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