How to Stay Healthy in College
For those of you who are fresh out of high school and headed to college and your first taste of freedom, you are probably pretty excited — and you should be! College is an awesome place to start taking charge of your life and getting to know who you are as an individual. But sometimes the overabundance of freedom paired with a plethora of new responsibilities can be a little overwhelming.
You’ve probably heard of the dreaded “freshman 15.” If you haven’t, it’s the phenomenon of gaining 15 pounds during your first year of college … for some, the first semester. There are many factors that contribute to gaining the freshman 15, but many chalk it up to students being in charge of their own food intake for the first time; pair that with a student budget and some not-so-good food choices are bound to be made. Also, endless hours of classes, studying, and homework can leave you sitting most of your day. Bad food choices and a sedentary lifestyle is a disastrous recipe for rapid weight gain.
But this doesn’t have to happen to you! You can maintain your current weight and level of health — or even lose a freshman 15 if you’ve got some extra weight you’d like to ditch — by following these tips:
Take Note of Your Current Health
It’s hard to track changes in your weight or health if you’re not aware of where you currently are in those respects. One way to look at these things is to calculate your BMI (body mass index). While it’s not the end-all-be-all of accuracy, as everyone’s body type is different, figuring out your current BMI will give you a general idea of where you are on average.
Also be sure to take note of your current eating habits and activity level. What and how much do you eat on a daily basis? How active are you? Knowing these things now will help you figure out either what you need to maintain or changes you’d like to make going into the school year.
Make Good Food Choices
There are two lifestyles that most college freshmen are likely to find themselves in: living on campus cafeteria food with the food plan that students who live in the dorms are required to get, or living off campus and having to grocery shop and cook for themselves for the first time. Both of these scenarios can end up with students making some less-than-stellar decisions when it comes to eating.
The students who have a food plan that comes with on-campus living have access to a buffet style cafeteria for their daily meals. With a nearly unlimited smorgasbord of food to choose from, and a young appetite, and inkling to “get your money’s worth,” overeating happens more often than not; and with so many different food options, it’s tempting to go for the delicious (and probably more unhealthy) options. This is where you need to take responsibility and make good choices; take only how much you need to fill yourself, and try to make a healthy choice like fruits and vegetables, non-oily meats, and whole grains. Getting something on the unhealthier side, like pizza every once in while isn’t going to kill you, but eating like that every day certainly isn’t going to do you any favors.
Students who live off-campus and have to fend for themselves typically fall into the “buy the cheapest and easiest food possible.” You know the old stereotype of the college student living off instant-ramen — it’s a stereotype because many students actually do! Instant ramen, mac and cheese, microwave meals — if it’s cheap and easy, it’s free game. But these cheap and easy foods are almost always extremely unhealthy; tons of sodium, preservatives, and processing make up these foods and are not good for the human body. The misinformation here is that these foods are the cheapest options. There are plenty of ways to eat cheaply and healthy at the same time. Buying things like rice in bulk and stocking up on cheap frozen vegetables are just a couple of the ways to eat affordably and healthily as a student.
Find Ways to Be Active
In high school, you probably had different ways of being active, whether it was participating on your school’s sports teams, or just walking to school or around your neighborhood with your friends. But in college, your schedule is more than likely going to be a lot more hectic, and unless you were one of the few lucky recruits to one of the university’s sports teams, you’re probably not going to have many opportunities for organized exercise, let alone the free time to seek out possibilities … or the energy; it’s funny how all those hours of sitting and studying wear you out. It’s hard to get motivated to exercise when you’re mentally exhausted.
But, if you hope to combat the freshman 15, you need to find some ways to incorporate exercise into your life. If you look in the right places, you can find a lot of creative ways to add some extra activity to your college life. If you’re going to a state school with a large campus, skip using the shuttle and make an effort to walk to each of your classes when possible. If you’ll be commuting to school, you can choose a far parking spot to add a bit more walking.
For more constructive exercise, you can use your campus gym. Most universities have a recreation center that is free to use for full-time students. Just pack your gym bag and make it a point to go there a few times a week — perhaps during a large break between classes or before you go home for the day. If the gym is boring to you, you can find other creative and fun ways to get more exercise. Get some of your dorm mates or friends from classes and make it a group hang; find an activity you all enjoy — like campus favorite ultimate Frisbee — and try to do it a couple of times a week. For those weeks where you have more homework than time, take 10-minute study breaks every hour and follow along to a YouTube work out, or even just dance around to your favorite music. Any type of movement is going to do you good!
The freshman 15 is a reality for many, but it doesn’t have to be one for you. Use your newfound freedom to make good choices for yourself and your health, and the only weight you’ll gain this year is the weight of new knowledge in your mind. Good luck this year!
Mila Sanchez is a writer and recent graduate with a BA in English Linguistics. Her ambitions include traveling the world, studying languages, and taking pictures of her dog, Baymax. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram!