It can happen to the best of us; one minute you’re blissfully skinny, shotgunning a Coors Light while “I Love College” plays in the background, and the next you can’t fit into your pants. The first semester of college is the perfect storm: no parents shaming you for being a couch potato, friends distracting you from working out, people constantly wanting to go get food, dining halls brimming with unhealthy options, and, of course, beer here, there and everywhere. Don’t wait until your pants get tight and the thought of stepping on a scale fills you with anxiety. Start your healthy routine now, and come Thanksgiving break, you won’t even feel guilty about treating yourself to an extra helping (or three) of mashed potatoes.
PUT THAT BEER DOWN RIGHT NOW
Okay, I’m kind of kidding because it’s not good to deprive yourself—so drink that one beer and really savor it because it has over 100 calories. Swap it out for a vodka soda and your non-existent-but-let’s-pretend six-pack will thank you, but juice and soda are also full of sugar. The best thing to do is just avoid alcohol altogether because none of it is healthy, but it’s college and drinking is just part of the culture. The point is, don’t go crazy. Drink a beer, not 10.
Go Into That Dining Hall with a Mission
If you step into the campus dining hall thinking, “Hmm, I wonder what’s good here,” you will leave with two greasy slices of pizza and a scoop of ice cream. Not ideal. To curb cravings, develop a super-boring yawn-inducing routine; seriously, carve a rut into that dining hall floor, and don’t make unhealthy food your go-to. That salad bar is your best friend, and the people at the sandwich line will give you plain grilled chicken to put on top of your greens if you ask nicely. Save your unhealthy food choices for food that actually tastes good, not crappy dining hall pizza.
Splurge (a Little)
Whoever said “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels” is totally out of their mind. Eating healthy 100 percent of the time is impossible and not fun at all, so split a bag of popcorn with a friend over your homework. When the whole group is going out for pizza, don’t feel obligated to order a salad. And for the love of God, if someone takes out pretzels and icing, do not skip that because it will change your life. It’s college! Enjoy yourself, but try to keep an 80-to-20 balance of healthy food to unhealthy food.
When I was growing up, there wasn’t a ton of junk food in the house other than the sugary cereal that my brother and I devoured like Sonny, the Cocoa Puffs mascot, who I’m pretty sure had some addiction problems. The point is that I ate healthy when I was little because my mom bought tons of fruits and veggies. If you buy crap, you’ll eat it, so just don’t buy it in the first place. Buy healthy snacks and you’ll eat them, plain and simple. Get granola bars that aren’t covered in candy, fruits, veggies, air-popped popcorn and low-fat yogurt. And PLEASE don’t go for anything with a mascot.
Take a Tip From Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry has a motivational technique that is pretty awesome. Get a big calendar with the whole year on one page, and hang it on a wall that you see all the time. In this scenario, the task you want to do every day is exercise, but this trick works for anything you want to do daily. When you complete the task, but a big X on that day with a bright marker, and in a few days you’ll have a chain. Each day, the chain will grow longer, and all you have to do is not break the chain. Even if it means doing 10 sit-ups before bedtime just so you can put an X on that day, after a month or two you will look at that chain of X’s and want to pat yourself on the back.
Work Out Smarter, Not Longer
Exercising every day is hard if your workout is running three miles, doing 100 sit-ups, 30 push ups and climbing Mount Everest squatting the entire way — especially if you’re not into it. That’s the kind of routine that completely falls apart in college because you just get too busy for it. You’re going to have work to do, friends to hang out with and maybe even a sport to play or a frat to rush, who knows? But an hour-plus workout isn’t in the cards. My personal favorite exercise when I’m crunched for time? Tabata. It’s a four minute high-intensity workout that will have your heart pumping and your fat burning as if you ran a marathon. I’m not going to explain it further because fitness guru Brad Gouthro can do it better (and his abs are drool-worthy).
Mix It Up
There are plenty of great workouts you can do in your dorm room, but I bet all $8 in my wallet that there are also probably a ton of classes offered at your school’s gym. The University of Maryland offers BodyPump, Cardioboxing, and my personal gym-themed nightmare, barre—though I must admit, it’s an excellent workout. Try out that Zumba class you’ve always been a little afraid of. Bring your friends to a yoga class and bond over how bad you all are at it (This one is way funnier if you bring boys who have never done yoga before). Make exercise a fun activity instead of a chore, and find out more about what you like and don’t like in a workout. But remember, always do something. Don’t break the chain, even if all you do is 10 seconds of jumping jacks.
It’s always good to challenge yourself, as long as the challenge isn’t eating an entire tube of raw cookie dough in 10 minutes… (I’ve done it before; 10 out of 10 do not recommend). To me, the point of getting healthy isn’t about how you look, it’s about how you feel; people who eat well and exercise regularly report that they sleep better, feel happier and are just generally in a better mood. This works both ways, though; trying to bond with friends over celery sticks will just depress you. Never forget Christina Aguilera’s immortal words: “You are beautiful, no matter what they say.”