Being healthier can seem like a daunting task at times. You hear about girls going vegan or trying out different cleanses and suddenly it feels like you have to overhaul your entire lifestyle to be healthier. But in reality there are small things you can do without going totally out of your way, which appeals to the busy (and sometimes lazy) college girl inside of us.
1. Keep a food journal
It just takes a few seconds to jot down what you eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean counting calories, but just being aware of exactly what you eat in a day. “Hands down, this is the easiest activity and one where people always make healthier changes without me saying a thing,” Cindi Inman, a registered dietician and licensed nutritionist at Southern Illinois University says.“Writing down what you eat and drink automatically makes you mindful. I’m a big fan of mindful eating.”
If you’re not a fan of the ol’ pen and paper, you can simply start a note on your phone or download an app like MyFitnessPal or MyPlate that has more features, like logging exercise and specific nutrition and calories.
2. Catch some Zzzs
Sleep gives you energy, so if you’re lacking sleep you might be craving other forms of energy, which explains all those the late-night snacks.“There are a lot of studies that show a link between mindless, nervous, emotional meeting and getting a proper amount of sleep,” Hall says.
3. Fruit, fruit, fruit
Everyone loves fruit, right? The numerous options and sweetness makes eating healthy easy. Inman recommends fresh fruit or yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit as a substitute for people suffering from a serious sweet tooth.
You can also start your day with something healthy by incorporating fruit into your breakfast. Taylor Larson, a senior at Temple University, eats fruit for breakfast every morning. “At first, it was hard to give up things like bagels but now I don't even think twice about it,” Larson says. “It sets you up to make eating healthier eating choices for the rest of the day and also makes you feel better than you would if you had a huge bagel/donut/sugary cereal/etc.”
4. Set literal boundaries
When you’re in a dorm room or tiny apartment the line between eating and living space blurs a little. With classes, papers and exams you might only eat while doing something else, but Peggy Hall, featured health expert for the ABC Radio Network and wellness expert for America Now television show, finds designating times and places for eating eliminates mindless, guilty snacking and makes eating an enjoyable experience itself.
“When you study, study and when you eat, eat,” Hall says.“You can also set some boundaries for yourself in terms of where you’re going to eat, like only sitting down at a table, not in front of a computer.”
5. Eat breakfast
Skipping meals will not fare well, especially when you have a busy day ahead of you. Coffee might give you a jolt of energy, but won’t sustain that level throughout the day. Inman says deciding to eat breakfast, even a small one, can set you up for a healthier day. “It doesn’t have to be much and it doesn’t have to be fancy,” Inman says. “It could simply be a piece of fruit, a granola bar (high in fiber is the best), a hard-boiled egg, or low fat and low sugar yogurt.”
Hall says eating breakfast is a good example of a seemingly little decision that can change your whole day. “Small changes can have a domino effect,” she says. “If you start out the day with a healthy breakfast, you feel good about yourself in that you nourished yourself and you are on the right track for the whole day.”
“What could be fun would be getting together with a couple of friends and set aside a time of two or three hours to prepare food you could use for the rest of the week,” Hall says. “You can get food, precooked or cooked, and do some batch cooking.”
By planning ahead you’re less likely to succumb to temptation or cravings. McDonalds becomes a lot less appealing if you have a homecooked meal waiting for you. “I meal prep one meal per week - it could be a homemade granola bar or a batch of roasted veggies but having those on hand will help me stay on track,” says Emily DiNuzzo, a senior at Pace University.
7. Shop smart
Being on your own for the first time can lead to some poor choices out in the real world, shopping for food without the veto power of mom or dad. But shopping for healthy foods doesn’t have to take all your time or money. You’d be surprised at the stores that sell healthy foods without the Whole Food’s price tag. Even CVS sells a variety of wholesome snacks, including gluten free and vegan.
And if you don’t want to leave the comfort of your dorm or apartment, the internet provides plenty of ways, like AmazonFresh, where you can order food. “Thrive Market is a great source for buying steeply discounted healthy and organic foods online, and I was eligible for a free membership as a student,” says Erin Walker, a junior at UIC.
8. Eat something green every day
“M&Ms don’t count” as my pediatrician used to say. It’s true though! Veggies are low-calorie foods packed with nutrition. “I try to remember to eat something green with every meal. This isn't always possible obviously but with that as the goal I always tend to eat more veggies and leafy greens,” Emily says.
9. Pack snacks
Many college students fall into bad habits of mindlessly snacking or feeling hungry and reaching for the potato chips instead of cutting up an apple. Rather than wait for that craving, plan ahead for when hunger hits. “When I'm out of the house for a long period of time, especially in the afternoon, I need a snack to tide me over until dinner. Instead of reaching for the cookies, I pack a Ziploc with grapes,” Cristina Lupo, a senior at Maris College, says. “It's a small decision but makes for one healthy choice during the day.”
Destinye Barnes-Hall, a sophomore at the University of Texas at San Antonio, also prepares her snacks before she leaves for the day. “I pack or bring snacks so that I won’t buy the overpriced food on campus as well as control what is in my food and not be forced to buy junk food when I’m hungry,” Destinye says. Inman suggests buying fresh veggies, and then washing, slicing and storing them in a clear container in your fridge. “Keeping these types of foods handy and ready-to-go will help you to choose these over junk food,” Inman says.
10. Think before you eat
“It really comes down to awareness of how certain foods make you, yourself, feel which can be a huge breakthrough for people,” Hall says. “The very first small change you can do is eat for yourself—don’t worry about what everybody else is eating. What is going to bring you energy?”
Using our brains might be hard for calculus, but with food we usually know what the right choices are. Taking that extra five seconds to decide if you really want that cookie or really are hungry will save you the effort of revamping your entire lifestyle to see change.
“Be mindful. Be aware of how you are feeling. Are you really hungry? Do you really need seconds? Stop and think about it.” Inman says. “If you still want seconds, have them – enjoy them and certainly don’t feel guilty about it!”
Cleanses and diets might sound like the most effective way to get results, but they’re not sustainable or healthy. The easiest thing you can do -- and let’s be real, what we all want to do anyway -- is eat quality, wholesome food. “Enjoy what you eat and eat what you enjoy,” Hall says. “There’s no sense in eating food you’re going to feel guilty about.”