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6 Little Ways to Get Healthy on a College Budget

Crush your 2019 eating goals — on a college budget. These 6 simple suggestions include a backpack must-have, dorm snack ideas, pizza-eating tips, and more.

Welcome to a new year, where resolutions tend to go down in a spectacular ball of flames . . . or cheese . . . or chocolate—whatever happens to be ball-shaped and loaded with calories. So here’s an idea: This year, why not try starting small and making little changes that fit into your busy college-student lifestyle? Here, a few ways to get healthier without completely giving up the warm embrace of a Dorito or piece of pizza.

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1. Don’t say you want to “lose weight” or “get healthy.” Say “I want to accomplish [specific fitness goal] so I can do [specific life goal].”

yoga sunrise

Your specific fitness goal doesn’t have to be the number of pounds you want to lose. In fact, that might not be a good goal for you at all. After all, being thin doesn’t necessarily mean you’re happy and healthy.

Instead, identify a specific, attainable activity you want to achieve (like being able to do 25 push-ups in a row or running a mile in eight minutes). These are the stepping stones you’ll achieve to reach your goal—whether that’s running a marathon or simply being able to enjoy a hike without getting winded.

When you have a meaningful life goal associated with the journey—instead of just a number—it serves as a constant reminder of why you’re doing it in the first place.

Read this advice for how to set specific goals you can actually achieve.

2. Instead of counting every calorie, spend some time paying attention to what and how you eat.

observe eating habits

For most people, the journey to a healthier lifestyle is far more mental than it is physical. If you obsess over every little thing you eat or resort to extreme calorie restriction, chances are you’re going to be stressed and unhappy—and that’s not healthy.

So instead of being overzealous about your fitness goals and burning out in a week, use the first few weeks to simply observe your eating and exercise habits. Don’t even try to lose weight during this time. Just be mindful of where the calories are coming from. What triggers you to eat? How does your class schedule affect your eating? At what times are you hungriest? Mindful eating puts you in control of your eating habits, which ultimately lays the groundwork for a healthier lifestyle.

Check out these apps for mindful eating.

3. Invest in a water bottle and some protein/trail mix bars ASAP!

water bottles

Drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water a day can be hard to put into practice during a busy week of classes. To ensure proper hydration, get a water bottle you can keep in or on your backpack (like this one) and shoot to drink at least 64 ounces a day. Water not only boosts your metabolism and keeps your digestive system on track, it also makes you feel fuller before meals so you consume fewer calories.

Another way to keep your metabolism in check is to make sure you have a protein/trail mix bar on hand. There are loads of options on grocery store shelves; find a brand that you think tastes good and has a good balance of proteins and carbohydrates.

Ideally, snack bars should have:

  • At least 5 grams of fiber and 10 grams of protein
  • Heart-healthy fats like those found in walnuts, chia seeds, and flax
  • Carbohydrates from whole food sources such as fruits and oats
  • Fewer than 200 calories (for a snack), or more than 200 calories (for a meal replacement)
  • Limited amounts of sweeteners (honey, brown rice syrup, agave nectar)

See a full list of healthy protein bars here.

4. Keep eating what you’re eating, but supplement it with healthier options.

smart tips for eating pizza
Instead of focusing on what you shouldn’t be eating, focus on what you should be eating. That means don’t make any drastic changes to your diet at first.

For example, let’s say you’re going out with friends to eat pizza and you normally eat four slices. You have a few options that allow you to still eat what you want and feel full:

  1. About 20 minutes before eating pizza, down a glass of water and eat one of those snack bars mentioned in step 2. Then you’ll probably feel stuffed after one or two pizza slices.
  2. Load up on a salad or a plate of veggies from the salad bar before your first slice.
  3. Eat more slowly and don’t let an empty plate tell you when to stop. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to realize your stomach is full. Pay attention to what your mind is saying; don’t feel obligated to “clean your plate.”

Small tweaks to your eating habits can snowball into lifelong habits after about 66 days, according to one study.

5. Stock your dorm room with healthy snacks.

popcorn as a healthy dorm snack
When buying snacks, it’s not the number of calories you should be concerned with—it’s pretty much everything else on the label. Look for snacks that are high in fiber and protein and low in saturated fats and sodium. Check out this helpful graphic on how to read food labels.

Foods that are marketed as low-calorie options usually don’t have a high-satiety value—that’s what makes you feel full—so you end up eating more to feel satisfied. (I’m looking at you, Lean Cuisine!)

Healthline provides a great list of 20 weight loss–friendly foods that are tasty and affordable. Remember, you can be healthy without spending $10 on a cold-pressed juice!

6. Find activities that don’t revolve around food.

going for a run or walk with friends

For many people, a lot of group activities involve eating and drinking, so it can be difficult to maintain your weight if you want to have a social life. That’s why it’s important to be proactive in coming up with activities that don’t put food center stage.

A few activities to participate in that don’t revolve around food include:

  • Having a movie or game night with friends (if you get hungry, you should have the healthy snacks you bought in tip 5)
  • Going for a group walk or hike
  • Going to a bookstore and/or going out for coffee (skip the whip)
  • Exploring the city’s art galleries and museums
  • Checking out local stage theaters

Another great way to find activities near you is to use social apps such as Meetup or Nearify.

The most important thing to remember: Don’t beat yourself up if you lapse every so often while you’re trying to improve your health. Life is full of mistakes (and a few guilty treats along the way!)—but you can still keep up your efforts and reach your goal.

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