Opinion | How to take care of your body in college

By Paige Wasserman, Staff Columnist

College isn’t easy. I’ve written 20-page papers, performed in plays and musicals, written for extracurricular groups and searched for summer career opportunities all at the same time. But you wanna know what was the hardest part of college? Learning how to take care of myself.

Sure, you’ve had health class and you know the basics. But when you’re in a new, exciting place with tons of social opportunities, you’re not playing high school sports and you’re not eating your family’s meals, you need to workshop a new self-care regimen.

Disclaimer — this is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some people can chug a whole bottle of wine and feel fine the next day. Some people have disabilities that prevent them from taking maximum care of themselves. Please assume nuance. Okay! Now the advice!


The dining halls at Pitt are a buffet. You probably want to try everything, maybe get a dessert or a slice of pizza. I promise you, nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to be earth-shatteringly good. Take a look at your options and find a source of protein, a carb and a fruit or vegetable — and I emphasize the vegetable. Seriously. Constipation sucks. 

Here’s a rule of thumb for dining halls in case you want a dessert. Take a first bite. If it’s good, eat it! Enjoy! If it’s bad, throw it away. Don’t waste your stomach’s capacity on something you’re not enjoying. 

A lot of social events in college are focused around food — this is a surefire way to gain the freshman 15. If you’ve had a meal prior to the event, have a snack, but don’t have a second dinner unless you’re actually hungry. Or, take some stuff from the event and save it for later.

The Freshman 15

You might gain some weight in the first couple months of college. Here’s the thing—your body is going to change no matter what. In high school, you might’ve been completely sober, eating three square meals a day and playing year-round sports. That’s not your life anymore, and that’s never going to be your life again, so naturally, you’ll probably see your muscle mass and your fat content change. Be kind to yourself.

At the same time, if you’re noticing significant changes in your weight, whether that’s a loss or a gain, it’s worth figuring out the cause with a doctor and finding a solution.

Alcohol and other drugs

I’m sure some college freshmen began drinking in high school. Some people don’t get hangovers and some people do. Some people really like being drunk, and others do not. There is no one right way to party in college –– you don’t have to drink, but if you’re going to, do it responsibly. 

When you drink, drink as much water as you do alcohol. And, if all else fails and you overdrink and under-hydrate, find a hangover cure. Sleep, Pedialyte, Pepto-Bismol, or even a greasy breakfast sandwich. And more water. It’s trial and error.

Also, if you’re on psychiatric medication that interferes with alcohol, either don’t drink or tread very, very lightly. Many antidepressants and stimulants interact adversely with alcohol and other drugs.

To protect yourself from roofies, consider investing in the NightCap Drink Cover Scrunchie. This thing could save you from being drugged by someone with bad intentions. Also, never leave your drink unattended at a party. If you have to go to the bathroom, or you suspect your drink has been tampered with, just throw it away. 

Mental Health

I’m of the opinion that everyone needs a therapist. If you find yourself struggling, seek out a therapist immediately. If you need to talk to someone soon, the University has a counseling center. If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-8255.

If you find yourself severely, severely struggling and not improving, think about taking some time off from school to find more comprehensive care. I took off 9 months in 2020, and it was the best decision I ever made for my self-preservation.

Caring for your mental health is very trial and error. Meditation, exercise, journaling, therapy, psychiatric care and general self-care is essential. 


Exercise is crucial for your physical and mental health, and if you’re able, you should try to exercise 4-6 times a week. This doesn’t mean you have to run 5 miles or do 150 lb. deadlifts in the Pete. You can simply incorporate movement into your daily routine.

As mentioned before, food is often the center of social functions in college, but you can make exercise a social function too! Ask a friend if they want to go on a long walk –– or a jog, if you’re feeling it –– in Schenley Park or around Shadyside. We love a good walk and talk.

You can also access the Pete, the WPU gym, or the many other small gyms that Pitt has to offer. Check out this page if you’re interested in Pitt’s free group fitness classes.


If you’re fortunate enough to have great health insurance, don’t bother with Pitt’s health insurance. UPMC has a ton of amazing healthcare professionals, and you can take full advantage of that under your own coverage.

Always have a copy of your insurance information on your person, whether in your phone or in your wallet. 

If you’re curious about Pitt’s student health services, check out this page.

If you need any healthcare specialist, whether that’s a gynecologist, orthopedist, dermatologist, dentist, whatever –– do some research and fill out a new patient intake right now. Do it immediately. Don’t even finish reading this article. Once your classes start and you have tons of responsibilities, it’s going to be much more cumbersome to establish and access care. 

COVID-19 Testing

If you’ve been exposed, Pitt has on-site testing with Quest Diagnostics. Curative is also a great resource if you really want to expedite your test results. Curative has a trailer outside the Carnegie Museum on Forbes for COVID-19 testing.


Get tested for STDs regularly, which you can do through Pitt’s health services. They also provide free condoms, which you should absolutely take advantage of.

Uterus havers, assuming you’re having intercourse that poses the risk of pregnancy, I recommend some form of birth control, whether that’s an IUD, the pill, or the implant. Research your options and again, consider establishing care with a Pittsburgh gynecologist. 

Penis havers, especially if you’re non-monogamous, you need to be using protection in the form of a condom. Always.

Also, for LGBTQ+ folks— Pitt provides clinical services for your needs and can refer you to LGBTQ+ friendly providers as well. You can read more about Pitt’s offerings here. UPMC also provides great low-cost or free access to PrEP if you need it –– which, by the way, goes for everyone, not just LGBTQ+ students.


Get a big water bottle and take it wherever you go. Spending $50 on a water bottle is worth it –– it’s so much better to have a steel-lined bottle that doesn’t leak or sweat and keeps your water cold. Hydroflasks are great. Get one in a bright color, and maybe slap some stickers on it so you never confuse it with someone else’s or lose it. Bring it everywhere and sip it whenever you can. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!

To conclude, take all of my advice with a grain of salt, as this approach won’t be suitable for everyone. You’re going to make mistakes while learning how to live a healthy lifestyle, and that’s okay. Your physical and mental health are crucial to your quality of experience at Pitt, so work on establishing healthy habits. It is the foundation upon which you will build your success. Take care!

Paige Wasserman (she/her) writes about the arts, pop culture, campus culture and things that make her want to scream. You can reach her at [email protected].