We all want to be healthy, to be in the best condition we possibly can. We all would love to be super fit and lean, like those people you see out running on your way to college or work, who still look flawlessly kept together; body all tight, toned and firm, hair swishing only slightly keeping itself swept nicely back and out of the way, and with a face barely even flushed. I mean, some people I see running look like they’re hardly even breaking a sweat, as if the whole ordeal of running is the easiest most natural thing in the world (seriously, really, how?). I’m not judging: I admire such people, but alas, not all of us are built that way. Everyone is a different shape; we all have different builds. Trying to force your body into a particular shape or build that doesn’t naturally suit it is like trying to fit a heart-shaped cookie into a star shaped cookie cutter (or trying to fit your headphone jack into the new iPhone 7 somehow; have fun with that, buddy), it’s just not going to work. As we are all slightly different in our biological make-up, and most definitely very different in our visible physical make-up, there is no one-way for us all to achieve optimum health. Each of us most discover for ourselves a unique healthy lifestyle and routine that suits us individually the best. Here are just a few of the simple things you can do that will make a difference to how you feel:
Find the exercise that suits you. Do not force yourself to endure a horrible half hour run if you dread it beforehand, and don’t enjoy it at all. Why put yourself through that for the sake of shedding a few calories? Do something you genuinely enjoy; try yoga, Pilates, swimming, walking, weight training… whatever works for you. Exercise is meant to make you feel good, both physically and mentally. It is a great way to unwind or blow off some steam, but it’s only beneficial to you, at least mentally, if you genuinely enjoy it. You’re also more likely to keep up and stick with something you enjoy; it will become part of your routine. You never know, you might surprise yourself as you may even look forward to it. Imagine that, looking forward to your daily exercise routine! I know what some of you may be thinking: “daily exercise routine?!” Again, everyone is different, and it depends on what your exercise routine is. If you like to walk, that is something you can fit into your everyday routine – but if it’s full-on gym sessions, weight training, cardio, the whole full-body interspersed with leg days, back days, arm days etc., then maybe two or three days a week is more than sufficient.
Foooooood. Eating healthily is crucial for both your mind and for your physical body; plenty fruit and veg, not a lot of sugary foods, steer away from too many take-out’s and so on, the usual… especially whilst a college student; ‘convenience food’ is one of the traps we commonly fall into in terms of eating habits. One of the major downfalls for college students is bread: grabbing a sandwich is so quick and easy, and of course there’s nothing at all wrong with a sandwich, but when you’re having two or even three a day… it’s the bread that is making you feel bloated and groggy. This isn’t a huge problem at all, and while I’m not saying that sandwiches are the route of all your health struggles & that you need to give up bread completely, I’m just trying to point out that variation is a key; if you have a sandwich for lunch, try not to have another for dinner.
Before I go any further, one of the golden rules for a healthy eating routine: Don’t skip meals! Especially not breakfast, breakfast is so important: it sets you up for the day and kick starts your metabolism, so don’t skip it. Just as important are lunch and dinner (though students tend not to skip them as much as breakfast); try to have at least one proper, substantial meal a day. Not only is it important for you to make sure you have breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s also important to take into consideration what it is you have for those meals. Lunch can sometimes be your biggest meal of the day if you know you have a busy evening ahead, so don’t fall into the trap of “I’ll be good and have something light;” this will only lead you to snacking even more throughout the day. If you know you won’t be having a proper meal for dinner, have a proper meal at lunch time, don’t just grab a quick snack bar or sandwich, have something substantial, like something you would have for dinner at home; a pasta dish, a lasagne, a stew, chicken with potato and veg, anything you fancy, as long as it’s healthy and will keep you going so that you won’t end up being hungry an hour or so later. That way you’ll be set for your busy evening and will be less likely to turn to munching on unnecessary snacks. If you’ve had a decent lunch you can have something light for dinner then, like a nice salad or bowl of soup. The expense and effort of this appears daunting and just, well, such a trek at first, but if you’re smart about it and determined to put in just the little bit of effort it will be worth it in the long run, and you’ll be so glad you made it a routine.
A very smart, simple and quick trick to go along with this is to ‘Batch Cook’. When you cook a pot-dish like a Bolognese, curry, chilli con carne, or even some pasta dishes like lasagne, make enough to last a few days. Keep out what you’ll eat that day and the next, and you can freeze the rest! Divide the dish into portions and pop them into freezer bags, this way you can take out portions as you need them and there will be no waste. If you’re living in college accommodation you could talk to your housemates about working together on this. At the start of each week, maybe a Sunday evening, everyone chips in a few euros to buy ingredients and then you take it in turns to cook a meal; a different person and meal each week. (Or if you’re working on your own and not a fan of cooking yourself, sweet talk the mother into making a big pot of Bolognese and then asking her nicely if you can take all the leftovers).
Remember to Treat Yourself. Do not restrict and curtail your eating habits to an unhealthily obsessive extent. I am a big believer in “Treat Yourself,” and yes that means I feel that a little treat (call it crap food if you want to be that way) is good for the soul. Of course, don’t abuse the novelty by abusing your ‘Treat Yourselfs’, but do choose a time when you really need a ‘pick me up’; maybe you’ve had a bad day, gotten bad news, or have been so busy and stressed recently that you haven’t had time to give yourself an evening of chill time. Take just a few minutes during your hectic day-to-day running around to pick up your favourite treat, be it a particular chocolate bar or cake, to have for your hour of totally undisturbed and disconnected ‘Me Time’. Make yourself a cup of tea (or hot chocolate if you really feel like going all out), curl up on the sofa, stick on your favourite Netflix series, and chill.
Readjust your expectations / your ‘goal’. Keep in mind that you are different to everyone else, and what works for some may not work for you. That picture you have on your phone of what you think the ideal body looks like and what you are unfairly expecting yourself to eventually look like is putting far too much pressure on not only your body but also your mind. I understand the point of these pictures is to instil determination and encourage people to eat healthily and exercise regularly, but most of the time I feel like they can make us think that the only way of achieving optimum health and fitness is to look like the person in the picture. This is not possible; like I pointed out above, we are all built differently, and no two people are ever going to look the exact same way or be the exact same build. While I may sometimes understand the motivational purpose, I don’t like the idea they portray of having to look a particular way. Of course it’s possible to achieve a similar physique, but it’s important to remember that you’ll have your own individual variation of your ‘goal’. So, delete the picture; let your motivation be how you feel in your own skin, and try not to compare yourself to others, how they look and what they do to look that way.
Be Drink Aware. You’re probably sick of hearing it at this stage, but it’s said so often because it is so important: you need to be sensible when it comes to drink. Alcohol plays such a huge role in college life and it is important to take care of yourself by knowing your limits. To know your limits; to know what you can and cannot drink, to know when to stop and when to say “No” to going out, is so important and it’s something all of us need to discover in college; the sooner we do, the better. Alcohol abuse not only has a damning physical effect on our bodies, it also has a potentially dangerous effect on our mental health and wellbeing too, and so, you know the score: take care of yourself and mind your mates.
And of course, the ultimate lazy activity (or lack thereof) to ensure everybody’s health: Sleep. Yes, you can use “no I can’t, I must get some sleep” as a valid excuse not to go to that event your friends are trying to drag you to. And yes, if it’s going on 2am and you’re struggling to finish a presentation you must give the next day, you would genuinely be better off just setting it aside, getting a decent few hours (minimum of 6 or 7, really) sleep and being well rested rather than tiring yourself out completely and only doing a half assed job of the prep work. If you’re well rested you’ll be much better at bluffing your way through the presentation than you would if you were too tired to think on the spot. I’m not advocating sleep as a valid form of procrastination; sleeping from 1 o’clock in the day until your next lecture at 4 instead of getting a start on the assignment that’s due in a few days’ time is not a good idea, nor is it a productive use of your time. Sleep is important, but at the right times; naturally, night time is when you need to be getting your sleep. This isn’t to say I am against napping; sometimes a nap is just what one needs to reboot, but you can’t neglect your nighttime sleep and replace it with naps during the day. You take a power nap if you physically can no longer function and know that if you close your eyes for a half hour you’ll be in a much better condition to tackle that assignment.
I’m going to leave it here before I start sounding like your mother, but I hope these simple little tips, tricks and friendly nuggets of light-hearted advice help you in your endeavour to make your college experience as healthy as you possibly can, while taking into consideration the limited funding and sometimes (let’s face it, it’s most of the time) limited energy us college students have. All the best, and take care of yourselves.