How to Eat + Live Healthily at University

Photo credit: YW Photography

I can’t quite believe it – I’ve graduated from university! It’s been a rollercoaster journey over the last four years (including one year working in Paris) and while it’s cliché to say it, I’ve definitely grown in terms of character and how I want to live my life thanks to the experience.

One question that I’ve heard being asked a lot is how to stay healthy while at university. First off, I think it’s worth reflecting upon the lifestyle choices you are making currently. If you’re planning on going to university soon, you may have only just started contemplating your diet, fitness, and other related activities due to it being your first time of being truly independent.

I’ve got to admit, during my first year at university, I did not make very healthy choices. I loved the fact that I could eat pick ‘n’ mix for dinner if that’s what I wanted (it never got this bad, but I would eat a lot of sugary foods, and so, so much chocolate). At that point, I hadn’t really connected the dots between the nutrition of the foods I was eating and the way my body was processing them. On reflection, while I never had any serious health problems, I did go through cycles of gaining weight, being self-conscious, and overall I was never as happy about my body and health as I am now.

The way I live my life now changed due to my time in France, where I was exposed to a new food culture, and also a socially-accepted expectation of exercise in everyone’s lives. I transformed my lazy 10-minute yoga sequences into 40-minute pilates at home, went swimming, cycled as much as I could, and ate so much fresh fruit and vegetables, I felt like I was repenting my first year sins.

After my placement year, I returned to England with a fresh approach, and combined it with both the food available, my student-level finances, and all that extra free time I had. In this respect, I believe I found a balance, almost a “best of both” scenario, so I’m hoping these key questions will help you start thinking about how you can eat and live healthier than you are right now, whether you’re planning on going to university this year, or if you’ve decided to place your health and wellbeing above those sweet aisle dinners!

How much fresh produce do you eat? After getting into a good shopping routine, try swapping some of those pseudo-foods for fresh stuff, and you’ll find it’s cheaper (especially if it’s in season), as well as better for you. I would often shop at the nearest establishment, but there may be fresh produces markets just around the corner that are a lot cheaper, or even larger supermarkets stocking larger ranges at cheaper prices.

Can you cook, or do you want it made for you? Cooking, or simply an enjoyment in food prep, will make eating healthily so much easier. Search for a healthy recipes of your favourite meals online, and cook in bulk to save money. I also found following healthy food accounts on Instagram pushes me to make pretty and delicious healthy recipes! Plus, if you’re living with others, perhaps you could cook for each other too, and their cooking skills may just rub off on you!

Do you plan your meals, or eat on the fly? Planning in advance will save you a lot of money, as well as giving you the time to make sure your food is healthy, but I understand if you can’t do this. Instead, always try to make a consciously healthy choice – buy a salad for lunch, with fresh fruit and a drink of water, rather than a meal deal. Have healthy snack bars handy (I love Nakd bars) in case you miss breakfast when rushing to a lecture. And try not to punish yourself if you do have a naughty meal – your happiness is worth more than those few extra calories!

How much alcohol do you drink per week? Alcohol has never been a worry for me, but most drinks are loaded with calories, and also prevent you from choosing wisely both while drunk, and in that hungover state afterwards. The same goes for drugs, and anything else that will cloud your mind. Try to live in moderation, and prioritise what you want – that second glass, or to go for a run on Sunday?

Also talking about drink – how much water do you drink? While it may not seem important, you’ll find yourself perked up, with fewer headaches, and fewer cravings during lectures if you keep a big bottle of water with you at all times. I have a handy glass bottle I take everywhere, and fill it with lemons and ice cubes too if I want a refreshing kick.

What kind of fItness do you do? University is such a great opportunity to diversify your fitness routines – from access to the gym, to joining sports clubs, to going to classes, you don’t have to stick to what you know. Speak to older members, gym trainers, or simply older students to find out what’s on offer, and try something new – you never know, ultimate frisbee might just be your calling!

Have no motivation to workout? Welcome to my (old) world! I found it easy to escape regular fitness routines, even when I was a member of the university gym, so instead I tried yoga videos and YouTube channels so I literally would have no excuse. I have now also integrated running into my workout routine after finding a nearby park, as well as using light weights on my yoga mat. Invest in fitness slowly, and if you don’t like something, try something else! Instagram is also a great motivator for keeping fit, as well as eating healthy.

How much sleep do you get? This is something that took me a while to master – even while working full time, I would get around seven hours per night. Not good – this affected my food choices, starting a slight caffeine addiction, as well as my vision taking a turn for the worse – I went to the optician thinking I needed glasses, and he told me I needed more sleep! Nowadays, I get at least eight hours (this is the minimum you should get), and you’ll find that your metabolism is higher, your mental clarity is better, and your memory will be stronger. One handy tip is to have light curtains, or leave gaps in your blinds to allow sunlight to creep in during the early hours. Your body will be happier to wake up to gradual light, than in total darkness!

How regular is your sleep? I have to say, even now my sleeping pattern isn’t perfect, but don’t beat yourself up about this. With lectures being at all times of day, you can fall into a strange fugue state if you don’t sleep enough, so focus on getting eight hours every night and try to eat meals at regular times of day to keep your body on track. I also found that using a sleep app is a great way to reflect on your patterns and improve quality and quantity of sleep.

How happy do you feel? This point is a crucial one, as your wellbeing has a strong effect on your physical health, and academic performance too. Joining university, as well as studying hard, can be stressful, but you’re not alone. Find something that helps you stay sane – whether that’s preparing for lectures in advance, or talking to a classmate, you can and will get through this. I did, and I went through these periods too! If it’s more serious than this, approach your Student Union or University for deeper pastoral care and advice.

How important is your health and diet in your happiness? While you may want a killer supermodel body, a surfer’s tan, and beachy waved hair, it’s not always realistic to pin your happiness on these aims. Celebrate every time you choose a healthy meal, cook a new recipe, and purchase fresh produce. Congratulate yourself after every workout. Plan an exciting breakfast for when you wake up after your eight hours of sleep. You’re doing great – and one day you’re going to wear a cap and gown to celebrate such a huge achievement!


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