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Why moving out and staying healthy don’t have to be mutually exclusive

Written by Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Commerce (Finance) student, Sonia Clements.

Maybe you used to eat healthy at home. Maybe you didn’t. Either way, moving out leaves you with so much freedom and control over your diet. Chips with every meal? Obviously. At least for me, a typical dinner plan in semester one of university looked a little like this…

  • Parma and chips (it’s parma, not parmi – Melbournian and proud!)
  • Chicken burger and chips
  • Another parma and more chips
  • Lasagne and chips
  • Chicken tacos and – you’ve guessed it – chips

You get the idea. Although Lakeside, the main restaurant on campus, has heaps of healthy options and the My Menu system, which allows students to vote on the meals they’d like to be available next, the constant temptation of chips means that you’re often eating unhealthy meals for the first few weeks of every semester. 

Along with your new, busy lifestyle living and studying at uni, it’s easy to justify the universally experienced ‘Fresher Five’ (or, more realistically, the ‘Fresher 10’ – but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). Suddenly, walking up that hill from your room on campus to Lakeside makes your heart race a whole lot faster than it used to.

When you finally make the move off campus, your access to chips might decrease, but the freedom of choice to eat what you want – and when you want it – doesn’t. Now, you’re doing your own grocery shopping, and even though you’re very educated and aware, you can’t help falling for the marketing ploys in the supermarket and buying every snack or sweet treat that’s on special. And, if you’re anything like me, you’ll eat them all in the one afternoon…

After two and a half years of living away from home, both on and off campus, I think that I’ve (somewhat) mastered a balanced diet and consistent exercise schedule. It’s taken a while to get here, but it’s something I’d love to share with you now that it’s a natural part of my life.

If you’re new to living on campus, it can be easy to fall into a cycle of unhealthy eating. ‘Bond dollars’ don’t feel like real money, which makes it far too simple to buy four tubs of Ben & Jerry’s each and every week!

Start by making small improvements to what you eat – not obsessively, just mindfully. For instance, choose mash or veggies instead of chips for your side at Lakeside. Try crackers and dip or a fruit salad as a snack, rather than Doritos or chocolate. Move away from sugary cereals for breakfast and opt for scrambled eggs and toast, or yoghurt and granola. You’ll be surprised by what’s on offer at Lakeside if you look beyond your go-to meals, and similarly, don’t underestimate the concoctions you can make with a microwave, a sandwich press, and a kettle. Try to plan out your meals, and don’t get complacent if you can avoid it – 2-minute mi goreng is not an actual meal, despite how personally attacked that makes me feel.

If you live off campus (and likely by yourself or with housemates for the first time ever!), my top tip is to meal prep. Gather a bunch of healthy and delicious recipes from online or free magazines, and have a big cooking day the next time you’ve got a few hours. Freezing these meals will save your life when things get busy with exams or assignments. If you don’t have dinner planned, and fast food is calling, you’ll be able to skip the Maccas run and simply defrost a yummy meal in minutes.

Although I’m definitely prone to falling for temptation in the junk food aisle at the shops, another tip is to trawl the healthy food aisle instead. Rather than coming home with a trolley full of treats, let yourself be swindled by specials on muesli bars and popcorn – your snacks for the week, sorted.

Ways to get moving at uni

Something that’s often overlooked is the Bond Sports Centre, which is free if you’re a current student. They have group classes (also free) which are a great way to stay motivated. Exercise is not only a huge contributor to your physical health, but you’ll reap the mental benefits as well. Until a few weeks ago when I signed up for a half marathon, the furthest I had ever run was 3km in high school – and to be perfectly honest, I walked most of it. Running has now become an important part of my exercise routine, and has done wonders for me as a great way to release stress.

Bond’s sporting clubs are also such a great motivator! There are heaps of different sports to try, whether you’re in it for fun and fitness or want to play at a more serious level. This type of access to community sports and an amazing gym might never cross your path again, so make the most of it!

Maintaining a healthy mindset

Although regular exercise is fantastic, there are mindsets to be aware of when you make this a consistent habit, especially surrounding food. For many who incorporate exercise into their routine, eating habits don’t change – or perhaps they become slightly healthier, which is great – but for others, one of two behaviours could arise:

  1. Binge eating – Exercise becomes a way to justify overeating.
  2. Obsession with healthy eating – Exercise is a deterrent from eating the things you enjoy.

Clearly, both of these are concerning mindsets, and could ultimately catalyse dangerous attitudes to food. Even though I’ve personally been quite lucky and had a primarily positive relationship with food, I’ve still experienced both of these mentalities at different stages in my life – they’re hard to avoid.

My advice here is simply to cut yourself some slack. Taking up exercise is an amazing achievement, and an overall positive improvement to your routine. Don’t feel guilty if your diet is still a mix of ‘healthy’ and ‘unhealthy’ foods – living your life and enjoying yourself is still important, and exercising is a way to add balance to your day-to-day. Sustainable changes are key!

My final tip is to remember that bodies change! It’s normal to look different to the way you did in high school, or even a few months ago. Chances are, you’ve changed in so many more ways than just your weight or appearance, and all of those changes are worth embracing. If you do start to increase the amount of exercise you do, that’s awesome – but don’t risk your mental health over an obsession with being healthy. As always, if you ever feel like you’re struggling, there are people around you that can help – starting with the array of support services available here at Bond.

This article was originally published in the Bond University Student Association (BUSA) magazine, The Conversation.

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