12 Expert Tips to Help You Eat Healthy at College from 12 Expert Tips to Help You Eat Healthy at College
12 Expert Tips to Help You Eat Healthy at College
12 Expert Tips to Help You Eat Healthy at College
Hardly any college student would disagree: maintaining healthy eating habits on campus is no easy feat. With so many easily-accessed, not-so-nutritious distractions, choosing the foods that will best serve your nutritional needs can be quite a challenge. Whether it’s unlimited free pizza at a weekly club meeting, post-party late-night snacking, endless options at the dining hall buffet or two-for-one drinks at the local bar, most college students are constantly bombarded with a seemingly endless assortment of less than healthy food choices.
Not that you can’t or shouldn’t treat yourself to these things every once in a while, just that to maintain good overall health and avoid weight gain, it’s best not to make them a regular part of your routine. In other words, you’ll want to find balance between consistently practicing healthy eating habits (as well as a regular exercise routine) and taking delight in the less nutritious options you’re extremely likely to find both on and off campus.
The following 12 tips, all suggested by nutrition experts, are designed to help you do exactly that: find stability and equilibrium in your diet within a setting where curve balls are constantly headed your way.
Be Mindful at the Buffet
“All you can eat access doesn't mean you have to pig out,” explains Ryan Munsey, owner of House of Strength gym, host of the Optimal Performance Podcast, and a freelance fitness and nutrition writer. “For many freshmen, the first semester is the first time they've been on their own. Exploring this freedom usually leads to doing things in excess —unlimited buffets, parties, 'Taco Tuesdays' and more. Learning to find balance is part of the college experience.” His advice? Have fun but don't overdo it. Of course, that’s much easier said than done, but first, start with being mindful within buffet-style settings. Fill half your plate with veggies, grab a lean source of protein, fill your cup with water and limit yourself to just one plate and one trip to the buffet. Then employ the following tips, which can help you learn exactly how to find the balance you'll need to sustain your healthy eating habits while still enjoying the college experience.
Beware the Late-Night Munchies
“Let's be honest, college students eat more late-night meals than almost any other demographic,” says Munsey. “And most of those food choices are heavy, greasy and far from healthy.” He suggests limiting these occasions to once a week or less. “[It] will serve your GPA, your waistline and your wallet,” he added. If you do find you need a bite to eat during the later nighttime hours, opt for more nutritious foods like high-protein and high-fiber snacks such as nuts, Greek yogurt or fresh fruit.
Keep Your Dorm Room Stocked
“Stock your dorm room with quick, easy and inexpensive staples,” says Munsey. “Tuna and single-serving packets of guacamole are healthy, great-tasting, and can be mixed and eaten in less than five minutes.” For more dorm-friendly food ideas see: Healthy Snacks Every College Student Should Have in their Dorm.
Locate A Grocery Store
You may not be able to find healthy snacks to stock your dorm room with on campus, which is why it’s a good idea to find out where the nearest grocery store is. “Your dining situation is going to vary from campus to campus, but it's in your best interest to find a place to get healthy snacks for you to stockpile,” says Jeana Anderson Cohen, an ACE certified personal trainer and founder of aSweatLife.com. “Grab fruit, veggies, nuts, peanut butter and whatever else you like. Finish your shopping trip by grabbing some plastic snack bags or reusable containers to make sure your snacks are portable. Having healthy snacks with you makes it easier to say ‘yes’ to questions like, ‘Is 3 p.m. too early for pizza?’”
Learn to Say No
“There is something going on every single night in college — Mexi-Mondays, Two-dollar Tuesdays, etc.,” Munsey points out. If you’re a “regular” every single night of the week, it’s likely you’ll end up building eating habits that won’t best serve your nutritional needs. Instead, pick your favorite “theme night” (tacos, pizza, wings, etc.) and make it a weekly treat that’s centered around getting together with a group of friends and enjoying a fun meal as a group. For more tips see: 4 Healthy Eating Habits to Adopt in Your 20s
Brush Up on Basic Nutrition
As Munsey points out, many people don’t have an understanding of basic nutrition, which makes it difficult to make nutritious choices, especially when you have so many different meal options available. Arm yourself with elementary nutrition info and choosing the healthiest options — no matter where you are — will become exponentially easier. Not sure where to start? See: Learning to Read Nutrition Labels: Tips for Making Healthier Choices
Don't Skip Breakfast
This is a habit that’s all too easy to fall into while making the transition to college life, but it’s absolutely one you should avoid. “It will make you eat more throughout the remainder of the day, and there is always instantly-gratifying junk to find on campus,” explains Darshi N. Shah, a board-certified nutritional therapist, certified personal trainer, Integrative Nutrition health coach and author of the upcoming R.I.G.H.T. Diet for Autoimmunity. “Keep a box of cereal and some milk in your dorm, which can be mixed into a to-go cup,” she added. Other easy, healthy breakfast options include Greek yogurt mixed with fresh fruit, sugar-free instant oatmeal, hard boiled eggs or fruit (like an apple or banana) with a single-serving peanut butter packet.
Chew Your Food
This tip might sound quite obvious, but if you’re like most people, you probably eat more quickly than you should. “It is recommended to chew each mouthful 30 times to stimulate production of saliva and dietary enzymes which can digest your food appropriately and satisfy your hunger,” Shah explains. “Try not to eat lunch on the run, instead schedule and socialize your lunches and dinners to avoid inhaling your meals.” See also: What is Mindful Eating and Can it Help You Lose Weight?
Eat More Protein
“Proteins take more work to digest, so they actually stay with you longer, which means you avoid hunger longer,” says Shah. “Keep a jar of your favorite protein powder in your dorm room and a mini-blender — Bullet, NutriBullet, etc. — and mix up a protein smoothie with milk, peanut butter, banana, other frozen fruit and some protein powder.” Shah says to choose a protein powder that contains no added sugar. “Smoothies make an excellent mid-afternoon snack and can stave away hunger for hours,” she added. In addition to protein powder, you can ensure adequate protein intake by including at least a palm-size serving of a protein-rich food at each meal.
You probably already know this, but alcoholic beverages don’t count here. Jamie Logie, a certified personal trainer, nutrition specialist and creator of Regained Wellness suggests dividing your bodyweight (in pounds) by two to determine an estimate for how many ounces of water you should drink daily. “Bring a water bottle with you so you ensure you’re getting enough water to combat ‘fake hunger,’ which might confuse you into eating when you are not really hungry,” she said. “When drinking alcohol, remember to alternating each drink with a glass of water to ensure you are well-hydrated.”
Don't Drink Your Calories
This applies to both alcohol and sugary soft drinks, both of which are often “sneaky” sources of weight gain for college students. Not only do drinks like juice, soda and specialty coffees often have an overwhelming amount of sugar, but they contain additional calories that add up pretty quickly and increase your overall daily intake. “Plus, when you drink something that is pretty much liquid sugar you end up with blood sugar spikes that dump insulin into your system,” Logie explains. “Insulin is the fat-storing hormone, and unless that energy is immediately used it can be stored as fat. With that spike comes a drop and that leads to more cravings for quick sugar and then the cycle repeats itself.” See also: How To Fit Alcohol in Your Diet without Ruining Your Weight Loss Goals