How to Make Healthy Choices at College

For many, a new year means a slew of resolutions and the propensity to make some major changes. There’s something inspiring and beautiful about a clean slate, and starting fresh in the month of January can be just the motivation that some college students need to kick things into gear and start some healthier habits.

As a college student, you’re now making your own decisions about what you should or shouldn’t eat for the first time—a responsibility that can sometimes feel daunting. So how can you possibly make healthy choices at college and avoid the “freshman fifteen”? With all the get-togethers, late-night study snacks, and the barrage of campus food options available, how do you select options that make the switch a bit easier?

We’ve put together a handy-dandy list to make your revamped lifestyle painless to adopt. Choose one or two (or all!) of these ideas and start implementing the change you want to bring into your life.

5 ideas for making healthy choices at college

1. Make the decision in the grocery aisle 

Chances are, if you have a bag of chips lying around in your cupboard, you’re going to eat them. When the clock ticks past 11:00 p.m., and you’re studying for a major test you have the next morning, you’re probably going to want to refuel with a snack. Wouldn’t it be easier to make a healthy choice if your only snack options were fruit, veggies, and some string cheese?

Instead of purchasing snacks that you know will tempt you later on, refrain from buying unhealthy options, and stock up on apples, carrots and ranch dip, or a block of Colby jack cheese. Then when decision time comes, you’ll know exactly what healthy options you have to choose from.

2. Find a workout buddy

If you’re looking to implement a more active lifestyle, along with a few healthier eating choices, consider finding a friend you can exercise with. College gyms and weight rooms are often open late, so walking across campus with a roommate or classmate is probably a safer option at night anyways.

The accountability a workout buddy can provide is also irreplaceable. The two (or three) of you can make a pact to work out a certain number of days or hours per week, and if one of you doesn’t show, well…then there will be someone to answer to. Not only is it easier to stick to a goal this way, but it’s more fun too.

3. Implement a reward system

Just like sticker charts work great in Kindergarten, a reward system for healthy choices works great when you’re an adult as well. Make goals and timelines, and set up a prize at the end of the month based on hours worked out, healthy meals eaten, or unhealthy snacks avoided. Maybe it’s a road trip to the beach with friends, or maybe you’ll splurge on that dress you’ve had your eye on for a while now. Whatever it is, make sure it’s enticing, and you’ll find yourself working harder for your goals.

4. Skip the frilly stuff

Whether it’s the campus coffee shop or you’re stuck on a meal plan, there are always a variety of fun and delicious drinks, snacks, and desserts available in college cafeterias and shops. While it might be tradition for you to grab a venti triple-shot caramel mocha before your 7:00 a.m. history class, consider switching that to a tall Americano with a bit of cream and honey instead. You’ll cut calories and wean yourself off caffeine at the same time.

The same goes for the cafeteria: skip dessert and the unhealthy snack options, and shoot for the healthier options, like a bowl of raspberries and greek yogurt.

5. Moderation is key 

When you’re making major changes to your lifestyle in the healthy eating or exercise department, remember that moderation is key. While some people can succeed by quitting their unhealthy choices cold turkey, most need to ease into it a bit. If you’re drastically changing your diet, allow yourself a couple cheats here and there: make Fridays your dessert day or allow yourself a small chunk of dark chocolate in the evenings. Take Sunday off from hitting the gym or going on a run, and kick back and watch a movie with friends instead.

Remember, your body is a temple and a gift, and you get to choose how you treat it. Make healthy choices, but don’t become obsessive. There’s certainly still room to enjoy the good stuff in life, and the tension between discipline and a little fun now and then is a good place to land.