Keeping your body healthy during college is challenging for many reasons. A full schedule makes it hard to get to the gym, prepare healthy meals, or plan ahead. Late-night studying provides ample opportunity for late-night snacking, and lack of sleep puts stress on the body’s metabolism.
In addition to this, the stress of classes can throw self-discipline to the wind. However,students of all disciplines have resources to maintain a healthy (though not perfect) lifestyle that can be translated into lifelong health practices.
One of the biggest cognitive traps a college student can fall into is the all-or-nothing trap. If you are anything like most of us, you will not be able to be a successful student while working out six times a week, getting eight hours of sleep every night, eating three well-balanced meals a day, and avoiding all snacks during study sessions.
However, that does not mean you can not make the most out of even the small amount of time you have to invest in your health. The three-pronged plan involves mindful eating (and mindful intermittent fasting), mindful movement, and mindful rest. These often take very little time out of the day, but do require attention and some sacrifice.
What To Do To Get The Lifetime Pursuit of Health and Wellness
1. Meal and snack planning
The first must-do in mindful eating is meal prepping. Meal and snack planning allows you to rely on previous planning rather than current mood in determining your intake after a long day of class or lab. Meal prepping does not necessarily involve hours of cooking and dishes. One of my staples include a dish with quinoa, black beans, avocado, and nutritional yeast, which is packed with protein, fiber, monounsaturated fat, and vitamin B-12. This gives me the energy boost I need, while keeping me full in between meals.
Since you can make quinoa and black beans in bulk and toss some in the refrigerator and some in the freezer (with a sticky note of name and date if you live in a dorm), you simply heat this up with some nutritional yeast and slice up some avocado, and you’ve got a full, nutritious meal. Another staple that is filling and delicious is a power bowl with grilled chickpeas and roasted vegetables.
I simply toss a few cans of chickpeas into a pan with some olive oil and spices, and roast any vegetables I have left (onions, kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli etc.) in the oven with some paprika and garlic powder. Then, I mix and store and add some tahini sauce before eating. These combinations ward off pizza dinners and Chinese takeout all my friends eat during late night study sessions.
Snack planning is also essential for those late night “fourthmeal” study sessions that are needed before major tests and projects. Always bring some variety! My favorites are almonds or cashews, carrots or celery sticks, an orange or banana, and some hummus and cucumber, which can keep me snacking for many study hours without too many calories. Drinking tea also can give a bit of flavor and a small bit of sweetness while your study partners choose to guzzle down 32 ounce Cokes.
2. Mindful fasting
Mindful fasting is also something to consider if you plan ahead and are smart about it. I like to fast during lab or clinical days because I am so busy that not eating actually saves money. There are many different types of fasting: water fasting, fruit fasting, or 16 hour (intermittent) fasting. After experimenting with a few, I like to do a 24 hour fast with lemon water for Vitamin C and plain green tea so I can have a little caffeine fix.
Green tea curbs the appetite and gives you a little flavor, which makes the fast more bearable. Fasting once a week or for sixteen hours a day can do slim the body and concentrate the mind by putting the body in ketosis, a fat-burning state. This practice also allows one to settle in to one’s hunger and get comfortable with it, which makes resisting late night chicken wings or ice cream much easier.
3. Mindful movement
Mindful movement is about being careful about what you undertake during this busy time of your life. Heavy weightlifting or frequent cardio demands extra sleep, protein and calories, which may not be practical, depending on your work-life balance. For me, three cardio sessions of a half hour a week is feasible with my schedule, and I usually use them as study breaks for those long weekend work sessions.
Again, trying to overachieve can make you fall for the all-or-nothing mentality. If you have a lighter semester, try to implement more exercise into your routine, and maybe during a heavier semester, take your physical education credit so your exercise is already schedule. Struggle with committing? Find a group of friends to jog or cycle with every week.
4. Mindful rest
Mindful rest is the third prong of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Stress can affect every aspect of our health: our sleep patterns, eating habits and metabolism, our feeling of wellness and acceptance, and our ability to concentrate. Stress reduction does not take too much time, but does take thoughtfulness.
Working out, listening to music on the way to class, taking a long walk as a study break, or doing a few minutes of meditation while winding down for bed can release stress and give us the mental space to continue to chip away at every day of the semester.
These principles instilled in school are not a temporary solution, but a framework for understanding health and wellness throughout life. Stress reduction, diet control, and moderate exercise are needed consistently for a healthy lifestyle.
And the same methods for maintaining wellness during the stressful years of college. This method will be needed during other demanding times of career advancement, parenthood, or potentially a pursuit of a second degree. The discipline and consistency exercised during college will be a foundation which can be built on throughout the rest of life.
These pillars are guidelines, not perfect rules. Create a point system for these things and reward yourself for consistent discipline, but try not to beat yourself up about not being perfect every week. You probably will cave for a greasy meal during a finals week study session, miss a workout session, or let stress get the better of you. This is a time for growth. Do not let those mistakes bring you down to the all-or-nothing mentality. Acknowledge your choice and start again the next day. Stay positive and keep your health in your control.