College is a unique time of life-changing moments, identifying your purpose in life, and learning how to take care of YOU. However, this milestone comes with added stress, an irregular schedule, and a sedentary lifestyle.
Having exceptional health can help you excel during your time as a student and, more importantly, practicing good dietary habits early on can impact the way you eat for life. The following tips can be used to help you navigate the college lifestyle on the path to health.
Exercise has been proven to have an effect on dietary choices and academic performance. (4) The number one reason for not exercising in college is lack of time. In order to fit this necessary activity into your day, schedule exercise in your calendar, just as you would classes and other events. This doesn’t always have to mean lifting weights or going on a run. Try a fun fitness class at your college gym or join a club sport.
College Students Are Often Too Negligent
About Their Nutritional Health Needs
The importance of breakfast
Skipping meals, especially breakfast, can throw off your entire routine. You may feel weak and have a hard time focusing, make poorer food choices at your next meal, and gain weight overtime. When you don’t eat breakfast, your metabolism slows down and when your body enters this starvation mode, it holds onto your fat stores for energy. (3) Furthermore, when the time finally arrives for you to have your first meal, you are likely to be famished and therefore overeat.
The salad bar
Almost every college campus has a salad bar in the cafeteria, and most of the time this can be a great option for students trying to eat healthy. However, different items from the same salad bar can lead you to have more calories than a burger and fries! Stay away from creamy dressings, mayonnaise-based prepared salads, and excess cheese and croutons. Try to fill your plate with various vegetables of different colors and a protein source, such as chicken or turkey, for a low-calorie, nutrient rich meal.
Mind your beverages
Studies show that dehydration can lead to poor visual-motor tracking, short-term memory loss, and decreased attention span (2). A busy day can often result in forgetting to drink the necessary amount of water. It is recommended that adults have at least 8 cups of water each day. Energy drinks are widely consumed in the college population and can be a leading cause in dehydration. Excess caffeine can also cause restlessness, anxiety, irritability, headaches, abnormal heart rhythms, and problems with sleeping. (1) Some beverages provide empty calories that can lead to weight gain. Juice, soda, and alcohol are among the top calorie-laden beverages consumed by college students.
Just as it is important to plan workouts, it is also important to plan meals. If you know you will be at classes all day with no breaks, make sure to pack a lunch or snacks to get you through the day. Keep your dorm or apartment stocked with non-perishable foods, such as granola bars, oatmeal, almonds, beans, and rice, in case the cafeteria closes before you return from class.
Always remember there are resources available if you need some nutritional advice. Find out if your campus health center has a Registered Dietitian and set up an appointment. It also helps to keep a food record to track what may be causing fluctuations in weight or to identify the reasons for headaches and fatigue.
College is a busy time, but don’t let your health suffer. Make time for yourself and enjoy the freedom of being a healthy individual.
Kait Fortunato, BS, Dietetics is currently completing her dietetic internship through the University of Maryland. She works part-time at a private practice, conducting diet analyses, testing metabolic rates, assisting with nutrition counseling, and running the blog. For more information, please visit her electronic portfolio:
(1) Banda C, Marietta A, Syler G, Hoover W. “College Students’ Knowledge Attitudes and Behaviors Related to Energy Drinks”. J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Sept; 110(9): A108.
(2) Lieberman HR. “Hydration and cognition: a critical review and recommendations for future research”. J Am Coll Nutr. 2007 Oct; 26(5): 555S-561S.
(3) Malinauskas BM, Raedeke TD, Aebey VG, Smith JL, Dallas MB. “Dieting practices, weight perceptions, and body composition: a comparison of normal weight, overweight, and obese college females.” Nutr J. 2006 Mar; 31: 5-11.
(4) Pate RR, Heath GW, Dowada M, Trost SG. “Associations between physical activity and other health behaviors in a representative sample of US adolescents”. Am J Public Health. 1996 Nov; 86(11): 1577-1581.
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