We have all been there. It’s late, you’re hungry, and cooking something from scratch is the last thing you feel like doing, especially with that pile of case law you need to read for tomorrow’s tutorial staring back at you. Packet food or takeaway beckons. You can almost rationalise it as a sensible decision – focusing on your study rather than your stomach. But what if that decision is actually impacting your ability to study effectively?
Lecturer in La Trobe’s Department of Rehabilitation, Nutrition and Sport, Dr Jessica Radcliffe suggests that your eating choices can have significant effects on your physical and mental wellbeing. “Food does impact your mood and cognition – it is about setting up positive habits now which will impact your wellbeing both now and later in life”. Similarly, research from UCLA’s Brain Research Institute and Brain Injury Research Center indicates that “junk food and fast food negatively affect the brain’s synapses”. Fast food can leave your brain feeling sluggish, so that it takes longer to absorb information, or to articulate your thoughts on that research essay. Eating better also impacts your immune system in a positive way.
Not all of us are Master Chef experts, and not everyone can convince their loved ones to be their personal chef. So how can you eat well and have time to study? A key part of the answer, Dr Radcliff suggests, is thinking of preparing healthy food as a basic life (and study) skill rather than a specialist expertise – think rice, beans and veggies rather than guava snow egg. Michael Pollan sums up healthy eating in seven words: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Preparing meals from basic ingredients is also “cheaper and more nutritious in the long run than relying on pre-made foods” advises Dr Radcliffe. If you find the thought of cooking daunting, do it with a friend. You can experiment in the kitchen together, or take turns to cook for one another – so that you end up with two home-cooked meals for the effort of one.
If you have trouble getting to the grocery store – shop online. Or, if you have time to shop, but find the junk food aisles tempting, shop the perimeter of most stores or visit Preston market – you will be surrounded by fresh produce, dairy, meat and dry goods – cheaper and more nutritious than packet foods.
On campus, or studying at home, arm yourself with your favourite healthy snacks so that you don’t have the urge to grab a Red Bull or a packet of Malteasers to get you through your 3pm slump. “Don’t skip meals and be prepared” says Dr Radcliffe. Want something sweet but satisfying? Make bliss balls. Craving the salt? Grab some veggies and dip with some mixed nuts. Craving carbs? Eat them – as long as you aren’t intolerant. “Glucose is the main fuel for your brain – it affects your memory recall, cognitive function and your ability to absorb information in class” advises Dr Radcliffe. Don’ t forget to stay hydrated – balance those coffees with water.
Healthy eating doesn’t mean complete self-denial however. “Try and focus on what you can put into your body, rather than what you can’t have” advises Dr Radcliffe. Understand that restricting yourself is unhealthy too and can lead to binging on junk food. So, if you’re craving the chocolate, have some – just don’t eat the whole bar! Being mindful, listening to your body and enjoying your food are all key ways to improve your physical and mental health. We are lucky to have a campus filled with nature, so why not take your lunch outside and enjoy it. You will be a happier and healthier law student because you are less likely to be sick, can manage your stress better and have properly fuelled your body and mind so that you can be more productive.
If you need inspiration, check out these quick, easy, healthy meals to keep your body and brain going through Law School:
To find out more about our 2017 Wellbeing Week events, see our event schedule!