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Healthy College Choices

Most students are eager to experience the independence of college life. They will experience new friends, new living quarters, and new academic expectations. With new experiences and new freedoms come new responsibilities and choices to be made: healthy eating habits, allotting time for adequate sleep, improving/acquiring study skills, regular class attendance, healthy choices about alcohol, drugs, and sex, and making their own health care appointments. The responsibility for mental, emotional, and physical health belongs to the student.

Are you homesick?
The changes a college freshman faces may lead to homesickness. Symptoms could include sleep difficulty, depression, loss of energy, difficulty with concentration, and feelings of hopelessness.

“If students have symptoms of sad mood, or changes in energy, sleep, or appetite that last for two weeks or begin to interfere with academic or social success, they should visit a mental health professional for evaluation,” says Sean Buckley, M.D., mental health services director, University Health Service (UHS) at the University of Kentucky. “Left untreated, symptoms can worsen and lead to thoughts of self-harm.”

Choosing healthy foods
Gaining the “freshman 15” pounds is a first-year fear of many college students. Late-night study sessions often lead to snacking.

“Instead of chips and candy for snacks, eat carrot sticks, pretzels, bagels, and fruit. Drink juice, which has more nutritional value than colas,” says Jill Kindy, UHS dietitian.

Many colleges and universities offer meal plans with a variety of food options. For lunch and dinner, go for the deli sandwiches, stir-fried vegetables, or salads rather than fries, or try grilled foods, pasta with a tomato sauce, or pizza loaded with vegetables, Kindy recommends.

“Don’t pick up dessert the first time through. Eat, and if you are still hungry, go back for dessert,” says Kindy.

Setting alcohol limits
College students are likely to be faced with decisions about alcohol.

“Drinking is a problem on every college campus in the United States,” says Ruth Staten, Ph.D., UHS substance abuse specialist, and associate professor, UK College of Nursing. “Every student has been to a party and seen someone drinking too much. What they don’t think about is why, and what could happen to that person later that evening. Drinking heavily can damage your body and could even be fatal.”

With enough alcohol in a person’s system, he or she could stop breathing or vomit and choke to death. The dangers of drinking include falls, car crashes, drownings, suicides and violence, unwanted sexual activity, hangovers, missed classes (including projects or tests), and legal consequences for those underage and those who drink excessively.

“The majority of students do not drink in ways that would create this kind of risk,” says Staten. “However, there are enough students who do to be concerned.”

Some students have found that setting limits before starting the night of partying can help control their drinking.

“Students have come back to me after I suggested they limit their drinking before they start, and told me they were surprised how much fun they had without getting intoxicated,” says Staten.

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