—Laura T., University of New Brunswick, Fredericton and Saint John, Canada
Eating well can feel stressful when juggling multiple priorities like studying, socializing, work, extracurricular activities, and family. The key is making nourishment a way to support your busy life rather than a stressful distraction from it.
Step 1: Feed the need
Your brain is hungry! It makes up around 2 percent or less of your total body weight, but consumes about 20 percent of your body’s caloric energy.
Eating regular, balanced meals and snacks can help control blood sugar and keeps stress hormones, like adrenaline and cortisol, in check. A well-fed body is a happy body. A happy body can get things done.
How to do it
- Eat. Just eat. If you’re so busy that you’re skipping meals, your first priority is eating regularly. Look at your schedule and block out specific times to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, even if your meals are all grab-and-go. Don’t worry too much about what you’re eating quite yet, though try to keep it relatively nutritious. Breakfast—whether you make it or buy it—is essential. Fruit, hard-boiled eggs, toaster waffles, and instant oatmeal packets are a few easy options.
- Make it nutritious. Once you’re eating regularly, it’s time to focus on balance and variety. To get the nutrients you need, build your meals using foods from all five groups: vegetables, fruits, grains, meat and other protein-rich foods, and dairy or dairy alternatives. Carbohydrates fuel our cells. Fats keep us satisfied. And protein supports our organs and other tissues. A make-ahead meal, like pasta salad with veggies and chicken paired with yogurt and strawberries, hits all the marks.
- Keep color in mind. Eating by color is a great way to make sure you’re getting a range of micronutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Aim to eat different colored fruits and veggies throughout the day. For example, if you have grapes with breakfast, choose a red pepper and/or dark leafy greens as a part of your lunch.
- Love what you eat. Remember that eating should be a source of pleasure. Be sure to include foods you truly love with every meal and snack. If sweets make you smile, pack a cookie and enjoy it as a part of your balanced lunch. Feelings of deprivation and guilt around eating can impair your physical health, mental health, and, ultimately, your ability to accomplish your goals.
Step 2: Give yourself a break
How, where, and with whom we eat can be just as important to our well-being as what we eat. If you eat while driving, studying, texting, or working, you can’t tune in to your body’s natural signals of hunger and satisfaction.
Listening to your body’s needs and wants is the key to making nourishing and satisfying food choices.
How to do it
- Consider your environment. You may have to eat on the go sometimes, and that’s OK. See if you can try to have at least one meal a day in a relaxed environment with friends or family.
- Think about your day and plan ahead. Just as you pack your bookbag with everything you need for class, pack and plan to feed yourself. You might try making a big batch of trail mix with nuts, dry cereal, raisins, and some chocolate chips. Scoop it into small bags, and you’ll have a satisfying, wholesome snack on hand throughout the week.
- Take a break. We need breaks to feel good and perform well. Mealtime is a perfect opportunity to get some rejuvenating peace and quiet when you need it. Unplugging from your phone, TV, and computer gives your busy brain a rest and allows you to be present as you savor your meal.
Shift your perspective. Taking time to nourish yourself and enjoy food with others will lead to improvements in your health, well-being, and your ability to thrive at school.