Funny enough, I actually started my health-kick in the middle of the exam period at University. I know, it seems like the most unlikely time you would be willing to face difficult and drastic changes in your life. I study at the University of Edinburgh and as you can imagine, March time in Scotland is not somewhere you would desperately want to be. It’s raining, hailing, windy as fuck and bloody freezing.
Walking to the gym took a good twenty minutes from where I lived, down a very steep hill which means stumbling back up after each workout with jelly legs back to my room *insert sad violins*. In the UK we can choose to live in either catered or self catered halls at uni, I chose catered which means every meal is served in the dining room meaning at no point did I have access to a kitchen. Up until March this wasn’t a problem as I ate every meal there and snacked on biscuits and oat bars throughout the day. March until June proved to be a little bit more tricky as the food they served was all bad for you, so I ended up buying a nutribullet and a tiny portable hob (who knew they even existed) to cook meals on, talk about 21st century Oliver Twist. I’m not gonna lie to you, I love looking back on this period and feeling sorry for myself but it actually wasn’t too bad and these 3 months proved to be the most productive months of my life.
For some bizarre reason which I’ll never quite understand it didn’t cross my mind that I could have cooked chicken, veggies and eggs using this hob… I know it seems obvious but I just didn’t think about it. So I pretty much lived on oatmeal, fruit, nuts, smoothies, a loaf of homemade seedy bread my mum made me and occasional salads. I was having at least one protein shake a day so I was getting some protein in but without realising it I could have actually had a lot more proper food which I should have done. But alas, I was too dim to think of it so I was living an oaty/nutty/fruity diet. I filled my shakes with spinach, green apples, flax seeds, celery and so on so I was still getting a lot of vitamins and I definitely loved my meals. I adore thick shakes and bowls of oatmeal so I wasn’t suffering whatsoever and I treated myself to a meal out every now and then. If i could turn my life around at such an awkward and stressful stage then you can without doubt start University off in a super positive and healthy way. If you’re just getting into being healthy and fit then the beginning of uni is the perfect time to do it. Start going to the gym and eating clean and people will categorise you as the gym bunny, being active on a daily basis will eventually become second nature to you and no longer seem like a struggle.
Okay, so now down to business: How to be healthy at University. Firstly I just want to say that it’s not as hard as you think it is. I personally find getting up and going to the gym everyday at uni is a hell of a lot easier then at home. It’s the drinking and the junk food which is the hard part, so many of my friends talk about how they love gymming and staying active but when it comes to food they find it impossible to stay away from the easy things like pasta and bread, especially when coming home from a night out.
Getting to the gym everyday is the straightforward part, all it comes down to is planning. Plan, prep, organise whatever you wanna call it just make sure you do and then stick to it. I love doing stuff like this, if I could plan your schedule for you I would. I adore making a tea, putting on those outrageously fluffy pyjamas, having the news on in the background, sitting at my desk and just organising the next few weeks of my life it’s basically free therapy for me. I sound like the most boring gal ever right now (I promise I’m fun!!) but I get so much pleasure out of activities like these, so make sure you have a good time with it. Slot in how ever many workouts you want throughout the week, creating time for studying, socialising and a few dates with Netflix and your duvet, it’s a must. I personally much prefer doing my own thing and gymming by myself but if you prefer to have a workout buddy because you know it’ll help keep you dedicated to the gym then add someone into the mix! You, the gym and your friend – the perfect threesome.
Okay so you’ve got your routine down, now the next part: going. When I first wrote this sentence I wrote ‘now the hard part, going’ but actually I found going to the gym whilst at University the easiest bit! You are completely and utterly in charge of every second of your day, any responsibilities you have are created by yourself so in theory you should be enjoying all aspects of life. So now you’ve got the gym covered, you’re going when you’re meant to and getting your workouts in. Yes! Go girl! Moments like these are when I need a little gif of me dancing around with pompoms cheering you on. Now for the actual challenge: JUNK FOOD
Staying healthy at uni is like staying healthy in America, you’ve gotta look at it in the same way. As there is so much on offer and all of it at such cheap prices it’s so difficult to resist. I mean Domino’s literally have people standing on every street corner around campus handing out free pizza. FREE PIZZA. So that’s it you’ve got to make the decision to not dabble in any of it, no free pizza, no biscuits and no homemade cake someone’s mum has brought up. I know right now it sounds like a lot of No’s but balance it up with the positive things you’re doing for your body and you’re winning.
I would start off not being too strict on yourself, always ease yourself in to something you want to remain dedicated to in the long run, this applies to every aspect when leading a fitness lifestyle. Eat big portions of breakfast, lunch and dinner to make sure you don’t snack. If you’re finding it really hard to resist fatty foods then I recommend making your portions even slightly bigger. You’ll be eating more than you need to but I would rather eat too much chicken then gorge on a pack of krispy kremes. If you’ve never cooked for yourself before then start off with some simple meals, my personal favourite is chicken thigh and sweet potato, it’s so easy to stick in the oven and not to mention delicious. Cook all your food in the oven, on the hob or on the grill rather than the frying pan and if you can get your hands on some coconut oil to cook with then use that. Coconut oil is sooo amazingly good for you, it improves weight loss, immunity, digestion the list goes on.
For breakfast I always have protein oats (my absolute favourite food) if you’re an oatmeal queen and eat it every morning for breakfast like moi and want something to sweeten it up then I would recommend using bee pollen which has a load of health benefits such as lowering cholesterol and reducing your risk of cancer. However, if you’re really trying to watch your weight then maybe think about buying a sweetener from Walden Farms, their products have no carbs, no fat and no sugar although this does mean they’re full of chemicals. If you’re looking to gain muscle like me then use a flavoured protein powder to sweeten stuff up, chocolate protein oats is my personal fave.
Drinking was the biggest worry for me because being drunk basically means a free pass to eat whatever I wanted. Firstly, when it comes to drinking try and stay clear from wine. I talked about this a lot in my last post ‘Keeping fit whilst travelling’. Even though wine is one of the cheapest options it is full of sugar and each glass can contain triple the amount of calories vodka does, Eeeeeek! I love filling my body with nutritious foods, getting enough rest and eating clean but on the occasional night out some vodka, sparkling water and lemon will do me nicely. The first few months at uni may be excessive when it comes to alcohol and going out but don’t stress about it too much, socialising and having fun is so important so as long as you’re mostly eating clean and hitting the gym then I wouldn’t worry about the amount of alcohol you’re drinking too much. As long as after a while, you buckle down and reduce the nights out.
Yeye, uni life. Not
One of my biggest tips for drunken cravings is to prepare food before you go out. I recommend making some boiled eggs as a snack, and even a plate of sweet potato and chicken already cooked if you know you will be wanting a proper meal when you’re back. I know it might seem like a lot now, but I could eat a whole cake when I’m drunk so I would much rather indulge in a second dinner than Sainsbury’s home baked cookies on the way home. The first few months will be tough with so much sugary, cheap foods around so buy healthy treats! Yes it’s time to get the granola, the booja-booja ice cream and loads of fruit. I usually try and avoid granola, trek bars and so on but stock up on these at the beginning and slowly as you become accustomed to uni and this new lifestyle start fading them out. Eating healthily can be super expensive, heavenly things like chia seeds, acai berries and cacao nibs all cost pretty much the same as my tuition fees so planning will also mean budgeting.
If you’re in the same boat that I was in and don’t have a kitchen (sigh) then don’t worry it’s still totally possible. You’ve just gotta be better equipped and be willing to spend a little more time planning and making food. Make sure you’ve got some fruit, nuts, maybe even protein bars if you’re into them, personally protein bars actually make me gag which is super annoying because I wish I liked them. In this post I’m specifically focussing on the transition period between living at home and at University so I am trying to make it clear that you’ve gotta be easy on yourself and ease into this fitness lifestyle. When it comes to gymming there are no excuses, join the uni gym and get up and go, I personally love going before lectures meaning I have a 6am start to be at the gym for 7, allowing me to shower afterwards and be at uni for 9/10am. But if you’re finding the food part difficult then don’t feel the need to necessarily cold turkey quit everything with sugar in it.
I don’t know about you but little boutique health shops get me so overly excited, I’m like a kid in a candy store (a very, very overpriced candy store). I could spend hours just scanning the shelves and reading labels so I recommend trying to find all your local health shops so that when you get to uni you can get excited about all the new food possibilities they have on offer. These kind of shops also tend to have pin up boards of fitness related stuff, like the nearest yoga studio or a charity run so definitely check it out. Another thing which also always gets me feeling confident about leading a health lifestyle is gym clothes. Nothing makes me wanna hit the gym more than a new pair of trainers, so if you’re like me and love the ‘new place/new me’ thing (I sound so Clueless -the movie right now) and can afford to invest in a new gym outfit then you know what, treat yourself and go for it.
As well as planning your gym schedule make sure you plan your meal times too. My first year of trying to lead a healthy lifestyle I wasn’t too strict with my timings but now I aim to eat every 3 hours with a rough timetable of:
7am: 0% fat greek yogurt with a pack of blueberries and a piece of toast with coconut oil.
8am – 9:30am: gym
10am: 100g of turkey breast, a banana and 25g of cashews
1pm: Sweet potato, chicken breast, broccoli
4pm: 2 slices of seeded toast with turkey slices and asparagus
7pm: Left over chicken breast with cashews and a banana
10pm: Dark rye ryvita with some avocado
This would be a typical day, so as you can see I don’t really ever eat out. If you can avoid this DO, it always causes me to be extra lenient on myself when I can’t afford to be. So my best advise for this is to leave your credit card at home, in theory you shouldn’t need any money when you’re out (unless you’re taking cabs or whatever) but I try and leave my card at home. I will always have fruit in my bag incase I do end up only going back to my apartment for lunch later than usual so I never go hungry. But honestly if I’m hungry and have money I’ll tend to buy a ‘healthy wrap’ which may have cheddar or rice in it so it may be wholesome but not on my food plan. This will also cause you to spend more money than you need to, and remember veggies go off very quickly so you actually want to be eating the food you’ve already bought in the next few days. I am also an absolute sucker for freshly made juices and smoothies which cost roughly £5 for a large one and if I am hungry and want something clean then without doubt I’ll buy one. That comes to roughly £35 a week on just juices which I can’t afford to spend being a student, that could buy me food for about 5-6 days. If you know you’ll be taking the bus then bring a small amount of change out with you but otherwise there’s no point spending that amount, especially on cafe shop (probably processed) foods.
So my lovely ladies, those are my tips! I think I have touched on all the main points which I came across in my first year at University, if you have any more questions please please comment and I will get back to you as soon as possible.
I think the key thing to remember is that it’s not as hard as you think it is. You’re getting this completely fresh start to become the person that you want to be with no restrictions. It might seem difficult not having as many cooked dinners or having less food in the house because you’re doing the shopping yourself but if anything that’s a positive. No more snacking on random foods, the food you buy is the food you will eat, it’s very unlikely you will buy a packet of biscuits, whereas your family may have done that in your home, so when you’re hungry you’ll end up eating some chicken or making a smoothie instead.
This is one of the most exciting times in your life, uni is basically 3-4 years where you can find out who you are and what you like doing with still very little responsibility. If you are undecided about leading a fitness lifestyle but kind of want to try it then I 100% recommend you do just that. This is the time to experiment and to try new things so go on, be brave and push yourself before you have to start thinking about things like having a job and paying your mortgage.
I know it can be tough, I live with two amazing girls who love sweet food, and good for them! But it can certainly be challenging when I come home from a night out and I know they’ve got nutella and macaroni cheese in their cupboard. But those moments when you’re craving the most and you’re able to calm yourself down and say no to those fatty foods are the most valuable times in this process. Every time you opt for the healthier option you’re becoming stronger. This process is here to strengthen your mind, it just happens to be reflected by your body. This being said, remember you’re at University and you’re only going to be there once so make sure you have fun, go out and do what you want to do.
Lots of love