Halloween is right around the corner and with it comes buckets of candy. I love candy. My Bat Mitzvah in the 7th grade was Dylan’s Candy Bar-themed, if that tells you anything. But now that I’m not 13, I think a lot more about healthier choices.
When I first started getting excited for college, one thing (among many) remained a constant topic of conversation: the Freshman 15.
I like to be honest, so I have no qualms about admitting that eight years ago I struggled with an eating disorder and while I’ve recovered fully, there are still times when I struggle to accept my body. So, as excited as I was for college, the fear of gaining weight and becoming unhealthy occasionally yelled at me from its ugly corner in my mind.
To combat that voice, I came to school with a bin full of whole grain bagels, fruit, Luna bars and peanut butter in the hope that, when I wasn’t eating at a dining hall and making good choices there, my only other option would be to grab a healthy snack from my room. This worked for a while. I actually lost a little bit of weight during my first weeks, due partly to suddenly walking 18,000 steps a day and partly to disliking the dining hall food. Once I settled in, however, I would go to CVS or Target with my friends and buy mac and cheese, candy, pretzels, chocolate milk, and Nutella (I could eat that straight out of the jar; I’m basic and I’m fine with it).
This, in combination with not working out like I said I would—I live directly next to the free campus gym, I have no excuse—led to me gaining back the weight I’d lost plus some. More importantly though, I just didn’t feel healthy. I wasn’t drinking enough water, I felt lethargic and bloated, I wasn’t getting enough sleep. So I decided to change what I was doing.
Being healthy in college is difficult. We’re surrounded by free food, we’re suddenly able (and forced) to buy our own groceries, and we have to plan our own meals. For me, these are the first real “adult” decisions I’ve had to make. The mentality of “the world is my oyster” also took hold for me: when I first realized I could eat and do whatever I wanted, I did just that.
But that same mentality can lead to healthier choices. Knowing that I have full power over what and when I eat, I can make a meal plan that keeps me on track with my food goals. Here’s the hard part (aside from avoiding the free candy being handed out everywhere you turn): I have minimal access to a kitchen and groceries are expensive. So I’ve developed a few tips to encourage making the smarter choices and feeling healthier.
*Please note that I’m not a nutritionist or personal trainer. These are just practices that have been beneficial to me.
- Steal fruit from the dining halls. At my school we can take pieces of fruit with us when we leave the dining hall. Instead of dropping $10 on a few apples at Whole Foods, I can grab a banana and an apple on my way out, toss them in my backpack, and have a healthy snack for my room or when I’m on the go.
- Don’t keep junk food in your room. This was my biggest mistake but has two benefits. The first is that it it takes away the option of reaching for a piece of candy or cookie dough (I admit that I bought those ready-to-bake sugar cookies and would eat one raw for dessert; no shame). It also makes you think twice about whether you’re really hungry or whether you’re bored or just want to taste something. The other benefit is that it cuts down on costs. Five dollars’ worth of Nutella really adds up over time.
- Eat every meal. I’ve found that when I sleep in an extra 10 minutes and skip breakfast, I end up feeling hungrier and reach for unhealthier foods (like pizza) later in the day. When I switched that routine and started eating a full meal every time, I had less cravings for sugar (i.e. fast energy) than when I didn’t eat every meal.
- Eat well-rounded meals. College students are always on the go and we tend to give up sleep to keep up with our schedules. We should really try to sleep more, but we also need nutrients to keep us going. This is why I’ve found I’m way more energetic when I’ve had a mix of complex carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats for a meal than when I just have some cereal and milk. Even without a kitchen, this is easy to do: choose dining hall options that meet these nutrient requirements (grilled chicken, fruit, and brown rice are almost always offered at dining halls at my school) and keep easy to prepare food in your dorm, like Greek yogurt, whole grain bread, and peanut butter.
- Drink water! This one speaks for itself.
- Find the time to exercise. I know how hard it is to find an hour (or even just 20 minutes) in a busy academic and social schedule to workout. But that hour spent catching up on Scandal could have been spent watching TV and working out (thank you, Netflix app). Not only does exercise help with weight maintenance along with a healthy diet, but it can actually make you happier.
- Balance. It’s asking a lot to be healthy all the time in college. Sometimes you have to choose fast food over a full meal when you have three midterms and a paper due that week. That’s why balance is so important. Don’t beat yourself up over grabbing a slice of pizza at lunch! It’s okay if you’re not eating an apple a day.
I know I’ve been feeling kind of icky lately from not feeding myself well and that has translated into my schoolwork and energy levels. I hope some of these ideas help you if you’re struggling with the same thing!