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5 Steps to Eating Healthier in College

“It won’t happen to me”

That’s what I said about the “freshman fifteen” going into my freshman year. Then, it did happen to me. I gained almost 15 pounds during my freshman year, and I barely noticed. The biggest monster? Dining Hall food: all-you-can-eat French fries, burgers, General Tso’s chicken, and more. You don’t realize that how much food you’re eating is actually way too much. You also don’t realize you did not eat nearly as much food when you were living at home. Luckily, I got smarter about nutrition. I started doing research about carbs and calories and how I could maintain a healthy diet while still eating dining hall food. Here are my 5 steps to a healthier lifestyle in college while still eating those French fries.

*It’s important to note that weight gain can happen naturally with age. Check with this BMI Calculator to see what your healthy weight range is.*

1. If it’s soda, make it diet.

One of the hardest things for me to accept was how many sugary drinks I was having every week. At first, I wasn’t a fan of diet soda, but it’s an acquired taste like coffee. Switching to diet soda cut about 1,000 calories a week out of my diet. One thing to be aware of is how much sodium is in your soda because salt can cause you to retain water. Usually, it’s not too much, but it doesn’t hurt to check your nutrition facts on the bottle. This can also apply to alcohol. You wouldn’t believe how fattening alcohol can be, so look up the nutrition facts and find the healthier options you might like.

2. Going out? Check the menu ahead of time. 

Eating out is a tough one. It’s so easy to get lost in chips and salsa, endless breadsticks, and nice, big burgers with fries. This doesn’t mean you can’t ever treat yourself. Doesn’t mean you can’t have the breadsticks, but be mindful of how much you’re eating. Just about any major chain restaurant has their nutrition facts available online or have a section of the menu for “lighter” options. Also, see if you can substitute fries with a salad or veggies. Don’t want lighter? Want the burger and fries? Get it! But eat half and take the rest home. You’ll thank yourself later when you have some leftovers for lunch the next day! Fast food? They have facts up on their websites too. Want to get Chipotle? Check out this nutrition calculator that shows you exactly what you’re putting into you’re burrito. 

3. Ask for “Just a liiiiiiittle bit”

This is probably made the biggest difference in eating healthier. When I go to the dining hall and ask for fries, I watch as the cook loads three whole scoops of fries into my basket. I know I don’t need that many, but my inner hunger says, “Eat all the fries.” This is where portion control comes into play. Now, when I get fries, I ask, “Can I get just one small scoop of fries?” instead. That small scoop gives me a much healthier portion and I’m not as tempted to eat more. Did you know that a regular serving of sour cream at Chipotle has about 110 calories? Ask for “just a little bit” and you’ll automatically cut those calories in half. You can do the same thing with the cheese and rice. 

4. Water, water, water

We’ve heard it from our moms, doctors, and all the health articles: “You need to drink more water.” But it’s true. Water has plenty of benefits besides keeping you hydrated. First of all, water helps you feel fuller, longer. Drinking at least one tall glass of water before you eat helps you feel full. Also, the saying is true: “Sometimes when you think you’re hungry, you’re actually thirsty” This can come from your subconscious thinking it’s been a while since you ingested something. Your stomach can also grumble from just being thirsty! So next time you feel an appetite coming on, drink some water and see if you’re still “hungry.” You might’ve actually been a little dehydrated.

5. Don’t sacrifice your favorite foods!

Notice how I didn’t talk much about fruits and vegetables in this article? Yes, you should eat those, but you already know that. This is about eating the things you want. That doesn’t mean go have McDonald’s everyday; it means that you don’t have to sacrifice your favorite foods to be healthier! It’s about portions and choosing when to have those things. So order the pizza, but only have two slices and save the rest (again, leftovers are the best!). Have the cupcake at the party, but just the one. Have that Chick-Fil-A milkshake you’re craving, but maybe the smaller size.

A healthy lifestyle is not about strict diets and overkill in the gym. It’s about having a healthy relationship with food and finding a balance that works for you. College is fun and exciting, and you shouldn’t have to miss out on anything, including the stuff that involves yummy food. If you gained a pound or two from a weekend of good food and good times with friends, it’s no big deal. If you want that to go away, eat healthier foods during the week after, but don’t feel guilty for having a good time and being happy. You only live once!

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