Tips for Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle in College

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was recently nominated for eCollegeFinder’s Top Health and Fitness Blogs Award (yay!), and as part of the entry was given the option to write a post about the best ways for a busy college student to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity because after struggling with this myself all throughout college, I’ve truly learned the hard way how to (and how not to) stay healthy as an undergrad.

This blog post is lengthy, but hopefully you’ll find it worthwhile!


1. Redefine what it means to workout.

College life is a lot different than your high school lifestyle, and oftentimes the ways you used to stay fit will need to be altered. Personally, I never thought twice about working out in high school. I played sports, I danced—physical activity was just part of my schedule; it didn’t take any outside planning. This changes drastically if you’re not a college athlete (which I wasn’t). Actively join intramural sports teams and check out your campus gym’s group fitness schedule. I fell IN LOVE with Zumba in college.

When finals roll around and suddenly you feel like you don’t have time to do anything but sit in the library and freak the eff out about all those lectures you skipped and chapters you didn’t read, don’t stress about not being able to make it to the gym. Take a mere 20 minutes out of your day and do an at-home workout before heading to the lib.

I feel hypocritical typing that last paragraph because during finals I would start my day out with a king-sized Snickers bar, two Red Bulls, a cup of coffee and like eight 5-hour Energy drinks and then proceed to sweat bullets and have heart palpitations in the library for the next four days, but hey, do as I say, not as I do. I learned the hard way so that you all don’t have to make the same mistakes that I did. Right?! Right.


2. Stop associating “social outing” with “splurge.”

Dinner at a nearby restaurant with your girlfriends, that fraternity formal you’re invited to, your roommate’s birthday party—these may sound like healthy diet destroyers, but only if that’s what you make them. My problem in college was that I associated these types of social outings with splurging and binging on unhealthy foods and alcohol. In fact, it got to the point where dinner invitations gave me anxiety and I would avoid social situations that I knew would involve tons of food and drinks.

Then one day I had an epiphany: Going to a restaurant (or even the dining hall) doesn’t have to be an unhealthy splurge if I just—gasp!—don’t stuff my face with unhealthy food. It sounds so simple, but it’s vitally important to realize that situations are what you make them.

Make healthy food choices at restaurants and parties. Stop eating when you start to feel full and get the rest in a doggie bag. That can be easier said than done when there’s a massive bread bowl sitting in front of you and your friend orders fried mac and cheese with a side of triple fudge cheese cake (what a bitch, right?), but mustering up that extra bit of willpower will leave you feeling much better when all is said and done.

Social situations like this are a treat in themselves—spending time with friends, getting dressed up, going someplace new—and ordering a delicious salad or healthy fish dish isn’t going to make it any less fun. I promise.


3. Learn to cook.

Does microwaving my Campbell’s soup count? No. Neither does Easy Mac.

You don’t have to be the next Emeril Lagasse, just make an effort to cook your own meals when you can. Stir fry some veggies and chicken for dinner. Bake some salmon to top a salad for lunch. Keep it easy and healthy. Eating out every meal, whether at the dining hall or restaurants, can be challenging when trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Even though I’m sure your campus offers a plethora of healthy options, it doesn’t change the fact that you have to walk by the cheesy pizza sticks to get to the salad bar. When you cook at home, you know exactly what’s in your meal and you avoid this “buffet effect” temptation.

If you live in the dorms and don’t have access to an equipped kitchen, then focus on healthy snacks. Keep fruit in your room along with veggies and hummus for dipping.


4. Go easy on yourself.

Looking back on college, do I regret the Pokey Sticks and pizzas I ate at 3AM with my friends on Franklin Street? No.

Do I regret the greasy hangover food I ate at brunch with my roommates while we reminisced about the night before, doubled over laughing? Hell no.

Do I regret the keg stands, the all-nighters, the beer pong games and the fatty tailgating food? Absofuckinglutely not.

My only regrets are the times I missed out on spending with my friends because I was too obsessed with trying to lose weight, workout a billion hours a day and stick to whatever asinine low-cal diet I was on that week.

Am I advocating partying seven nights a week? Absolutely not. I’m trying, above all else, to convey the importance of maintaining balance. A healthy lifestyle isn’t one that’s void of fun and completely restrictive. Don’t beat yourself up if you have one too many beers and decide that burritos are a fantastic choice at 2AM. Just make an effort to eat healthy the next day to balance it out. Don’t stress if you’re too busy with a paper to run on the treadmill for an hour one day. Just compensate by making smart food choices and heading to a kickboxing class later in the week.

Remember, happiness is one of, if not the, most important component of a healthy lifestyle. And college should be four of the happiest years of your life.

GO HEELS! (couldn’t help myself)

Any tips of your own for staying healthy in college?

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  1. Wow, congrats on the nomination!! I like how you don’t regret the greasy hangover food, it makes you more normal and relatable. Keep up the good work! Xoxo. Check out my new blog:

  2. Great essay! Very relatable to my college experience and I was a college athlete! It was at times harder being a college athlete because you’d feel that you had an excuse to make more of those bad decisions late at night (at least I did). 🙂

  3. Great post! I especially agree with learning how to cook. It’s amazing how many calories (and cash) you can save by making things at home. Don’t get me wrong, I lived off of easy mac as a freshman and I still love mac and cheese, but now I replace the mac with quinoa and adding some kale makes me feel less like a fat kid. 🙂

  4. “Does microwaving my Campbell’s soup count? No. Neither does Easy Mac.”

    Is this a reference to your college roommate? haha

    I’ve been become a soup making (not heating) connoisseur!! This is a great post, Nicole!

  5. Hi Nicole, I recently discovered your 20 20 20 kettlebell workout and absolutely loved it.
    I am doing a little shout out to you on my blog for being a great inspiration.
    Keep up the great work!

  6. Love this article! Brings more common sense into keeping healthy in college. Made me think a lot. I just started cooking in college and I am trying to find cheap and healthy recipes! I am making the parm garlic edamame today and I am so excited to try it! Thanks so much for this post!!

  7. excellent post, Nicole! I have to say, I could never regret those boozy brunches with you….GO HEELS

  8. go heels! did you ever take anna’s cardio blast class at the SRC? effing killer. and damn do i miss pokey stix.

    • I didn’t, but my obsession was Abbey’s Zumba class at the SRC. And did you hear the devastating news?? Gumby’s is gone–no more pokey stix for Chapel Hill…

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