How to Stay Healthy in College
With school starting up again, we are inevitably going to start putting ourselves and our health on the back burner. Before you have a chance to stop taking care of yourself, make good habits now so that you don't have to correct had habits later! And I'm going to do my best to help you with that!
I felt a little like a hypocrite when I started writing this post. In fact, I've probably been working on it for months. I mean - who am I to tell you how to be healthy in college when it's something that I was an epic fail at? But what I realized this past weekend after sharing my transformation from the last 4 years is this - I have learned, I have changed, and I am healthy in graduate school now!
I made poor choices in college that put me on a physical and emotional spiral into the closest to depression I've ever been. I've tried the diet thing. I've tried the cardio bunny thing. I've tried and failed a lot of times - but for the first time in a long time, my mantra of never stop improving is actually holding fast, and I actually am healthy this time around!
So, now I want you to consider this...have you ever caught yourself saying or experiencing any of the following?
- "Oh! I'm too tired. I'll go to the gym tomorrow."
- "I earned this! I worked so hard this week/today!"
- "One cheat won't hurt..." and then one cheat turns into every day
- "I don't have time! I really need to study!"
- The list goes on, and on, and on...
If you have - then this post is for you! Today, I'm going not only debunk common excuses students, but I'm also going to provide you with tips for success!
It's no secret - when we get busy, eating healthy & working out are the first things to go. For some reason, people - students in particular - often place their academic or career success above their own personal health. I gained a lot of weight in undergrad, despite the fact that I've always deemed myself athletic, because I fell victim to this exact thing. I told myself that working harder meant working longer and more. Not working smarter. Not working more productively. Therefore, I would burn myself out before making it to the gym and settle for convenience over health! Every. Single. Time.
COMMON EXCUSES DE-BUNKED...
We have so many excuses that we tell ourselves - especially when we're in school! And in the process of using these excuses, we convince ourselves that they are insurmountable! That's not true! All of those common excuses we tell ourselves...well, I'm here to debunk those myths my friends!
Excuse #1:"Gym Membership is too expensive!" - I don't know how common it is for universities to NOT have a gym on campus for student's to use, but if you find yourself without a place to work out and in need of a gym membership, don't sweat it! You don't need a gym to work-up a sweat! You can do bodyweight workouts - lunges, squats, planks, push-ups - to stay fit or better yet, hit the pavement! A good walk or run is the easiest and most straightforward workout you can find to workout! And the best part? All you need is pair of tennis shoes!
Excuse #2: "The school gym is always crowded!" - Boy, do I understand this reason! Especially during New Years Resolution season! But, this is not an excuse! Every gym has peak hours, and if you don't want to deal with the throngs of people or wait in line for machines, then it's simple -don't go during peak hours! Sorry to be blunt, but it really is that obvious! If this is important to you, then switch up your schedule! Go in the morning, or in the afternoon before that post-work/class rush at 5pm! Or, hit up a part of the gym that is less crowded! If you're finding yourself waiting for cardio or weight-lifting machines, head over the free weights where the wait times are shorter or non-existent! Or better yet, don't go to the gym! At home workouts are easy, straightforward and don't involve having the commute to a gym or battle other gym-goers to get your sweat on! If you're looking for options, there's tons of workout program or challenge packs available!
Excuse #3: "I don't have time to spend an hour in a gym!" Who ever said that your workout needs to take an hour? I spend 30-40 minutes working out most of the time, and you can get a heck of a workout in that amount of time! And with some workout styles and programs - 15-25 minutes is sufficient! Check out workouts like Tabata, High Intensity Interval training (of HIIT), or workout programs that are 30 minutes or less like Focus T25, Insanity Max 30, 21 Day Fix, 21 Day Fix Extreme, and P90X3! But if even that is tough, just incorporate some healthy habits. Walk to class instead of grabbing the bus! Take the stairs! Small changes compound over time to make a BIG difference - see
Excuse #4: "I mean to exercise, but I get so busy that I forget!" Make a commitment that you know will keep you accountable! This might be different for different people! Personally, I find that having a workout buddy or a group of people to check in with is crucial for holding me accountable! Have those people check in with you, or better yet plan to meet them somewhere. You won't want to disappoint them or keep them waiting! That's why I get so much out of Challenge groups! But, for some people, committing to others in and of itself isn't enough. I personally get a lot out of making a financial commitment! If I've paid for something, I'm going to use it! Whether this is a workout program or challenge pack that I've purchased, a gym I've joined, or a class I've signed up for...knowing that I put my money into this commitment holds me much more accountable!
Excuse #5: "I get home at the end of the day, and just don't want to leave!" Once again, planning to meet up with people will help with this! Arrange to meet at the gym X times per week, and you won't want to leave them hanging! You'll get there whether rain or shine. Or, workout at home! I've been working out at home for almost 1.5 years now, and I'm in the best shape I've been in since high school. Another tip - if you find you're too exhausted at the end of the day to workout - workout in the morning! Get it over with so you don't have to fit it in later! Find which of these options gets you off your couch and on your feet and stick with that option!
Excuse #6: "I get bored!" Then do something different! If you're bored running on a treadmill or slogging away on an elliptical for an hour, then find something you love to do! Maybe it's weightlifting, maybe it's dancing, maybe it's kickboxing, maybe it's spinning! Even I get bored with my workouts on occasion. During my last few workouts of Insanity Max 30, I just wasn't feelin' doing Max 30 that day. So instead I popped in a workout video for my favorite program, Les Mills Combat and punched and kicked my way into a sweat! Whatever gets you sweating and your heart pumping, do that. It doesn't have to be something you don't enjoy!
Excuse #7: "Studying takes up all my time and I just can't find the time for it!" Multi-task, multi-task, multi-task! Once last year, I had a really frustrating day, really needed to study, but all I wanted to do was hit the pavement and go for a run. But I felt pulled in so many different directions! And then I remembered that I record my lectures for that class on my Notability app (best app ever! Check out my Grad School App Recommendations here!). So, I loaded up a lecture on my iphone, plugged in and ran and listened to the lecture all at the same time. When I was in undergrad, I used to bring textbooks or notes for me to read while I biked or used the elliptical. If you're really pressed for time and you need to study, then multi-task!
Excuse #8: "I can't cook, so how am I going to be healthy?" Probably the most legit reason, but not legit enough for me to tell you it's an excuse. Because bottom line - some of the healthiest things for you are raw! You can't go wrong with salads, raw vegetables, fruits, etc. The biggest place that will get you is with starches and proteins! Hard-boiled eggs are a great staples, and they're the easiest thing in the world to make! My dad taught me a great, fool-proof way to do it when I was in high school! Fill your sauce pan with water about 2/3 full, and gently add your raw eggs. Put the sauce pan on the burner and fire it up Medium-High to High. When it starts to boil, turn it down to medium-high (if not already there), and let boil for 10 mins. After the 10 mins, remove your saucepan from the heat and let the water cool down with your eggs still in the water. Once the water is cooled, your eggs are ready! Also, to make your eggs easy to peel, add a little baking soda to the water! Other great tips for the kitchen-challenged, get a crockpot! There's so many great crockpot recipes that just involve throwing some stuff in a pot, leaving for hours and coming back to delicious smells and even tastier food! That's a great option for you!
We all come up with excuses for why we can't fit in our workouts! It's okay! We're human! But debunk your own myths and commit. Demonstrate to yourself that you ARE committed to this and you will get it done!
BEFORE I WRAP THIS UP...A FEW MORE TIPS FOR SUCCESS.
Before I leave you, here I have a few more tips for you to help you stay healthy. They may seem overly straightforward, but ultimately health & fitness really is! We all know what to do. It's just a matter of staying committed to the goals we've set, and following through with our commitments. So, here are some last minute tips for success, in ensuring that you stay committed and follow-through with your goals! These straightforward tips will hopefully fill the holes in what you're currently doing, and make it even that much easier to stay healthy while you're in school.
- Meal Plan at the beginning of the week. I cannot stress enough how important meal prepping will be to your success! It's hard to be healthy when you're at the mercy of what's available at the dining center or the cafeteria, or what snacks are in the vending machine. Lack of preparation is typically why people aren't successful in having healthy nutrition. So - do what you can so that you are prepared! Check out The Importance of Meal Prep for ideas.
- Note for those living in a dorm...If you're living in a dorm, you're likely on a meal plan and don't have a place where you can actually cook dinner! The good part of that is that you don't have to actually prep because the meals are actually made for you, but you don't always have control on the what you're eating or the when. Stick with good options...grilled instead of fried, salad bars, steamed or cooked veggies, hard-boiled eggs (great for snacks by the way!), omelettes for breakfast, scrambled eggs without cheese, etc. And don't forget that you can still plan ahead! If you're going to have a long day with little time to go get snacks, grab apples, bananas, hard-boiled eggs, granola bars, greek yogurt, or other similar healthy staples so that you have snacks on hand all day! But, regardless, most dorms have a community kitchen that you can utilize! All you really need is a stove and a sink, and you can buy some kitchen utensils to stash in your dorm! Or if you're really in a bind, mooch off of some friends' kitchens! Maybe even offer to cook for them when you do!
- Schedule your workouts and treat them like meetings with yourself! The biggest reason why people skip workouts is that they see them as optional! Don't. Change your mindset about your workouts! Those are non-negotiable meetings you've set with yourself, so don't cancel them!
- Don't skip meals! I feel like we are all guilty of this at some point and time. Either it's due to lack of time, or in re-payment for that cheat that we know we shouldn't have had. But what we don't realize is how unwise doing so is. I cannot tell you how many students skip meals - lunch, dinner, don't eat breakfast! Especially grad students! I know a lot of people say that skipping breakfast makes them less hungry throughout the morning, so they do it to avoid over-eating. I understand that. I've felt that difference too. Eating like that is essentially intermittent fasting, which I've seen conflicting information on in terms of it's efficacy. The problem with this kind of eating occurs when you don't make up that calorie deficit at some point throughout your day. Eating too few calories is just as detrimental to your health as eating too many, and then you're setting yourself up for failure because you're more likely to binge later. When we skip meals, it also throws off our metabolism, as well as changes your sleep patterns.
- Get sweatin' 3-4 times a week. I know - this sounds so obvious. But STILL, people don't find the time to get this done. I can't tell you how many students, especially graduate and professional students I know, live in the mindset that there is "no time" for exercise, but we've already debunked that myth above! You can make time for it. And if you really want it, you will!
- Develop a routine and stick to it. When I eventually nail down my morning and evening routines, we're going to talk more about them in more detail. But, until then, just find a time of day that works for you to get your sweat on! My personal recommendation is to get in the habit of morning workouts! There's nothing that can come up in the morning to distract you and you get your workout done so you can move on with the rest of your day! But for some people that just doesn't work well, so instead, I would suggest getting your workout in immediately after work! If you're going to a gym, bring your workout clothes with you. If you're going for a run, run right after work! Play with your routine, and once you find something that works STICK WITH IT!
- Find an accountability partner (or partners). Whether you're taking a class at a gym, have a running buddy, or are participating in a challenge group, there are going to be days when you're not going to want to hold yourself accountable! Especially when you start! A friend, family member, significant other, or group of like-minded people will help hold you accountable and keep you going when you're struggling to stay committed to yourself!
- Don't tempt yourself! There are a LOT of times when there are goodies and treats that I know will be around at certain events! The medical school and graduate school host ice cream socials, product shows for vendors have barbecue and what not, and we have cookies/bagels and various other snacks and candy at departmental and lab events. I don't know about you, but my biggest problem is saying no when the temptation is staring me in the face! So, I just don't put myself in it's vicinity! I just don't go to the ice cream social, walk away from the cookies, don't sit near the snacks, etc. I don't go out much anymore either because I know myself and I'll be tempted to order an appetizer I either shouldn't eat or can't afford. Basically, I've found that if you don't tempt yourself, you won't be in a place to give into those treats!
- Adopt an 80/20 mindset. I've also seen this called a good-enough mindset...but essentially the gist is this. We have a finite amount of will-power, and when we put ourselves in the way of temptation too often we're going to succumb. But that doesn't mean that when we do it's the end of the world. I'm all about advocating balance and will never tell anyone to never have that piece of pizza, glass of wine, scoop of ice cream, etc.! We deserve to live a little! But the key word there is "a little"! I suggest adopting an 80/20 mindset. Eat healthy and stay on top of your good nutrition 80% of the time, and allow for those indulgences the other 20%. That way you can still make the progress you want to make without completely cutting yourself off from living, having a social life, and enjoying the occasional treat.
A WORD ON DRINKING...
Don't worry - I'm not about to tell you not to do it! That would be very hypocritical of me! I drink now, and I went to a college for undergrad that has been deemed a party school for years (mostly because there's nothing to do in town but drink). Even upon arriving at graduate school, one of my mentors during a rotation told me, "It's not possible get through graduate school without drinking." So, that is kind of a part of the culture...
Drinking and college kind of go hand-in-hand. And any college experience is going to fraught with reasons for you hit the bar...
- A rough test
- A fight with your significant other/friend/roommate
- It's Taco Tuesday/Wing Wednesday/Thirsty Thursday
- It's Friday
- It's Saturday
- Finals/Midterms are over
- The semester/year is over
See what I mean? ;-) We're good at coming up with reasons to treat ourselves with a little liquid courage...especially when we're stressed or needing to escape. But there's lots of ways that too much alcohol too often can derail you if you let it, which is a topic I plan to cover later!
Bottom line is, if you go out saying "I'm gonna get drunk tonight!", guess what! You're going to get drunk! And you're going to feel like crap the next day! You're not going to want to work out, you'll probably be craving greasy food, and you're probably going to be M.I.A. In my story, I talk about how my turning point in graduate school was brought on by the fact that I had a hangover that felt like I'd derailed my Insanity progress. Nothing sucks more than feeling like all your hard work, all the sweat, all the craziness you pushed through has just been undone.
The big message here is - guess what - don't over-do it! I'm all for a fun night out and a few glasses of wine or beer. I love me some beer and wine! But, when I go out, it's a rare occasion if I have more than one drink in an hour. And if I do, I usually stop drinking early in the night so that I'm pretty much sober by the time I head home. Water is your friend too, so if you alternate each drink with a glass of water (Thanks Mom - I still remember that tip from when you sent me off to college!), you won't get stupid drunk and you won't feel like crap in the morning! And if you know that you have a big event coming up that next day, or a lot of work to do -- again, don't even tempt yourself! Just be the DD and let all your friends have a good time!
I gave up drinking for months in school because I wanted progress physically and in school! It's entirely possible to do that if you want to! You might get teased a little bit if you do. I know I did at first when I stopped drinking, but by the end of that 3 months, my friends were accommodating me! They were making me virgin drinks and jello (sans alcohol) that I could shoot with them so that I could partake in the festivities without getting drunk! If you choose to give up alcohol, whether permanently or for a shorter duration, true friends will support you in that! If you can, find a partner-in-crime to give up drinking with you! It will be much easier that way!
It took me a long time to realize I am just as much fun and I can have just as much fun without alcohol. When I was an undergrad, it was the only way I could have fun at a party, go out to dance, or flirt with that cute guy! Though I'm still shy with that cute guy, I can have just as much fun on in my own sober skin as I do when I'm drunk. It was a long transformation for me there, but if you learn to own your goofy awkwardness instead of being ashamed of it, then it will get easier! Promise!
And that's it! Those are my tips for how to be healthy in college! I definitely think these things are applicable to both undergraduate and graduate/professional school! If you have any other questions or would like me to elaborate on anything, please leave a comment below.
And remember - if you want something bad enough, you'll make it happen, and that is definitely the truth with your health while you're busy and in school!