Healthy Doesn’t Have to Be Hard: You Just Have to Make the Choice
Juggling work, internships, and classes on top of a social life is the life of the average college student. It’s busy, stressful and definitely not healthy.
86 percent of students at The King’s College say it’s hard to be healthy, according to a recent Twitter poll by the Empire State Tribune. Over 50 percent of college students aren’t getting the nutrients they need, says a study by Nutrition Behavior and Education.
But, living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t have to be hard. If students use their time more efficiently, understand what it means to be healthy and make small but smart choices, healthy eating can be a piece of cake.
“We feel like we don’t have the head space to keep up with a healthy lifestyle,” says Abigail Murphy, a senior at The King’s College. “It’s way easier to give in to poor eating habits when you’re low on money, busy and are not physically active.”
Students cite lack of time as their main obstacle to cooking at night or meal prepping for the next day. Some say they don’t have time to read labels because they are constantly on the run. This makes for a hectic and unhealthy lifestyle.
“People always think to be healthy you have to quit eating out entirely,” says Lauren Michen, a nutritionist from New York City. “No, you can actually achieve your goals just knowing what to look for and how to order. Once you learn that, you can literally eat out every meal.”
Michen explains students often view their health with an “all-or nothing” mindset.
“You don’t have to make all your own food,” Michen says. “Even if you only have one healthy meal a day, that is still registered in your body and you are still going to be ingesting more nourishment than before. Your health is not all or nothing, it’s very much a spectrum. I encourage people to do what they can.”
By adopting a more accepting approach to health, your goals become achievable. Michen says even when you eat out, you should aim to increase servings of vegetables at every meal, add one serving of protein and reduce anything breaded (such as fried foods or anything with processed, chemical laden ingredients).
Michen recommends writing out a list of foods that are somewhat healthy, foods that you actually enjoy eating and to always have those foods on hand. This creates a few easy go-to meals. When you’re too stressed and too busy to eat healthy, the decision is already made for you, all you have to do is open your fridge. These meals can be very simple like apples and peanut butter (which is a good balance of healthy fats and carbs), or frozen chicken and mixed vegetables.
“Healthy is a full body approach,” Michen says.. “Healthy means making sure that you found the balance that works for you, your whole body, emotionally and physically, and it’s different for each person.”
Dr. Suzanne Joy Stuart, a holistic nutritionist from Texas argues living a healthy lifestyle boils down to a matter of priorities.
“The problem is [students] do have the time now,” Stuart says. “Today, they are spending too much time socializing on the phone or internet when they could take those 15 minutes to meditate or nap.”
She argues the research is there-- decreasing stress, taking a moment to breathe, or getting in a well-deserved nap (15-20 minutes) is the first step in creating a healthy lifestyle.
For Abigail Murphy--the typical college student, she finds it easy to indulge in unhealthy foods because she’s always in a hurry.
She admits she tried many different diets in the hopes one would stick. But the real lifestyle overhaul started when she began to work more efficiently and prioritize changing the way she thought about what she was consuming.
“I started to view eating as battling against my default, which is to say yes to things because I came up with a decent excuse,” Murphy says. “These excuses made it easy to consistently choose unhealthy foods.”
The stress of college life often leads to unhealthy eating habits and poor nutrition, which can cause a multitude of short term problems such as fatigue, brain fog, lack of concentration, insomnia, capacity to work and can amplify mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.
Many students don’t take the time to care about their health because they feel fine now. They say they will worry about the consequences later.
“In college you can get away with a lot because you’re young and you know there’s not really a lot of consequences for eating bad food, but it can lead to problems down the road,” Michen says.
Long-term health problems include: weight gain, tooth decay, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, some cancers, eating disorders and depression.
“[Students will] notice an energy difference, they’ll focus better in school, perform better with sports and be able to sleep more deeply,” Michen says. “Acne and other skin issues often clear up when eating well too.”
Murphy’s health journey took a turn over the summer when she started the Keto diet. She says it changed her mindset about health, and made her realize the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.
Health encompasses mind, body and spirit. And, the repercussions of not choosing healthy choices could have a life-long impact.
“If [students] are not taking care of your health now, then they’re probably not going to be taking care of it when they get out of school,” Dr. Stuart says. “People destroy themselves in their 20’s. The habits you are creating now, are the ones that are going to happen for the rest of your life or be hard to change later on.”
Being healthy isn’t just consuming the recommended fruits and vegetables. Health is a lifestyle. As with many things in life, good things take effort and at the end of the day, work.
As the popular quote goes, “nothing good ever comes easy.” Your health is a choice, one that sets you up for either success or failure.