Campus Cuisine and Culture: How to Stay Healthy in College

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Freshman year of college can be a big transition for students who go from living with their parents to living on their own. The newfound freedom that comes with creating your own routine and making all of your own decisions can negatively impact you if you decide to lead a sedentary lifestyle or overindulge in cafeteria meals.

Everyone has heard of the dreaded "freshman 15," but the harsh reality is that students can gain weight at any point during their college careers. Fortunately, there are many simple ways you can avoid weight gain while still enjoying all that college has to offer.

Make a Meal Plan

Create a daily meal routine for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks, so you're eating regularly throughout the day. This will help keep your metabolism revved up and running efficiently. Many times, pre-packaged convenience foods become the norm, but make the conscious decision to eat more nutritious foods on a regular basis. Keep healthy foods on hand and know where to find healthier options on-the-go. The average American only eats two to three vegetable servings per day, while the goal is to consume at least five servings daily. Complete meals with whole grains and lean proteins, trying to decrease unhealthy fats and extra sugar. Remember: Unhealthy cooking methods can add plenty of unwanted calories. Keep portions controlled, eat better and build healthy habits to avoid excess weight gain.

Limit Cafeteria Food

The endless food options available in cafeterias make it tempting to load up your tray up with a little bit of everything. Instead of indulging in every option at the buffet, swap the tray for a single plate to control portions and calorie intake. Include protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy to ensure you're eating a balanced meal. The USDA's MyPlate initiative recommends that each meal contain about three ounces of lean protein, one cup of fruit, one cup of vegetables, a half-cup of whole grains and one cup of dairy.

Don't Drink Your Calories

When making healthier food choices, many people forget to account for their liquid intake. In college, coffee and tea often become caffeine aids to keep you focused on your studies. These options have antioxidants and are actually calorie-free. However, when you add cream, sugar, syrup and milk, the calorie count increases greatly. One regular 12-ounce can of pop can contain up to nine and a half teaspoons of sugar and nearly 165 calories. Trade in a can of pop for a glass of infused water, club soda or unsweetened iced tea to avoid consuming empty calories.

Get Up and Get Active

Create a weekly gym schedule that fits your needs—and stick to it. It can be helpful to find a gym buddy for encouragement to stay on schedule and reach your fitness goals. Exercise doesn't have to be boring; switch up your routine with fitness classes like Pilates, yoga or Zumba. If you're too busy to find time to go to the gym, find ways to work exercise into your daily routine. Try walking briskly or riding your bike across campus instead of hopping on the bus, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Sleep In

Between cramming for exams and hanging out with friends, it's easy to skimp on sleep in college. Be sure to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night to maintain a healthy body and mind. There are two hormones in the body that are affected by sleep quality: ghrehlin and leptin. Sleep deprivation can cause an increase in the amount of ghrehlin, which fuels your appetite and leads to weight gain; leptin, a hormone released after adequate sleep, suppresses your appetite and supports weight loss. Get those extra hours in by establishing a nightly routine.

Healthy habits in college can have a lasting impact on your mentality towards your well-being. By eating right, staying active and getting enough sleep, you'll feel your best, do well in school and create memories to last a lifetime.

Grace Derocha is a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator and certified health coach with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. For more tips on how to live a healthier lifestyle, visit AHealthierMichigan.org.


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