CW: eating disorders (bulimia)
Balancing health and fitness with study has been like trying to find a Platform 9 ¾ between exercising too much and not enough, monitoring my diet but not too much, and pushing myself towards improvement and having fun. Everyone’s preferences and tendencies will be a bit different, so I can only describe what I’ve learnt works for me.
Becoming more self-aware has helped me to set realistic goals and plan sustainable routines. Surviving on a diet of plants and soy products for days, then bingeing on and purging the more enticing food groups was, frankly, destructive. It damaged my body, made me miserable and jeopardised my study. Lying in bed all day eating junk and skipping lectures was not much different. Reminding myself to eat more plants by having a five-day ‘healthy’, two-day ‘eat anything’ rule works better. Establishing a habit is hardest in the first few days or weeks, but it does become easier, especially when the pattern you’re setting is suited to your daily routine.
When I over-exercise, I’m left too tired to study effectively, and when I stop entirely, my serotonin levels plummet. I’ve focused on building up from a daily walk for coffee, to a jog-walk, and then a run. Also taking dance classes and playing social sport has helped me to balance university with downtime, and stress with fun. Matching my type of exercise to my mood has also improved my attitude towards exercising in general. Running and fast-paced sport can be a stimulant if you’re feeling tired and depressed, while slower dance styles, swimming and yoga can calm you down. Every genre of movement offers an antidote to our spectrum of mental states.
The volume of unrealistic and vaguely accusatory messages spewed by contemporary advertising corporations and social media is unprecedented. Really thinking about how we want to live before we die is harder than listening to those messages, or flexing in a mirror for hours, or obsessing over that eighth almond, but it is incalculably more worthwhile.
Exercising and feeding my body good things has stopped being about perfection, success and performative self-hatred. Fitness and a balanced diet give me what I need to get through work and study, and spend time with my favourite people. These choices are all about learning to live well.