The decision to get in shape comes to us in cycles; usually starting when we're not as busy and ending when the stress of being a student overwhelms our mentality.
Every now and then, we get tired of stuffing our faces and feeling like crap. We put down the mac and cheese and promise ourselves that we'll improve our fitness.
The cycle goes a little something like this:
We start looking up tips for convenient healthy eating and convenient exercise the can be incorporated into our busy schedules. After reading endless articles on simple recipes and workouts, we think, 'this won't be too hard.'
Then, we stick to it for about a week or until we're too tired to meal prep (and one elevator ride turns back into avoiding the stairs every day). Temptation and gluttony get the best of us, and we're back to sleeping our free time away and spending what's left of our minimum wage paychecks on cheap, convenient 'meals.'
We don't have the time or money to eat healthy, and we barely have enough energy to lift a toothbrush in the morning, let alone go work out at the gym.
We cave, and the cycle continues.
So, how do we break it?
Here are some tips that have worked for me, and I'm sharing them with you because I didn't think I could ever make the commitment either.
1. Force yourself to carry a water bottle.
These are in no particular order, but if I had to choose, this would be the most important one. There are so many different kinds, for affordable prices, at any given grocery store.
Carry it with you at all times, even while sitting at home.
If you can't bring yourself to cut out sugary drinks completely, replace at least one or two of them with water each day, or try drinking an entire glass of water before eating. It will get easier, I promise.
2. Do some squats after you go to the bathroom.
I started out with 20 when I couldn't stand the thought of going to the gym. It's a quick, easy and private way to stay active, especially when you can't fit a long workout into your schedule.
Pick a number that's do-able for you and increase it over time. Give it a couple weeks; your legs will start to tolerate more activity (and your butt will look great).
3. Avoid fried foods.
Whether you are required to have a campus meal plan, don't have access to a full kitchen, or just don't have the time to cook, eating out is unavoidable as a college student.
Checkout the heart-healthy or lighter choices section of the menu, and see what they have (personally, I go for anything involving grilled chicken breast and/or avocado).
Aim to have a lot of bright colors on your plate, and avoid things that are breaded; start swapping french fries for veggies or soup.
4. Make vegetables your best friend.
I know, I know. Vegetables are hard enough to eat, let alone include in your meals regularly, but I have one word for you: seasoning.
Buy some frozen veggies (California style blend with broccoli, cauliflower and carrots is my favorite), take ten minutes to boil them and season with your favorite spices. I love garlic salt, basil, and cilantro. At restaurants, a little table salt or some dressing goes a long way on veggies.
5. Join a DietBet.
One of the toughest aspects to getting in shape is staying motivated. This site forces you to stay dedicated; their motto is "Lose to Win."
You buy into a game, lose a certain percentage of your own body weight in a given amount of time, and if you meet your goal, you win your money back – plus all winners split the total pot!
Basically, you're betting money on yourself. Each game has a feed where participants and the host post tips and encouragement. No one wants to lose money (especially on a college budget), so staying motivated isn't a problem.
Download the app and join a game of your choice!
Whenever and wherever you can, walk (with reason, of course). Even if you don't use a device to monitor your physical activity, get as many steps in as you can. People think I'm crazy for walking the 40 minutes to and from school/work every day, but when the weather is nice and I have to spend the majority of my day inside, it's a great source of therapy.
7. Take the stairs.
If he can do it, you can do it.
You'd be surprised how many other people are also trying to hide the fact that they're out of breath. Take a break between floors if you need, but hustle up those few flights instead of waiting on the elevator.
It won't make much of a time difference and the benefits will surely outweigh the costs in the long run. The more you take the stairs, the less you'll dread them in general.
8. Carry snacks, but choose wisely.
Personally, I don't like snacking on granola or nutty trail mix, but they're definitely an option. However, take caution. While those boxes of individually wrapped "low calorie" brownies and cookies may seem like a great snack, they're often extremely processed and not very filling.
Apples and bananas are the perfect natural snacks to throw in your backpack to get you through that stretch of classes with no break. String cheese and other fruits/veggies are great if you're able to carry an ice pack.
9. Join an intramural sport.
One of those endless encouragements constantly heard around campus is "get involved." We may have laughed and rolled our eyes in high school at this phrase, but in college, it's the main key to a fun campus-life.
Not only can joining clubs give you new friendships and networking opportunities, but many clubs also do their own intramural teams. Even if sports aren't your strong suit, the point of an intramural team is more about having fun than it is about athletic ability. Don't hold back!
10. Find your workout niche on YouTube.
If you can handle not getting distracted by the recommended videos, I highly suggest using it to your advantage.
I love being able to get a Zumba-type of workout without having to go anywhere or break the bank; one of my favorite channels is Keaira Lashae. Learning a dance online is difficult, but she teaches it in a way that is simple, yet still a workout in itself, before putting the entire dance together at the end.
If dancing isn't your thing, browse around and find your niche! There are tons of videos for an infinite amount of exercises that are quick, easy and can be done in the privacy of your dorm room.
11. Make smoothie pops.
If you have access to a blender and a freezer, pick up an ice pop tray at your local grocery store and whip up your favorite smoothie recipe.
You can get creative with your taste or find nearly any Smoothie King recipe online with a little bit of research. My favorite is the Chocolate Peanut Power Plus (recipe in the link).
Making a smoothie may seem like a lot of work, but preparing it in bulk and freezing it leaves you with a decent amount of healthy snacks to turn to when you have a craving.
The amount you make depends on the size of the tray. So, even if you have extra, you can always put it in the fridge and drink it while you're studying or before you head out the door the next day!
12. Be open about your fitness journey.
People know that maintaining a healthy lifestyle is not easy, especially in college. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to talk to others about your decision. It's something people admire, because it requires a lot of dedication and mental strength.
Plus, the more open you are about it, the more others will support you and hold you accountable for your choices!
Any effort to improve yourself shows more than you know. I used to shy away from talking about it and would struggle to do it on my own since I was bigger than all of my friends; I figured getting fit with a friend would only make it more difficult, because I assumed they would reach their goals much faster than I would.
It took me years to finally feel comfortable talking about it, and once I did, I couldn't believe how much easier it became to make smarter choices.
If you don't feel comfortable talking to any one you know, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Sometimes, a simple text is all it takes to keep going!
The biggest favor you can do yourself is to make at least one of these tips work for you. I am not a health professional or nutritionist by any means, and I genuinely suggest looking into the health services your campus may include in tuition or offer at a discounted rate.
I just wanted to share my own tactics, because I know how difficult it can be to find practical articles with real solutions to maintain physical health when you're running low on time and money.
Remember: do not torture yourself. The most important thing to note is that if you fall, get right back up.
Every day is a new day, and it's never too late to refresh. Start small and incorporate one or two changes into your lifestyle at a time; stick with it and be patient. You'll be amazed at how quickly the rest will come. You got this!