose corn syrup, as well. Try spicing or dressing things up with Sriracha, hummus, or avocado instead.
- Dig into the salad bar. Pile on dark, leafy greens, plenty of veggies, and lean protein. Most salad bars offer grilled chicken, tuna, or fish. Try to stay clear of pre-made pasta bars with creamy dressings, fried foods like chicken nuggets, and pizza. If your dorm offers grilled options, like hamburgers (no bun or ½ bun,) choose those and add vegetables.
- Vegetables, fruits, cottage cheese (found in the salad bar), yogurt, string cheese, nuts, salsa, baked corn tortilla chips, and hummus. Try your best to avoid fried chips, candy, crackers, ramen, cookies, and french fries.’
- Take advantage of your schools recreation center. While it might not be a fancy gym, it IS a fitness center with machines, a pool, and weights. Campus recreation centers are usually free for students and offer discounted group fitness classes.
- Join an Intermural sports team on your campus such as soccer, volleyball, or softball. This is a great way to stay active, meet new people, develop a support group of like-minded individuals, and reduce stress.
- Make smart choices when choosing to drink. Some researchers have also suggested that because alcohol is metabolized in the body first, any food consumed in combination with the alcohol will be more easily converted to fat. Alcohol also reduces your inhibitions. You may be more inclined to indulge or make poor choices because you aren’t able to think clearly or examine the long-term consequences. Instead of drinking every night or binge drinking on weekends, limit your consumption to one or two drinks once a week.