It seems like every time you turn on the TV or scroll through Instagram, you’re flooded with ads about miracle weight loss tea and magic diets. These ads may preach about the life-changing effects of their products; however, they typically aren’t as healthy or effective as they would like you to believe. Staying healthy is not about losing weight, but maintaining a healthy diet is extremely important to being…well, healthy! The key factor in this is balance. But balancing your schoolwork, social life, and extracurriculars is hard enough, so how can you maintain a balanced diet on top of all that?
What is a balanced diet?
More than likely, we all grew up with posters of the Food Pyramid plastered all over the halls of our elementary schools. If you’re anything like me, that information basically went in one ear and out the other. But as I’ve gotten older and more concerned with what I eat, I’ve become more familiar with the idea. Basically, it's just a simple guide of how much of each food group you should be eating daily. This means making sure you get at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day as well as limiting sugary, processed foods like chips or candy. Check out this in-depth guide on what you should be eating. Working out the right serving size of each food group is extremely important too, but implementing it is the hardest part.
When you’re rushing out of the house every morning, the last thing you may be thinking about is breakfast. But it’s been called “the most important meal of the day” for a reason. In fact, it can improve your memory and attention throughout the day and make you less likely to eat unhealthy snacks. As someone who is the exact opposite of a morning person, I’m not the type to make a gourmet omelet every morning. Instead, I pack my lunchbox the night before and make sure to include healthy snacks that I can eat when I get to school. Usually, this is something like Greek yogurt, fruit, nuts, or oatmeal that I can heat up in my school’s microwave. If packing the night before isn’t the right option for you, leave out some healthy foods like a banana or a protein bar to grab on your way to the bus.
Related: 5 Easy Recipes to Cook Up in Your Dorm Room
If you’re rushing to pack your lunch before the bus comes, it could be easiest to just grab the closest Kit Kat and be on your way. While I’d never pass up the chance to eat a Kit Kat, it isn’t the most substantial meal. Take some time out of your busy schedule to meal prep or at least plan out what you’ll eat throughout the week. This could be using your Sundays to make buffalo chicken wraps for the week or buying some Greek yogurt and fruit at the grocery store. Planning what you’ll eat for the week will help you make healthier choices and eliminate the stress of packing last minute. And this isn’t just for lunch. You can meal prep for breakfast and dinner too! For breakfast, you can make overnight oats or a smoothie the night before and leave it in the fridge. For dinner, make Greek chicken bowls or honey sesame tofu. You can make all these recipes in big batches ahead of time and eat servings throughout the week. This is a huge time saver and eliminates the urge to stop by McDonald’s on your way home from band practice.
Related: The Best Study Snacks and Tips for Eating Healthy in College
Surviving the cafeteria
Packing a lunch or meal prepping isn’t for everyone, so how do you eat a healthy school lunch? First off, make sure to choose fruits and vegetables over a snack pack. While eating pre-packaged food is okay sometimes, fresh fruits and vegetables have a much better nutritional value. Try to avoid the urge to buy soda from the vending machine. Instead, get some milk or bring a reusable water bottle to school every day. Milk is great for your teeth and bones and can prevent getting diseases like osteoporosis later in life. According to CBS, 75% of adults don't drink enough water, even though it’s one of the best things for you. Not only do you need it to survive, but it also helps flush out toxins from your liver and kidneys and helps your body absorb vitamins and nutrients.
Cut the coffee
Many people start their day with a freshly brewed cup of joe or Frappuccino from Starbucks. While a cup of coffee is a great way to wake up and can improve your memory, it might not always be the best option. Caffeine is dehydrating, so if you’re a heavy coffee drinker, bring a water bottle with you to school. Also, if you rely on coffee to wake up in the morning, be careful. Caffeine helps you wake up, but it’s also reported to increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to long-term health issues. Also, most of the drinks at Starbucks are more sugar than coffee, which can lead to issues like diabetes or heart disease.This doesn’t mean you have to throw away your Keurig—just be mindful of your caffeine and sugar intake. There’s nothing wrong with starting your day off with coffee, but make sure to limit it to a cup or two and drink water. Remember, being healthy is all about balance!
Forget the fads
Just because you want to stay healthy doesn’t mean you have to lose weight, especially if you plan on losing weight by starting a fad diet. In fact, according to HRF, 65% of people will gain back the weight they lost on a fad diet. This is because fad diets aren’t a sustainable way to lose weight. Many of these diets require you to cut out necessary foods or eat unrealistically small portions for fast results. Not only are these extremely unhealthy ways to lose weight, but you’ll feel miserable because you aren’t eating a balanced diet. To eat healthy, it’s most important to eat enough fruits, vegetables, carbs, dairy, and protein all while limiting processed foods.
Related: College Student-Athletes, Food, and Nutrition
Basically, the most important part of healthy eating is to try and find a good balance of what you eat. This doesn’t mean you should never drink coffee or order dessert ever again. Just try to work in more healthy foods than unhealthy.
Thinking about majoring in Nutrition or something similar? There are scholarships for that!