how to balance placements with a fit and healthy life

When I started my nursing degree, I had no idea how many work, lecture and placement hours I would have to do. Life as a student nurse means eating all your meals out of Tupperware, going to bed at 9pm and still being tired Every. Single. Day.

In the first part of first year I don’t think I ate a single vegetable, unless it was part of a takeaway or frozen. I was so tired and fed up I didn’t cook myself any proper meals, lived off super noodles and frozen chips. Before I went to Uni it took me about a year to lose 2 stone, then between September and January of first year I managed to put all of that (and more) back on. I was the heaviest I’ve ever been and ridiculously unhappy with the way I looked.

I decided things had to change: I underwent a major lifestyle change and I’ve never been happier. If you’re struggling with balancing a healthy lifestyle with a full-on degree course or job, hopefully I can help.

“  I was the heaviest I’ve ever been and ridiculously unhappy with the way I looked.  ”

The best way to be able to stick to a gym schedule is to find one that doesn’t mean you’re at the gym for hours and hours and seven days a week. Find a schedule that you can do on your days off work or placement. I started with a three day Legs, Push, Pull routine so I wasn’t in the gym for more than an hour each time and only three days a week. A bit of research into a routine that works for you can go a long way.

When you’ve been on 12 hour shifts for three days straight, the last thing you want is to be running on the treadmill for hours on end. Pick up some weights and forget about work for that one hour. The great thing about a Legs, Push, Pull type routine is it’s different every day, the exercises are shorter and less monotonous than cardio and you can mix it up as often as you like - there are SO many exercises for different body parts.

Something important to realise is that if you have to force yourself to eat healthy all the time and dread going to the gym every day – then it’s probably not going to be for you. Or, at the very least, you’ll find it more of a struggle. I fell in love with weight lifting and the lifestyle around it, so, for me, going to the gym is the best way to feel better after a few shitty days at work. 

“ I fell in love with weightlifting and the lifestyle. ”

As a massive foodie one of the most important things to be sure that I can sustain a “diet” is that I can eat exciting food and be allowed chocolate when I fancy it. I practise flexible dieting (if it fits your macros/iifym) and it changed my whole perspective on “dieting”.  I can eat pizza and doughnuts when I want them, I just had to learn how to work my day around it. Macro counting is giving yourself a certain amount of carbs, protein and fat each day and aiming to hit those gals. It’s literally magical - if you eat too much fat one day, so what? lower your cabs. If you’ve eaten a whole pizza (woops) and your carbs are over, eat more protein to balance the calories. Use an app like My Fitness Pal to help you track your macros really easily.

Dragging yourself to the gym and sweating for an hour can sometimes be the easiest bit about losing weight and staying healthy. It’s the other 23 hours when you’re tired and hungry and can’t be bothered to cook. The best thing I ever did in was buy a slow cooker for £15 in Aldi. I can prepare dinner the night before a shift, stick it in the slow cooker in the morning and its ready to eat by the time I get home. No faffing or ordering takeaway!

While you’re prepping your delicious, healthy dinner for tomorrow, you may as well make some lunch to take on shift so you can eat healthy while at work and save money at the same time. Bags of crisps are high carb and fat sandwiches aren’t doing you any favours.  Always make sure you have plenty of snacks with you; fruit, protein bars, yoghurts and lots and lots of water.

The most important thing that I have had to learn is, if your body is telling you to take a break and take a day off the gym – take it. Provided you haven’t already taken the rest of the week off… If your body tells you it doesn’t want to eat a salad and a load of vegetables today, have a bar of chocolate and don’t be hard on yourself. If you can eat healthy(ish) 80% of the time and eat chocolate and pizza for the other 20%, then you’re doing better than I was in first year. Eating healthy salads and chicken and rice every day isn’t sustainable and it’s just bloody boring, ease yourself in and make sure you treat yourself every once in a while. Nursing is a stressful degree and we can’t all be perfect all the time.

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Written in her nursing scrubs by Josie Howells, 10 months ago