Teens and young adults


Healthy eating in high school and college

School, work, friends, clubs, and sports — you've got a lot going on in your life right now.

Taking charge of your health might not be at the top of your list. But eating healthy food and getting regular exercise will not only help you manage your weight, it will give you the energy you need to keep up with all the things you love to do.

Look and feel your best with these 13 tips created just for you.

Photo of a teen lifting weightsMove it to lose it.
Get up and move for 60 minutes a day instead of spending time on your computer or watching TV. Exercise is more fun with friends — meet up for a hike or hit the gym together.

Avoid the crash.
Your schedule may keep you running around all day, but you can make time to eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus 1 or 2 snacks if needed. Skipping meals will send your energy nose-diving and can lead to overeating at later meals.

Size matters.
Super-sized meals or a tray full of cafeteria food can contain way more calories than you need. Learn what a healthy portion size looks like.

Fuel up with healthy food.
Choose healthy snacks like fruit, vegetables, nuts, string cheese, fat-free or low-fat yogurt, or protein bars or shakes. Limit the amount of fat, oil, and sweets you eat, found in foods like butter, margarine, regular salad dressing, candy, cake, and cookies.

Got calcium?
Do your bones — and the rest of your body — right and drink a couple of glasses of fat-free or low-fat milk a day. Calcium, vitamin D, and other nutrients in milk are important for strong bones and muscles, a healthy heart, and keeping you healthy in the future.

Drink smarter.
Soda, juice, milk shakes, sports drinks, smoothies, coffee drinks, and other beverages are usually loaded with sugar and calories. Rethink your drink with 6 to 8 cups of water a day instead, or try zero-calorie flavored mineral water, unsweetened tea, or fat-free or low-fat milk.

Fads? Forget about it.
Fad diets that promise quick weight loss and limit your food choices are not only unhealthy, they usually cause even more weight gain over time. The best way to manage your weight is by eating well and getting regular exercise. Severely limiting your calories or getting too much exercise is never the right way to lose weight. Any changes you make to your eating plan must be sustainable over the long term.

Focus on food.
Eat your meals at the table instead of in front of the TV or computer. When you're not zoning out in front of a screen, you'll eat slower and be more aware of the amount of food you're actually eating.

Eat only when you’re hungry.
If you feel sad, bored, angry, or frustrated, try exercising, writing in your journal, listening to music, doing something nice for yourself, or talking to a friend instead of eating. Learn more ways to avoid emotional eating.

Catch some Zs.
Teenagers need lots of sleep. When your body doesn't get enough rest, the hormones that regulate hunger levels can get out of whack. Try to get at least 8-9 hours a night. Keep electronic devices (computer, video games, cell phones) turned off at night to create a peaceful sleeping environment.

Get your family on board.
Other members of your family, including your parents, may need a little extra information and encouragement to maintain a healthy household. Talk with your family about smart food choices and even offer to go along to the grocery store or farmers market. Volunteer to make some meals with our healthy recipes and show them how good healthy foods can taste.

Lead, don't follow.
Be a positive influence among your group of friends. Suggest restaurants that offer healthier choices or invite friends over to cook with you. Think about portion sizes when eating together at fast food restaurants and consider splitting large or less healthy dishes.

Be true to yourself.
The pressure to be thin or have "the perfect body" can be intense. But looking your best does not mean you need to look like everyone else. Remember that healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes — it's part of what makes you unique. It's more important now than ever to appreciate yourself for who you are.

Check out our health classes for fun ways to get in shape with others just like you.

 Reviewed by: Adam Tsai, MD, November 2018