A Guide to Staying Fit in College

Healthy living and the college lifestyle might seem mutually exclusive, but these tips will help you find the middle ground.

By Molly Flynn, University of North Carolina at Charlotte


As we look back nostalgically on 2016, many of us look forward hopefully to 2017.

This is the year when we will get better grades. This is the year when we’ll meet the right partner. This is the year when we will look hotter than ever by dropping a few pounds. But as we set big goals for ourselves, how can we ensure we achieve them—especially when our goals involve weight loss, specifically while being full-time college students?

It can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet while in college, and it’s important to understand that a healthy diet does not mean being super skinny and losing a lot of weight. I am not an exceptionally lean lady, but in the past I have been.

For example, my first semester of my freshman year of college I dropped thirty pounds. I didn’t lose the weight because I was on a super clean diet or because I spent a lot of time in the gym. I lost it because I was barely eating anything. This was partly because I was broke, partly because I was overdramatically heartbroken over a breakup and partly because I was starving myself. While I fit into a size 0 pants and looked sexy as hell in my party dresses, I was definitely on an unhealthy weight-loss journey.

The Difference Between Dieting and Starving Yourself

Image via The Odyssey

Sadly, this is the same type of journey many people look to when they are seeking a quick fix for their New Year’s resolution, especially if you are a woman. There is specific pressure among females on college campuses to control their weight and limit their calorie intake. In fact, 91 percent of females on college campuses say that they have attempted to maintain their weight through dieting. While dieting is not bad, there is such a thing as unhealthy dieting and in college, eating disorders are a real and dangerous threat.

Before you look to Freshman Molly for dieting advice, stop. Just because Freshman Molly was skinny does not mean that she was healthy; in fact, she could have very well been classified as having an eating disorder. But, as Christmas break ends and it’s time to return to your lovely college campuses, how can you be healthy? If Freshman Molly does not have the answer, then who does? Hopefully, newly-graduated Molly can be of more assistance.

Let’s be honest, eating healthy on a college campus is borderline impossible. There are relatively no options to eat clean or fresh, and it’s much easier to swing by Chick-fil-a between classes than run to the grocery store and cook a meal in the community kitchen of your dorm. Also, it’s very easy to drink more calories in one night than what you should be eating in one day. As much fun as beer can be, it can be equally as fattening. Is it realistic then to change to a healthy diet in college? I argue that it is, and that through making lifestyle changes now, you will set yourself up for a much brighter and more salutary future.

The first step to embarking on a healthy weight loss journey in college (and, well, in life in general) is setting your health as a top priority. It can be easy to say, “I’ll work out next week,” or “This is my last beer ever,” and then say the same thing the following night as you sit on the couch in your PJs binging watching “How I Met Your Mother” and finishing a 6-pack.

How do I know this? Because I have had those same phrases in my vocabulary for years—and Netflix is one of my favorite pastimes. But what does setting your health as a top priority look like? Well, once we set aside phrases that excuse us from actually trying, we make time for things like grocery shopping, researching healthy options at fast food restaurants and spending a little bit of time daily being active.

As your priorities start to shift, you’ll realize that even though you’ve been claiming to be way too busy to be healthy, you have a lot more time than you admitted. Maybe not as much time to cram in 3 seasons a day of your favorite show, but time to start actually losing some weight.

Okay, so now you’ve started to prioritize being healthy, but what happens when your campus is infested with deliciously tempting options like Chick-fil-a, Charlie’s and Bojangles—yes, I am from the South where grease is in our food pyramid. Sometimes, it can be really difficult to not just prioritize healthy food but to even find it. Luckily, a lot of other college students feel the same way, and there are a few petitions out there to encourage college campuses to offer better options for students who are sick of eating hangover food every damn day. Sign the petitions and start communicating with the people in charge of your campus dining services if you attend a university that doesn’t offer many healthy options.

Now that we’re all inspired to protest college food options, or to move to the Southeast to enjoy some delicious biscuits and gravy, we’ve gotta talk about a touchy subject—alcohol.

The Difference Between Dieting and Starving Yourself

Image via NPR

Unless you attend a dry university (and sometimes even if you do), a very normal socializing activity for college students is the party with booze. Most of us know that booze and bodybuilding don’t exactly live in harmony, but while you won’t be able to shotgun beers every night, there are some healthier ways to partake in drinking. For example, learn to enjoy the finer taste of straight liquor. Mixing spirits with Sprite may be delicious, but it’s also super sugary and will hold you back from being healthy.

Finally, go to your campus gym. Maybe the first step for you will be finding your campus gym. Regardless of your previous relationship with your college fitness center, get to know it a little better this year. Most campuses provide free membership when you’re enrolled in courses, and even offer some fun classes like yoga, zumba and pole dancing. But if treadmills don’t excite you, maybe something more interactive will, like intramurals.

After high school, many of us lose the workout routine we had through being involved in sports teams. Unless you are a sensational athlete (the only thing sensational about my high school sport involvement was that I was even allowed on the court), you probably no longer suit up on the reg. That’s okay, though. A lot of campuses offer a copious amount of intramurals that will help you get back on your feet.

These steps might seem overwhelming at first, but I promise you they are pretty easy once you get started. I started taking these same steps at the beginning of last semester and have seen drastic results. Again, I am not Ms. Skinny Minny, but I am healthy and I feel great.

If you are looking to attempt to refocus this year on your health and you are still in college, there is hope! Take my advice as a rough guideline, find what works best for you and above all, don’t give up. If I can do it, someone who totally crushes on Colonel Sanders and Ronald McDonald, so can you.

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