College is a crazy time. You are stressed out of your mind at different points, but you are also happy and more excited about life than you’ve ever been. The friends you are making will more than likely be lifelong friends. For the most part you are short on time, sleep and money. You are on your own. Your beliefs are being shaped. You are figuring out who you are. Kinda like a trial run for real life.  So, I figure that if you can maintain a healthy lifestyle for the majority of your college years then you have more going for you than 99% of those you are going to school with! (And a huge step forward on life).

Whether a freshman in college or back for another year, you are faced with all sorts of wonderfully inadequate and unhealthy food – pop tarts, cereal, granola bars, pancakes, hash browns, and muffins.  Staples of many and that is just breakfast!

With two children back in college and trying to support their willingness to eat a much healthier lifestyle (let’s not call it Paleo all the time!) I began to wonder how all the other college students from CrossFit Talon were doing with their college nutritional endeavors.

college-foodNo one said eating healthy in college was going to be easy.  In fact it is guaranteed to be 99.9% hard! Face it – ordering pizza is easy.  Mac ‘n cheese = easy.  Drive-thru = way too easy.  Saying no to gluten and dairy is hard.  Saying no to sugar and all the processed food (think Oreos) that is tempting you is really hard.  Having your room mate(s) tell you it’s ok to eat the doughnut is waaay hard.

But let’s be honest here.  What is by far the hardest is:

  • Commitment: (if you had started doing anything two weeks ago, by today you would have been two weeks better at it.” ? John Mayer)
  • Planning: (knowing ahead of time what you are going to eat when you step foot into the cafeteria or McDonalds)
  • Resourcefulness: (bringing your own snacks to a meeting or a get together)
  • Creativity: (love Garrett’s recipe of canned salmon/chopped apple and cran-raisins for a quick and healthy snack)
  • Flexibility: (dinner for breakfast or vice versa)
  • Plan B: (phone home or eat eggs three times/day).

But more importantly you need a sense of humor!  Especially when it comes to explaining why you eat the way you do.  It is a fine line to simply state that you feel better eating the way you do and trying not to be condescending about the way your friends eat.  It’s about educating them, but in a manner that they sense something in you that they want – energy, radiant skin, and a vitality that comes from eating healthy. Laugh with them, but in the long run it is you who will have the last laugh.

Also, try and find a friend that you can share this journey with.  One who can support you when things seem to be falling apart, when you are stressed or when all you can think about are the M & M’s that your roomie has stashed away.  This is where your sanity needs a close friend or a community of support.  I encourage you to log on to the CrossFit Talon Facebook page and let your “other” family know your successes and struggles, and how we can support you.  The ins and outs of college living in an un-nutritionally sound environment can be hard, but manageable!  Challenge us to make it easier for you as we want you to succeed.

Most college students are generally on a limited budget.  I know mine are.  However, I have told them that I absolutely do not mind padding their grocery account, but only if they purchase healthy choices. Instead of buying potato chips, cookies or even those 5lbs of potatoes, purchase carrots, grapes and sweet potatoes. Do the best you can and above all else stay committed to not buying processed foods.  Don’t stress out over grass-fed and organic.  Just be sure you are eating lots of protein (think eggs – scrambled, hard boiled, fried; eggs are so cheap and good for you!), chicken if that is all you know how to cook, vegetables, fruit, nuts, etc.  Thankfully, my two college students are in houses this year and have access to a stove, larger fridge, etc. If you are on a meal plan and you are forced to eat at a cafeteria, you still have choices.  The key is to make the right choice and steer clear of the bad ones.  So what if your cafeteria serves lots of junk food – French fries, nachos, chicken nuggets (seriously, how much chicken do you think are in those things?), etc. at least three times a day? They will also be serving fresh whole foods.  Plenty of eggs, bacon, sausage at breakfast, hit the salad bar at lunch, load up on what protein you can find and eat fresh fruit. If it’s a burger night, then ditch the bun and double up on the meat. You can do this – commit, plan and be flexible. It would also be wise to read on-line how to eat healthier at college.

However, I know from having kids in college that the focus of eating a healthier lifestyle is on doing well, not on being perfect. It’s almost impossible for anyone to stick to a healthy lifestyle (paleo diet) 100% of the time, especially college students. I know the stresses of student life make it hard. So, simply focus on doing well, and make progress towards your goals. Avoid being discouraged by one or two cheat meals. Savor your cheats, but by all means do not let them be a reason to begin spiraling downwards with fast food stops and unprocessed chips, cookies, etc.  YOU are better than this, and you know it.

With all that being said, here are Five Guidelines for the upcoming year

1)  Learn to cook healthy food. If you are in a dorm, learn how to eat healthy with what you have. You can do this!  Be creative and have fun with it. Always have healthy snacks in your room. Always. This way you will not be tempted by what your room-mate has in his/her corner.

2) Stop letting others control what you do and how you do it. Do not let them decide what you are going to eat. Even if they laugh at the selections you make does not mean you are wrong. You have as much of a right to eat healthy as they do to eat unhealthy. This is where you can teach your friends why you eat the way you do. Highly recommend the book, “It Starts with Food,” by Melissa and Doug Hartman (ask for it for Christmas).

3)  Do more things outside. Anything. Outside. More often. You need the Vitamin D. Plus being outside is generally more fun. If you are continuing your CrossFit in college than be sure to either work out with someone to help keep you accountable or be very consistent in your workouts. There are all sorts of WODS that you can find on-line.

4)  Pick a hobby. Be a part of something bigger than yourself. My family knows how important this is to me.  Life is not about you, but rather about what you give to others.  his will give you purpose. Engage yourself. This can be CrossFit, charity work, sports, music, etc. Just be you, be consistent and think of others.

5)  Be sure to surround yourself with like minded people.  This is a huge step in changing your life. If you want to be a happy and healthy person, then surround yourself with people who are happy and healthy. Why would you want to be around friends who complain, are unhappy and/or who drink all the time?  Be proactive in the friends you surround yourself with. You will be a better person in the long run.  Promise. Promise.

The Dalai Lama has said that the greatest surprise about life is that man spends all of his health to get money and then spends all his money to regain health. Think about that. Paying for your health now will limit the number of doctor’s appointments, medicines, etc. in your future.  I wish I had known all of the above way back when.

Below are some inputs from Coach Garrett (Senior at UTK) –

1. Frozen chicken and eggs are your new best friends.

2. Cook in bulk (enough for several meals).

3. Think of how many servings or meals you can get out of certain foods (example: One acorn squash can be a serving of vegetables for 2 meals. The same with frozen broccoli or other frozen vegetables)

4. Buy plastic baggies – lots of them. They help bring snacks with you to class so you don’t buy junk (I bring a bag of almonds or mixed nuts daily, sliced apples, etc.)

5.Seasoning is your friend as well. Chicken can get old when you eat it twice/day. Try new seasonings to spice things up (no pun intended).