When I first started my college career at Weber State University, my breakfast of choice was a fruit-punch-flavored Gatorade and a bag of Goldfish crackers. At least the crackers were whole wheat.
As the days turned into months and months turned into semesters, I realized how unhealthy I had become. I found it so much easier to stop by the QuickZone Convenience Store in the Student Union to buy a Coke and a bag of chips than to pack my own lunch or snacks.
It took me four years to realize how unhealthy I had become and how much money I wasted on junk food. I am here to tell you that you have options. The “Freshman 15” is a myth that can be debunked right now, and it starts with you. Here are eight tips to help you break your unhealthy college eating habits.
Eat within one hour of waking. I am not a morning person. In fact, I would sleep until noon every day if work and school didn’t get in the way. I have always struggled to eat first thing, but I found that my energy level skyrockets when I eat breakfast, even if it’s just half a banana and a piece of toast.
Drink ice water regularly. Drinking a big glass of ice-cold water in the morning will boost your metabolism, while also giving you less hunger pains throughout the day. If you have a hard time drinking plain water, slice a lemon and add it to a pitcher of water to give it sweetness. Drinking at least 64 ounces of water a day is the general rule, but if you exercise regularly, you may have to drink up to 96 ounces of water a day. It is always recommended to drink more water on especially hot days.
Eat every 2-3 hours. You should eat at least five meals a day—even six, depending on what time you wake up. Now, when I say meals, I don’t mean hitting the all-you-can-eat buffet at Golden Corral five times a day. No, no, no, small, high-fiber, high-protein meals will do the trick. I realize that some of you are thinking, “How can I eat every three hours when I’m in class all day?” Believe it or not, professors at WSU understand your struggle and will sometimes allow you to eat in class. As long as you aren’t being disruptive to others around you, don’t be afraid to pull out that baggie of carrots or low-sodium pretzels.
Prep your meals beforehand. I understand that as the semester moves on, we get more and more busy with schoolwork to the point we want to pull our hair out. Don’t let the stress of school make you stress eat. The easiest way to help with this is to pick a designated day each week to plan your meals. If needed, buy plastic measuring cups and a cheap food scale to keep your portions under control. The rule of thumb is to keep a serving of meat the size of the palm of your hand (or 6 ounces) and about 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day depending on your caloric intake.
Buy an inexpensive lunch pack. To help you stay healthy and keep up with your goal to eat 5 to 6 meals per day, buy an inexpensive lunch bag that suits your needs. They come in numerous sizes and many can be found with included ice-packs. Keep in mind that carrying a bulky lunch bag around won’t be as convenient with a backpack full of books, so try to keep it as slim as possible.
Keep a “Time to Eat” journal. I like to use the “Meal Reminder” app on my phone. This app allows the user to keep a log of up to 6 meals a day. You may also keep a written journal if that is easier for you. Just remember to be on time! That is the most important thing. I like to follow this schedule: Breakfast: 8 a.m. Mid-morning snack: 11 a.m. Lunch: 1 p.m. Mid-afternoon snack: 3 p.m. Dinner: 5 p.m. Protein shake: 8 p.m.
Stock up on healthy foods. Whether you live at home or on your own, you can choose what you want to eat. Pick foods high in fiber and protein, such as extra lean ground turkey meat and green leafy vegetables. This is important because eating protein builds muscle, and muscle burns more calories, and fiber is good for your digestive system. Partially hydrogenated oils are man-made to create a longer shelf life and should be avoided at all costs. Another danger in many foods is high-fructose corn syrup, which has been linked to obesity and gastrointestinal problems. Remember, if you don’t recognize more than half the ingredients in a particular food (especially the first five ingredients listed), it belongs at the store and out of your pantry. It is also important to note that many foods will say “100 percent whole wheat” but have enriched wheat flour listed as its first ingredient. Enriched wheat flour is no different than white flour—it just happens to be stripped and reprocessed. A food entirely made of whole wheat will have whole wheat flour listed as its first ingredient.
Always pick fruits and vegetables. This is especially important when dining out. Let’s be honest, we all would choose waffle fries over steamed broccoli any day. But don’t do it. Restaurants use oils that are extremely unhealthy and high sodium that will only make you feel bloated later. If you feel the need to dine out, pick healthier options, not fried food. Foods such as grilled chicken breast or smoked salmon will always be the best choice. Following these tips should help you stay on track both in school and on the road to healthy living.