Design Your Own Pyramid

We've all heard of the food pyramid. But did you know that the traditional food pyramid has been thrown out? Modern nutritionists now realize that everyone has different nutritional needs.

Visit the United States Department of Agriculture Web site at MyPyramid.gov to design your own food pyramid!

Here's a Tip

Man eating a sandwich.  Om nom nom nom.

Thinking of eating a big lunch to "hold yourself over" until the next time you can eat? You may be doing yourself a disservice. Research has shown that it doesn't work like that--food won't "hold you over." If you eat more than your body needs at a given time it will store the extra calories as fat, pure and simple. Eat until you're satisfied, then stop.

If you're worried about missing your next meal, keep a couple of healthy snacks with you, such as granola bars or fresh fruit. They will keep your hunger at bay until the next time you can eat a real meal.

Kicking (or Kick-Starting) the Habit

They say once you hit college you start developing habits you'll keep for the rest of your adult life. Good habits, maybe; but bad habits, definitely. They're hard to break. By getting into the habit of good nutrition early on you can save yourself a ton of hassle down the road. Take care of your body when you're young and it will definitely pay off. Here are some basic tips for some of those "good habits."

1. Follow the Golden Rule.

No, not the one about treating others how you want to be treated, although that's good, too. The rule we mean is this: Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you're full. So much of the trouble people have with over-eating is that they simply eat when they're not hungry. Don't eat when you're bored, or upset, or stressed. Do something productive with that time. On the flip side, skipping meals and starving yourself won't work, either. Eat because you're hungry, because your body needs nutrients to function. This is the most basic principle of healthy eating, but it's one of the most overlooked.

Some people have a hard time telling if they are actually full. A good way to do this is to eat slowly. Learn what the feeling of being actually hungry is, and learn to recognize it. Learn what "too full" feels like (although most of us already know that...). And learn what properly satisfied feels like. Eat until this point.

2. Listen to your body.

Tired? You need rest. Thirsty? You need water. Hungry? You need food. Too often, college students let their busy lives take over and don't allot time for the essentials. Pushing yourself too hard is only going to cause a crash. Caffeine isn't a substitute for a good night's sleep, just like a bag of Doritos isn't a substitute for dinner. If you're doing a study marathon at the library, try to bring a sandwich or some carrot sticks with you. Take breaks. Or, avoid the crunch altogether by studying in small increments over time. (Though we know you probably won't... we're guilty of it, too.)

3. Make time to eat.

We know how stressful those three-hour labs are, especially if the only section left was the one that's right in the middle of dinner. Eat a small meal before if you can, and bring snacks with you so you don't get woozy and lose focus. Especially if you're working around dangerous chemicals. That's just a bad combination.

4. Hydrate!

Water, water, water. Drink it. Love it. Soda is sugary; sports drinks are, too. Water is the best choice. It's cheap and calorie-free. When you go out to eat, save yourself a couple of bucks and order a glass of water instead of soda. Invest in a good reusable water bottle for day-to-day and you're set. Carrying one with amount markings will help you know how much you've had and how much you still need to drink. You need about 64 ounces per day. So get to it!

5. Balance your meals

A healthy meal combines three or more of the basic food groups. (You know what they are... you learned them in kindergarten.) Always start with the vegetables. If you imagine your dinner plate as a pie chart, 50 percent of the plate should be filled with vegetables, 25 percent should have protein, and the other 25 percent should have carbohydrates like rice or pasta.

6. Pizza at 2 a.m.? Bad idea.

Those middle-of-the-night food cravings can be your undoing. Not only are foods like pizza or chicken wings high in fat and low in nutritional value, but if you eat them too soon before going to sleep you'll have a hard time getting Z's. Also, a lot of students eat these "snacks" in addition to regular meals, which means they're eating a whole meal's worth of calories--or more--before going to sleep, and their body doesn't have time to work off the extras. Those calories are stored as fat, which is exactly what you want to avoid.

You shouldn't go to sleep with a full stomach, but if you're legitimately hungry try having a spoonful of peanut butter or a glass of milk before bed. The protein will curb your appetite, but won't make your body work too hard to digest, which can make falling asleep difficult.

7. Control your portion sizes.

Food portions in restaurants are often really three or more servings. A quick fix for this is planning on taking half of your meal home with you before you even get it.

When you're eating on your own, make sure to read food labels carefully for the real serving size. Also, keep in mind these tricks: a portion of meat should be the size of a deck of cards. Rice and other carbs should be the size of a tennis ball. Ice cream is the size of half a tennis ball.

Another hidden danger is salad dressing. It's loaded with calories, and the serving is only two tablespoons. Most people drench their salad with dressing. Ask for it on the side, or measure it out before you add it to your salad.

8. Substitute.

Try whole wheat bread instead of white. Salsa or hummus instead of ketchup or mayo. Tortilla chips instead of greasy potato chips. Health alternatives are everywhere; all you need to do is look.

9. Stay active.

Physical fitness is a key component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Hitting the gym a few times a week can reduce stress and improve your overall health. Most college campuses have a gym that's free to students, and many offer cool classes in things like kickboxing, cycling, and even yoga. Try one out to spice up your fitness routine.

If you can't make it to the gym, try things like biking or walking to class and taking the stairs whenever possible. Also, talking a walk with friends during a study break or doing crunches in your room can add some extra activity to your day.

10. Make healthy decisions--not just with food.

Binge drinking, smoking, unsafe sex, stress--these things can be catastrophic to your health. If you or a friend are having problems with any of these, check out your campus health center for local resources to help yourself out.

Staying healthy isn't just about eating right. It's about taking care of yourself. After all, you only get one body. Take care of it.