Campus wellness & fitness: like many college freshmen

Ahh, the campus dining hall. It’s filled with all sorts of delicious foods and you can eat as much as you want. And off campus? Pizza places and fast food restaurants, and no one to stop you from eating there. So it’s no surprise that many students find eating right and staying fit a challenge at school. The stress of classes and studying can cause even students with the best intentions to overeat, eat the wrong foods, or never exercise. But it’s easier than you think to eat healthy and stay fit when you go off to school. It just takes a little bit of planning.

Start with eating right. Most schools have a variety of food options in the dining halls, including vegetarian, vegan, foods for students with allergies and special dietary needs, and low-calorie and low-fat options. Eating healthy just requires you to pay attention to your food options in a way you probably didn’t have to at home.

  • Make a plan. Take a look at the dining hall menu in advance. Some schools put the menus online, and others are happy to provide them if you ask. “Healthy eating starts with a plan,” says Connie Diekman, Registered Dietitian and Director of University Nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. “Know your options and then determine what you want to eat and when.”
  • Take the time to eat. Eating in a hurry between classes or without taking a break from studying usually means poor food choices.
  • Space your meals and snacks three to four hours apart, “so you aren’t making the wrong food choices because you waited too long or there’s nothing available once you decided to eat, “says Diekman.
  • Don’t load up your tray with everything in the dining hall just because you can. “You don’t eat that way at home,” says Lisa Wandel, Director of Residential Dining at Penn State. “Eating well is about moderation and portion size. It’s okay to have a cookie. Just don’t have five topped with ice cream.”
  • Focus on whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. These foods are not only nutritious, but they also help you feel full And that makes it easier to control what you’re eating.

  • Make the healthier choice from what’s available. Find the salad bar. Look for the whole grain foods. Track down the organic or homemade items.
  • Pick up a healthy snack, like fruit or pretzels, to take back to your dorm room and have ready for late-night study sessions.

If you’re trying to eat healthy and you can’t figure out the best choices, talk, e-mail, or text the food service staff. “They’re thrilled to be able to share that information with students,” says Wandel. And if your school isn’t offering the healthy choices you think it should, tell them. “Be part of the solution. Work with the school to talk about offering healthier choices.”

On to exercise. Getting exercise at school requires a bit of planning, too, but it’s actually pretty easy. You don’t have to be an athlete or love working out at the gym to stay in shape. Even small things can make a big difference.

  • If working out is something you enjoy, exercise in the school fitness center. Many schools have free or discounted fitness centers for students.

  • Sign up for a fun class that gets you moving, like dance, yoga, or swimming. This has the added benefit of being a regularly scheduled activity.
  • Join an intramural sports team. You’ll have fun, make new friends, and get some exercise at the same time.
  • Add extra exercise into your regular routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk a longer route to class. Dance along to your favorite songs on your iPod.

Let’s face it, not everyone wants to eat healthy or exercise much, or at least not all the time. But schools make it easy for those who want to make the healthy choice. In the end, whatever schools do about offering healthy foods and fitness options, it’s still up to you to be active and plan ahead.

Your favorite foods:

The average person needs to consume about 1,500-2,500 calories each day, depending on height, weight, age, and gender everything after that just turns into mush around your middle. So, how do your favorite snacks stack up?


FOOD                                  CALORIES

1/2 cup carrot sticks                    25
1 medium apple                           72
1 cup broccoli                           54
2 cups microwave popcorn                 62
1 medium banana                         105
1 slice (1 oz.) cheddar cheese          113
1/2 chicken breast (4 oz.), grilled     114
1 medium coffee (cream and sugar)       120
1 small chocolate chip cookie           130
1 slice cheese pizza                    140
1/2 cup vanilla ice cream               145
2 tbsp. peanut butter                   190
1 medium mocha latte                    224
1/2 chicken breast (4 oz.), fried       364
1 medium order of French fries          380
1 medium fruit smoothie                 415
1 small bagel with cream cheese         450
1 cheeseburger with the works           500
1 chicken caesar salad wrap             660

Do the math

Here are the calories burned in one hour of some common down-time activities. Information that matches your exact weight, caloric intake, and exercise habits is easy to find online, too.

ACTIVITY              130 LB PERSON   190 LB PERSON

Aerobics                   354             518
Basketball (game)          472             690
Bicycling                  236             345
Cooking dinner             148             216
Dancing                    266             388
Football (touch)           472             690
Frisbee (ultimate)         207             302
Hiking                     354             518
Jogging                    413             604
Sitting watching TV        62               91
Skiing (downhill)          295             431
Swimming                   354             518
Tennis                     413             604
Walking a dog              207             302
Weightlifting              177             259


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