Healthy eating doesn't have to be difficult. FY1 Eve Walker looks at simple ways to eat well as a medical student.

My relationship with food changed drastically when I went to university.

As I was still at home, I commuted to university on public transport – meaning long days, sometimes more than 12 hours. I wasn’t strict on meal preparation, so eating nutritious foods was rare and I often opted for a quick meal deal, which can be packed with salt and sugar. They were rarely satisfying, and the pounds soon stacked up (both financially and physically).

Nights out meant copious amounts of alcohol, followed by fast food, and poor nutrition quickly became synonymous with a thriving social life. I fell away from sport and noticed a significant change in my body, resulting in me then turning to fad diets and quick fixes. 

I wanted to change my body, not my habits, and that was my first mistake. 

I was so focused on results I didn’t care what got me there. Diet teas, egg diets, fasting; I tried them all, always with temporary results and then bouncing right back to the beginning. Nothing was sustainable. 

After five years of medical school and six months of FY1, I am still no nutrition guru, but my attitude towards food has shifted drastically. I now appreciate the role of food in my health, how it fuels my body and the way it contributes to a long, sustainable life.

I wanted to change my body, not my habits, and that was my first mistake.

Building healthy eating habits

Healthy eating can be whatever you make it. There’s no set formula on the best way to eat, but by following general principles you can develop eating habits that are sustainable for you; eating your five-a-day, referring to the NHS Eatwell Guide and opting for balance are all good starting points. 

As shallow as it may sound, Instagram has become my main source of both accountability and inspiration. I started an Instagram page during lockdown in 2020 to help keep me motivated, and soon found it a source of inspiration. Recipes there are quick, easy, fun to watch, accessible and aesthetically pleasing. Plus, it beats carrying a cookbook in your backpack. Save meal reels to a dedicated folder so you can get quick inspiration whenever you need it. 

That said, while Instagram can offer tasty inspiration, don’t get bogged down with the aesthetics of a meal. Presentation may be everything in the MasterChef kitchen, but students have enough on their plates (pun intended) without thinking about the placement of edible flowers.

food plate meal

Photo credit: Superstock

Finally, shop for your shops. Knowing where to get the best, affordable ingredients local to you can change your attitude to home-cooking almost immediately. Bulk-buying cupboard staples, snapping up yellow-sticker foods (that you can always freeze for later) and shopping at local fruit and veg markets in your downtime are great ways to get excited about cooking from scratch. 

Maintaining healthy eating habits

As the saying goes, it’s harder to stay at the top than to reach the top. 

After the initial excitement has died down, meals can become monotonous, takeaways are a phone call away and the cost of vegan cheese just doesn’t seem justifiable. I get it. 

Here are a few ways to keep up your motivation to maintain the habits you’ve built.

  1. Variety! It truly is the spice of life. Try new recipes, new ingredients, and new cultures to keep those taste buds excited. Invest in 15-minute or 30-minute cookbooks, browse social media for recipes, or ask your friends for recommendations.
  2. Time is the key ingredient. In the past, I’ve spent HOURS preparing a meal only for it to turn out … meh. Quick and easy can be just as good – a stir fry, one-pot pasta, curry – you name it.
  3. Bargain hunting. A stir fry is a fast way to pack lots of veg into a meal. Also, shops often give away 'wonky' veg cheaper, so look out for bargains to fill your bowl with. This puts some extra money in your pocket, and as a student, who doesn’t want that?
  4. ‘Vegans eat rabbit food’. False. There’s a plant-based alternative for just about anything. Take your favourite meals and see if there’s a vegan equivalent. For example, love chicken fajitas? Why not try three-bean fajitas?
  5. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Organisation is key, particularly when you’re incorporating something new into an already hectic schedule. Use your Sunday evening (or any day off) to bullet point your meal plans and shopping list for the week. This prevents impulsive buying and risking food waste. Pack your lunches the evening before, and always include snacks and sweet treats.
  6. Life is about balance. A dinner date or a takeaway with friends shouldn’t be considered a cheat. It's essential that with eating healthier, you still get to enjoy your social life, memories, and the freedom and joy that food offers.
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This page was correct at publication on 24/05/2022. Any guidance is intended as general guidance for members only. If you are a member and need specific advice relating to your own circumstances, please contact one of our advisers.