Many college students resign themselves to the “freshman fifteen” and falsely believe that maintaining a healthy lifestyle in college is impossible. But the following article provides a starting point on how to eat healthy in college.
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How Do I Start a Healthy Lifestyle in College?
College has a bad reputation for being a playground for unhealthy lifestyles and eating habits. When people think of college lifestyles, they usually picture parties and binge drinking or all-nighters at the library fueled by energy drinks, midnight pizza runs, and ramen noodles.
A healthy lifestyle can be categorized into three main sections: diet, exercise, and sleep. While this article will focus on the first, starting a healthy lifestyle begins by maintaining a balance between those three.
How Do You Eat Healthy In College?
Eating healthy in college or anywhere in life is possible and begins with awareness of what you are eating and when. While it can be challenging to eat healthy in college, the benefits are worth the struggle.
A healthy diet in college is really important for academic success. In fact, according to the CDC, eating healthy positively correlates to higher grades and improved memory. Healthy foods are also linked to a robust immune system and correlate to a decrease in developing life-threatening diseases like heart disease.
A series of conscious choices can quickly become a healthy lifestyle, so read our list of tips that will teach you how to eat healthily in college.
1. Meal Planning
Meal planning provides an excellent way for college students to start living a healthy lifestyle. Why? Meal plans allow college students to save time by grocery shopping once a week and money by buying in bulk. The health benefits include helping college students avoid the temptation of eating convenient foods, usually fast food and learning portion control. For these reasons, meal planning is popular for people who want to diet on a budget with limited time.
When meal planning, college students can grocery shop and pack into containers balanced healthy meals. To receive maximum health benefits, these meals should consist of healthy foods that are low in fats, including legumes, whole grains, and salads.
2. Staying Active
Staying active in college not only boosts your metabolism and burns calories but also allows your body to absorb and use nutrients, like protein, more effectively. So even though physical activity isn’t technically “eating healthy,” it’s a crucial component of a balanced lifestyle.
Great ways for a college student to stay active include walking to class, using the stairs instead of the elevator, playing ultimate frisbee with friends, or playing a pick-up basketball game. Intramural sports are also a fun way for college students to stay healthy. If you choose to utilize an on- or off-campus gym, try to find a workout buddy to keep yourself accountable.
3. Grab the Pots and Pans
Cooking allows you to follow a more controlled diet and eat healthier foods. For example, if you want to follow a strict gluten-free diet, cooking in your dorm might be the way to go. To start cooking in a dorm, you will need basic appliances like a microwave, a minifridge, and an electric kettle. These simple tools will allow you to cook many basic recipes.
Part of building a solid grocery list is planning out healthy square meals, which should contain whole foods rich in antioxidants, like kale. You should make a solid grocery list at least once a week to get the most out of cooking. I also recommend buying herbs and spices and stocking your dorm with nutritious foods. Healthy proteins like grilled chicken breast and carbohydrates like granola should become dorm room staples. These foods can be quite filling and support the idea that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean being hungry.
4. Be Aware of What You Eat
An underemphasized part of a healthy lifestyle is awareness of what you put into your body. The old adage, “You are what you eat,” holds very true and stresses the importance of knowing what you put into your mouth.
Many processed foods are filled with high fructose corn syrup and saturated and trans-fats, which can lead to weight gain and heart disease. Certain preservatives found in processed foods can also harm our health. For example, sodium benzoate, commonly found in soda, may be associated with cancer development.
So how does a college student become more aware? A good start would be reading the ingredients of foods you think might be bad for you. While this may sound like a lot of work, you will quickly learn to know what ingredients to look for and which brands are healthy. After all, what gets measured gets done.
5. Taste the Rainbow
Eating balanced meals means eating the right foods in the right proportions. A well-organized balanced meal typically consists of protein, dairy (or a dairy substitute like almond milk), starchy foods high in fiber (like potatoes), and fresh fruits and veggies. When discussing a balanced diet, many health professionals also recommend “eating the rainbow.” Simply put, this means eating various colorful fruits and veggies daily.
The science behind this is plants have many pigments, or phytonutrients, that give them their color. Nearly all fruits and veggies, regardless of color, are high in antioxidants, meaning, in layman’s terms, that they lower swelling inside the body.
Plants of different colors have been linked to increased amounts of various nutrients and health advantages. Below, you can find a quick summary of the health benefits associated with each color.
- Red – as a rule of thumb, red fruits and veggies like tomatoes reduce skin damage caused by the sun and lower the risk of heart disease and some types of cancers.
- Yellow and Orange – similarly, fruits or vegetables like yams and carrots support eye health and help lower the risk of heart disease and cancers.
- Green – your salad veggies like kale and broccoli boost the immune system, help detoxify the body and increase energy levels.
- Blue and Purple – blue and purple fruits and veggies like purple cabbage and eggplant are particularly important for college students. They are linked to improving cognition, but they also help with neurological disorders and type 2 diabetes.
- Dark Red – beets and cherries fall in this category and help with high-intensity physical activity by increasing oxygen uptake and lowering blood pressure.
- White and Brown – these fruits, vegetables, and fungi, including bell mushrooms and cauliflower, help strengthen bones, lower the risk of heart disease, and prevent colon cancer.
6. Don’t Skip Breakfast
Even if you wake up at noon and have to rush to class, never go without breakfast in college. Breakfast is famously known as the most important meal of the day. Not only does breakfast start up your metabolism, but it also stabilizes blood sugars, leading to less hunger and increased energy levels throughout the day. Research from the Cleveland Clinic also shows that breakfast is linked to students getting better grades.
What if you are really pressed for time during the mornings in college? I know I was. Consider stocking your dorm room with quick, easy, and healthy options such as cinnamon oatmeal, a spoonful of peanut butter (my go-to college breakfast), Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, or rice cakes. Try combining Greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and some granola for a delicious parfait.
7. Drink LOTS of Water
Consuming more water is a great and easy way to start eating and living healthier in college. Water intake boosts your metabolism. Also, drinking water leads to healthier eating because it can be difficult for the body to differentiate between hunger and thirst. You might be dehydrated if you feel hungry in or between classes. Next time you feel hungry, drink a glass of water before grabbing a snack.
As a rule of thumb, the average adult should try to drink between half an ounce to an ounce of water for each pound they weigh. But this varies depending on your level of physical activity and climate. The Mayo Clinic also recommends drinking a glass of water between and with each meal and increasing your water intake before, during, and after exercising.
8. Eat Well in the College Dining Hall
Many students living in college dorms wonder how to eat healthy on a meal plan. While maintaining a diet in the dining halls on a college meal plan can be difficult, it is not impossible. Usually, healthy dining hall options exist, including salad bars, soup bars, or grills.
Another way to enjoy healthy choices in a dining hall is to control your portions and watch what you put on your plate. Try to focus on choosing a lean protein with some vegetables with every meal and avoid processed snacks and empty carbs.
9. Stock Your Dorm Room With Healthy Snacks
Stocking your room with healthy snacks such as canned tuna, raw baby carrots, peanut butter, and protein powder will make eating healthy more manageable. If you like peanut butter (and are not allergic), consider making some peanut butter oat power snacks. These easy coconut snacks are delicious and require no baking. If you’re looking for a grain-free option, these protein bites are another great choice, and use coconut flour as the binding ingredient.
If you are willing to put some money into healthy living, buying a portable blender for smoothies and protein shakes can also make fostering a healthy lifestyle in college easier. Smoothies are a delicious way to get your daily serving of fruits. We recommend the Ninja Fit Personal Blender.
Peanut Butter Power Snacks
- 1 Mixing bowl
- 1 Set of Measuring Cups
- 1 cup old-fashioned oats
- 2/3 cup shredded coconut
- 1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed
- 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 tbsp chia seeds optional
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Mix all ingredients together in a large mixing bowl
- Chill for 1 to 2 hours
- Roll into 1-inch balls
10. Do Your Best and Forget the Rest
While in college, you won’t be able to control every aspect of your diet. There will be ingredients at the dining hall you cannot avoid, such as which oils the kitchen uses. Also, a fun part of the college experience is enjoying time with friends, which means a late-night excursion to iHop here and there. To balance being healthy in college while enjoying the experience, college students should avoid the diet culture mindset of thinking about what they “shouldn’t” eat. Instead, college students should focus on seeking foods that will help them feel physically and mentally sharp.
You Are What You Eat
Making wise choices while in college is a great starting point for setting up a lifetime of healthy habits. Having a balanced diet on a college budget is possible with the proper knowledge and motivation. Remember, your body is a temple, and your health is not guaranteed, so don’t wait to start taking care of yourself.
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