How to Be a Healthy-ish College Student

Getting acquainted with healthy food isn’t always easy. I took this apple out for coffee and he was less than grateful. What a jerk.

Confession time: I’m not a health freak. I drink more coffee than I should, keep a bowl of candy in my apartment at all times, and have to peel myself off the couch to go to the gym sometimes (I tell myself that walking to class is enough.) I did more jogging in high school than I do now, mostly because of time. I would classify myself as healthy-ish. I take care of myself, but I could do better.

People will tell you there’s a “secret” to health – weirdly-named fruits, whole grains that taste like sand, juicing everything in sight – but there’s really not. Different things work for different people – especially college students. One day you’re sleeping in until noon and only eating three pizza rolls during the course of the day, the next you’re up at 7am and don’t crash into bed until after 10. How the heck are you supposed to live a healthy, balanced lifestyle when all you have at your disposal is 15-by-15 dorm room and a feeding trough known as the cafeteria?

Allow me to provide you with some “life hacks” (a term the kids are using these days to refer to little shortcuts you can take to make life easier) to become a healthy-ish college student, or a healthy-ish-er college students if you’re already halfway there.

1. Vitamins. If you don’t already, take a daily multivitamin. “NO.” some people might say. “Multivitamins are NO substitute for getting your required five-a-day.” The problem is, some college kids don’t get the chance to get their five-a-day. If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough fruits and veggies, get yourself a cheap bottle of vitamins – I stick to store-brand. They’re super helpful if you’re vitamin-D deficient (which can cause fatigue and overall gloominess, especially in winter), need calcium (keep dem bones strong in between slugs of coffee), or need a boost of iron (iron deficiency can also cause fatigue, which might be why you need that extra nap at 2pm…in the middle of class…)

2. Cut the creamer. I like splashing cream in my coffee as much as the next person, but it’s really not great for you. I’m not going to get on a soapbox and tell you you’re an awful person for putting some extra tastiness in your morning brew, but I would recommend cutting down to maybe a few times per week. Then, use the money you save not buying creamer to buy some tasty high-quality coffee, which I promise you, won’t need anything but itself. (It’s scientifically proven that you can lose 1 pound a year if you cut creamer from your diet. Trust me. I googled it.)

3. Pack a snack. If you have a busy day ahead of you, make sure your backpack is stocked up on snacks. It’s easy to forget to eat during a crazy schedule, and once you get to dinner you’ll realize you’re starving – which might cause you to overeat. Usually I just keep a granola bar in my backpack, but you can pack anything from crackers to a can of nuts (or a Snickers bar. I won’t judge you. That crap has protein too. And riboflavin, which I guess is a good thing?) Don’t starve yourself – eat if you’re hungry, preferably something high in protein (read: Snickers bar.)

4. Eat fruit and veg, but don’t force a bad relationship. I don’t like apples. They’re sticky and messy to eat and noisy if I eat them in class. Bananas are okay, but they go brown to fast for me to eat them. Oranges are also messy – you basically have to murder them if you want them. Guess what fruits my cafeteria serves? Apples, bananas, and oranges. There’s fruit by the yogurt bar, but it’s from cans so it looks and smells weird. Not a fan. So I don’t force myself to like this stuff and dread the next time I have to eat one. Instead, I buy fruit that I like (I know, I know, money is a thing, but produce tends to be pretty decently priced.) I love pineapple and pomegranate seeds. I become a grumpy suburban mom when I can’t find pomegranate seeds at the store, because they’re amazing and very healthy. So if you can set aside a little bit in your budget to buy fresh fruit and veggies that you like, it’s definitely a wise investment.

5. Invest in a quality water bottle. Sure, your summer camp Nalgene is great, but if you’re not very disciplined in your water-drinking (like me, Mrs. Coffee over here), it might not be a good fit for you. I don’t like water bottles with a screw off top, because it’s too much of a hassle (I’m so high-maintenance.) I don’t like plastic bottles either because eventually the water inside will emulate that taste.

6. Count calories (ish). Now, when you think “count your calories!” you immediately think “lose weight!” right? WRONG. Sometimes you should count your calories to make sure you are eating enough. Your life is busy right now, and it’s easy to forget to feed yourself (and feed yourself good food, not just two saltine crackers and a juice box in the morning.) There are literally a gajillion different calorie counter apps for your phone, some of which will sync with a health app. I use MyNetDiary because it’s the easiest for me (and it’s also free and you don’t have to sign up, and it has choices for whether you want to lose, gain, or maintain weight.)

7. Cardio isn’t always the answer. Cardio is great for you and all, it gets you all sweaty and burning calories and keeps the ticker in tip-top shape, but sometimes it’s easy to go to the gym and just do cardio. At this point in your life, it’s also important to work your muscle groups as well (in a healthy way…I’m not telling you to go bench 200lbs right this minute.) Even if it’s just some lightweight bicep curls or leg presses, working your muscles helps keep your bones healthy and boosts your metabolism, which is on your side in your twenties. Ladies, always pay special attention to your core strength, not just to get tight abs, but for an overall healthier body, and to reduce the risk of injury or back problems. PS, if you’re in college, you probably have free access to your school gym or weight room. TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THAT BEFORE CAPITALISM MAKES YOU PAY FOR HEALTH.

8. Self care. This is a very millennial way of saying REST. If you need to slow down, slow down. Take time to listen to what your body is telling you. If you’re exhausted, rest. (Skip a class if you need to but don’t make it a habit. I’m just saying what your mom would say.) Stay hydrated as much as you can between sips of coffee. Try to fit at least one fruit or veggie in your meals each day and go from there, then treat yourself to some chocolate or a dessert. In your twenties, your body is still on your side. Your metabolism and overall health are working with you. As you start to get older, the tables will turn. So take advantage of this time in your life while you can.

I hope this short article helps you develop or improve your healthy(ish) habits. I’m not some yoga-master quinoa-crunching health guru, but I just want to share with you that being healthy(ish) can be easy(ish) even in college. You don’t have to drink a green smoothie that tastes like lawn clippings in order to be healthy. It starts with knowing your body and it goes from there.

Stay in school, kids. Drink your milk, whether it’s cow or almond (or flax milk? I guess that’s a thing now.) Eat a vegetable. Don’t do drugs. That’s all I got for ya.