When I started college, I made a study plan to ace my classes and connected with an InterVarsity chapter to grow spiritually. However as I sat in a “freshman success” seminar listening to the presenter explain the importance of caring for mind, bodies, and souls during college, I realized that I wasn’t quite clear on how to plan for making healthy choices on campus. Like a three-legged stool, the presenter explained, when one of these areas is missing or neglected in our lives, we are off balance and the other areas of life suffer.
God created us as holistic people, meant to worship him with our minds, bodies, and spirits. Making healthy eating choices, exercising, and getting enough sleep are all ways to acknowledge that God didn’t create you as a machine to study all the time, a disembodied spirit meant only to ponder psalms, or a body sculpted to impress others. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19, one of the most God-honoring things we can do during intense experiences (like mid-terms or a full class load) is to trust God with our lives by eating and sleeping. Thankfully, like in every area of our lives, Jesus is able to help us through the Holy Spirit to have discipline to care for our bodies. Below are a few ideas to help you make a plan to care for yourself as a holistic person this semester.
1. Try something new. You’re taking new classes and exploring what you want to major in – take this same attitude of adventure and translate it into exercise. Sign up for an intramural roller hockey league, take a hula-hooping class, or go ice skating. Pick something you’ve always been curious about and that you’ll have fun doing. Who cares that you were a klutz in high-school or that you’ve never been into sports! College can be a time to reinvent yourself and try new things.
2. Invite a friend. Going to the campus gym can be intimidating with uber-buff guys who seem to know how all the weight machines work and girls wearing the hippest workout gear as they sweat it out on the elliptical. Ask a friend to commit to exercising with you and help each other figure out the weight machines and where the Zumba class is or to don a swimsuit and swim a few laps. Eat in community! Making a balanced meal for yourself can feel like a drag, but invite some friends over and it becomes a party. Whether you lack the motivation to exercise or cook or are obsessed with working out, time with friends builds your relationship and can create openness to talk about your struggles.
3. Eat your veggies. Processed foods abound during college, especially when you can’t get to the grocery store very often. Often, these foods are high in calories and fat, don’t leave you satisfied for very long, and can make you feel sluggish. Add veggies and fruits into meals even if you don’t have many fresh options. Throw in a 1/2 cup of frozen peas into those ramen noodles, stock some apples & peanut butter in your dorm room, choose carrots & hummus instead of fries with your sandwich. Pack a piece of fruit, some high protein nuts or high-fiber granola bars before leaving for the day. When hunger strikes, you’ll be ready with a better option than cheetos or pop-tarts. Filling up on fruits and veggies will keep you full longer, give you more energy, and hopefully help you stave off the freshman 15.
4. Think about what you’re eating. As in “Do I really need to order this pizza at 11pm when I just ate dinner at 9?” Asking, “Am I eating because I’m bored/depressed/because other people are eating?” can help you check your choices and avoid consuming calories mindlessly. There isn’t any need to forgo pizza or any other food you enjoy (I don’t think I could ever give up fries!), but having balanced choices is key to staying healthy. Try setting a goal for yourself of to eat three fruits or veggies a day, eating only one dessert, or having pizza once a week instead of dinner every night.
5. Pray about your body. Whenever I went for a jog across campus, I would pray that Jesus would give me the strength to make it a few more blocks. Others may need to pray to overcome an eating disorder, the courage to share with friends and seek counseling. Ask Jesus to give you the self-discipline to care for your body during college, to give you friends that will encourage you to make healthy choices, and to make a plan to grow as a holistic person. Use the resources that God has given you during this time in your life: the campus fitness center, healthy options at the cafeteria, and a community who can help you honor God with mind, body, and soul.