I don’t know about you, but in the next couple weeks I will be leaving behind healthy homecooked (free) meals, my family gym membership and a semi-regular sleep schedule for cafeteria food and frozen meals, fast-walking to class as my daily workout and sleeping just whenever possible.
There is a lot to try and keep up with in college. Go to class, get good grades, read 85 books, make friends, actually hang out with said friends, grab lunch, get a job, maybe try to sleep once in a while, and why not join a club or ten while you’re at it?!
In the midst of all this, I think we tend to push our health and well-being to the side. I really do want to work out today but I literally don’t have time and is it really worth it to spend half an hour making lunch when it takes 30 seconds to microwave a piece of leftover pizza and I know I haven’t slept in like 48 hours but if I finish this now I’ll be able to take a nap today. (Guilty!!!)
It can be a challenge to take good care of yourself in college, for sure. But it’s definitely not impossible and it’s so important! Here are some simple habits I’ve tried to keep up with over the past three years in order to mentally and physically stay as healthy as possible at school.
- Eat a good, nutritious breakfast every day.
This sets the tone for the rest of your day! By taking an extra five or ten minutes to eat a good breakfast, you’re starting your body’s metabolism off early AND that 10am snack craving will be way less intense. Not only this, but taking the time to actually sit down and eat gives you a few very valuable moments to relax before starting your day.
If you’re running late or have a super early morning and can’t pull yourself out of bed ten minutes early, grab an apple and a whole-grain breakfast bar on your way out the door. Something is always better than nothing!
- Set a bedtime and stick with it.
Maintaining at least a semi-regular sleep schedule is so important, and also something that almost no one ever does. Even if it’s later than it should be, set the same bedtime for yourself every night. No matter what you have to do, it’s gotta be done by this time or you’ll finish it tomorrow. And stick with it!!! There’s no point if you don’t.
You will fall asleep faster and easier when your body is in a routine. This means waking up more refreshed and well-rested! And when I say bedtime, I don’t mean getting into bed and spending another hour trying to beat your high score on 1010. I mean TV off, phone face down, it is time to SLEEP!
- Beds are for sleeping.
To go along with this, stay away from watching Netflix or scrolling through Instagram or even catching up on your anatomy reading in bed. Practice good sleep hygiene and train your body to recognize that when you climb into bed, it’s time to sleep. This will take a little while but once your body knows that bed means sleep (not three more episodes of Grey’s Anatomy) you will start falling asleep so much faster. I like to read for a while on the couch and get in bed once my eyes are tired.
- Do some simple meal prepping.
Search “meal prep” on Instagram and you’ll find pictures of dozens of Tupperware containers and elaborate recipes and whole-afternoon meal-prep sessions. I don’t know about you but I definitely don’t have time for that. It can be much simpler than this!
Last year, once a week, I’d cook a bag of quinoa, bake four or five chicken breasts and steam a couple bags of vegetables in the microwave. Half an hour and three Tupperware containers later, I had lunches and dinners for the whole week! For a little variety, I’d put chopped up tomatoes or avocados on my chicken and mix some balsamic vinegar in my quinoa. Some week’s I’d do wild rice or salmon instead.
Planning and prepping your meals prevents last minute McDonald’s runs when you get home from class just to realize you haven’t been grocery shopping yet and have exactly one cheese stick and half a box of spaghetti noodles to work with. It’s also a huge time-saver! Instead of worrying about cooking a decent dinner for yourself every night, do the cooking all at once. All you have to do throughout the week is portion it out and heat it up!
- Pack snacks and eat smaller portions throughout the day.
Rather than eating three big meals a day and letting your stomach grumble between them (or let’s be honest- accidentally scarfing down half a box of Cheese It’s), try to eat smaller portions of food throughout the day. Start with a good-sized, nutritious breakfast and stop for a banana and peanut butter after your first couple classes. Eat a small lunch full of veggies and pack some trail mix to get you through the rest of the school day. Get some grains and protein for dinner and, yes, it is okay to have a super light snack before bed.
This kind of meal schedule prevents hunger from sneaking up on you, as we all know it so easily does. And packing two or three small, healthy snacks in your bag every day ensures that you won’t have to rely on vending machines, stale muffins and squishy oranges to get you through.
- Carry water with you everywhere you go.
It’s a good idea to have a water bottle with you everywhere you go! Sometimes all it takes is a few sips of water to curb a hunger pang. Always try this before you decide to snack! Drinking water helps maintain your metabolism throughout the day and can even give a little energy boost when you’re dragging in the afternoon. I let myself have a cup of coffee (or two…maybe three) every day and a Diet Coke here and there, but I make sure to drink water with every meal. The rule of thumb I live by is for every cup of coffee or Coke or whatever it is, I need to drink three cups of water. And I can’t drink anything else until I do!
These are a few water bottles I’ve used and loved. I know lots of you will agree with me- having a cute bottle really does encourage drinking water more than anything else!
- Work out in your dorm room! No excuses.
I get it. Getting out of the house (or dorm) to go to the gym sometimes takes more effort than we have to give on a particularly exhausting day. So we abandon the thought of working out altogether and lay in bed and mentally beat ourselves up for not working out (anyone else…?). Stop that!!! You can work out anywhere.
YouTube workout videos have saved my life the past three years. I keep a yoga mat, free hand weights and a kettle bell under my bed at school, and that’s all you need! Don’t want to walk all the way across campus to the gym? Just walk to your closet and grab your tennis shoes! You now have absolutely no excuse to not do something active every single day, so you’re welcome.
These are some of my favorite YouTube videos; I’ve been doing them every week since freshman year. They’re each ten minutes long and work a different part of your body. The exercises are super simple and the variety makes them go by fast!
You can get your cardio in, too! No matter how much time you have.
This channel has hundreds of workout videos. Some are as short as five minutes if you’re really on a time crunch, and some are longer. There is something for everyone, whether your goal is to build strength or get your heart rate up!
I also really love the Kayla Itsines Bikini Body Guide workout series. You do have to pay a membership fee, but you definitely get your money’s worth! Personalized weekly workout plans that cover every muscle group and work in the right amount and type of cardio. The app gives you a huge variety of exercises and video tutorials for everything! (Pro tip: I paid the membership fee for one month and copied down each workout and exercise. When I cancelled my membership, I had seen the videos enough times to know how everything was done and was able to keep up the same routine without having to pay!)
- Turn your daily activities into a workout.
Be honest- are you about to sit on the couch and watch four hours of Netflix? Okay fine, it happens (a lot. It happens a lot). My rule for myself is that every episode I watch, I do 50 squats at the beginning and then I can sit back and enjoy it. If I’m gonna watch two episodes, I do 50 sit-ups at the beginning of the next one. Maybe I’m gonna watch three. 50 jumping jacks. Four? (Now we’re getting realistic). 50 lunges. Waiting on a pot of pasta to boil? 5 minutes of in-place cardio. Do squats while you’re brushing your teeth. The possibilities are endless! If you’re just going to be standing or sitting around, why not get even a couple minutes of exercise in? It doesn’t seem like it will do much, but over time those minutes add up!
- Stay away from all-you-can-eat buffet style meals.
Those all-you-can-eat cafeteria meals are dangerous! For one, we all know that our eyes are usually bigger than our stomachs and it’s easy to load up our plates with waaay more than we need. AND you can go back for seconds! If your campus has other options, try to stay away from this as much as possible. Stick to places where you order your food and eat what you get. And if you don’t have this option, you just have to be extra careful in the cafeteria. Fill half your plate with salad bar, fresh fruit or veggies. Then fill the rest with healthy sources of grain and protein. Drink a glass of water rather than going to the soda fountain. Pick healthy, filling foods rather than fried or starchy foods and go through the line with the mindset that you only have one plate to fill!
- Schedule your time weekly.
I’ve made the mistake many times of trying to schedule my meals and workouts a month or even a couple weeks in advance. Things come up and sometimes our agendas get thrown off. And that’s okay! A surprise meeting doesn’t have to de-rail your entire monthly workout plan. I sit down at the beginning of each week and think- for just that one week- what I’ll have time for. What tests I have to study for, what after-class activities I have to work around. Shorter-term planning allows for more flexibility. Focus on getting all your workouts and balanced meals in for the next seven days. That’s a reasonable goal! Allow for time changes and last minute things to come up, because they will.