The end of summer marks “back to school” time for many students, so as I get back to my blog and students are filing in for the fall semester, I thought it would be appropriate to share some tips we all can appreciate to avoid the Freshman 15 (which can quickly spiral into the Senior 30 by the time you graduate, if you don’t start practicing healthy habits early on).
Here’s a healthy hit list of “TO DO and TO DON’T” to get you started:
DO include three food groups in every meal. Example: Pair a lean protein like chicken or fish with fruits and veggies, and calcium.
DO taste the rainbow—The more color on your plate, the better! (Think red bell peppers, yellow squash, purple beets, green spinach and blueberries!).
DO exercise. Most colleges have a fitness center available, or are located near a local gym with discounted student rates. If the gym isn’t your thing, look for other ways to get active on a sports or intramural team. I joined the cross-country team to get in shape for the basketball team. I won’t lie—I hated all of that running, but it kept me focused on staying fit in the off-season and improved my basketball game immensely.
DO stock your room with healthy snacks. This will help you avoid a late-night visit to the school cafeteria or fast foods.
DO find ways to stay motivated. When I was in college, I got a part-time job with the athletic office, which put me in charge of sports equipment and intramural activities. This kept me involved with athletes and sports, which in turn kept me motivated to stay fit.
DO keep portion size in mind. A great way to make sure you don’t overindulge in snacks like granola, nuts, pretzels, etc., is to fill a small sandwich bag with an appropriate portion size and munch from the baggy when you need a quick snack. A small baggy throughout the day will keep your energy level up and give just the right mix of salty and sweet for those random cravings.
DON’T forget about water. The Britta might be empty, the tap water might be disgusting, but that won’t change your body’s need for water. My roommates and I always had cases of water in our apartment so we could easily stay hydrated.
DON’T skip meals. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and you should make sure it’s filling (i.e. NOT just a couple pieces of toast, which are empty carbs. Get protein in the mix with a tablespoon of peanut butter, or a couple servings of egg whites).
DON’T drink sugary cocktails. Now, if my freshmen are reading this, you know you shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol…but once you hit 21, try to steer clear of high calorie drinks like “Screwdrivers,” which pack on the calories and sugar thanks to its major ingredient, orange juice. Look for beverages mixed with tonic water, or low calorie beers. Add extra ice to drinks to give the illusion of having MORE while consuming less. When in doubt, go WITHOUT! That’s right, don’t drink at all. Your jeans size will thank you for it.
DON’T limit yourself. There are endless options for healthy eating, and innovation in a cup doesn’t always have to include alcohol. Smoothies are a great way to indulge in a good-for-you beverage while tapping into your culinary creative side.
These suggestions might sound like no-brainers to you, or maybe they seem challenging to fit into your life. I lived in an apartment all through college, even when I was a freshman. I never gained weight. Before you roll your eyes at the screen and scream, “Of course not, you’re a personal trainer,” let me tell you that my diet wasn’t perfect—like any college kid, I ate a lot of Ramen noodles, grilled cheese, and tuna.
And getting that exercise in wasn’t as grueling as you’d imagine it to be. My friend and played on the basketball team in the winter, so during the fall we ran to and from the gym to do our strength training every other day. The running was a means to an end (get to the gym), but gave us a three-mile workout. Obviously “strength training” has changed a bit since I was 18 years old (along with my eating habits—but I STILL like grilled cheese), but what hasn’t changed is my appreciation for living a healthy, balanced lifestyle. When you’re in college it’s easy to blow off workouts and healthy eating because you’re too busy with classes, term papers, social obligations and finals. The bad news is that your busy lifestyle is never going to change—when finals go away, your first job will be here. There will always be a “busy” factor to contend with. The good news? Implementing healthy habits at a young age will help you establish the foundation you need to live a long, fruitful life void of the pitfalls that weight gain can bring (diabetes, heart disease and obesity, to name a few).