How To Stay Healthy at University – Tackling The Alcohol Issue

alcoholWhen people tell you that university will be the best three years of your life, they’re not lying – take it from someone who loved her time at uni so much that she chose to add an extra year to her degree. It’s a strange feeling for me to look at the calendar and see that it’s September, to be invited to all of the fresher events on Facebook, yet know that I won’t be going back for all the fun and shenanigans of freshers week this year. University is a brilliant time but it would be a lie to tell you that it will all be easy. In between all of the partying, the late night study sessions and the challenges of living away from home for the first time, it’s easy to forget about your health. For far too much of my university life, I, along with friends, certainly drank too much, neglected exercise and forgot to prioritise my health. As I became more aware of the damage I was doing to my body, I made certain lifestyle changes and started to find a good balance between having fun and taking care of myself and general wellbeing. So despite having graduated from university, after four years of trial and lots of error, I feel well equipped to pass on some much needed guidance about how to stay healthy at university. I’ll be posting three blog posts about this and in this instalment i’ll be talking about how to limit the effects of alcohol on your health.

Should you drink at university?

If you know anyone who has been to university or you’ve looked at any of the events that you’re probably being invited to on Facebook, you’ll have noticed that drinking is a big part of university life. I remember arriving to university with my pots and pans under one arm and a bottle of vodka under the other – I think it’s fair to say that the vodka certainly got more use than the pots and pans did in my first week! Now, writing a post that gives advice about drinking at university is such a tough one because obviously alcohol isn’t good for you. Anyone who has had a bad hangover will be able to tell you that. Alcohol dehydrates you and quite literally poisons your body and so it is understandable that it gets a bad rap in the health and fitness community. So I’m not going to tell you that you should drink because you can have a good time without alcohol, something I know from experience. Having said that, I had some great drunken nights at university and I want you to love your time there as much as I did. My personal approach to alcohol is to drink sensibly and this post will show you how you can do that.

Drink in moderation

When you are first at university, you will probably find yourself going out a lot. At my peak, I was going on big nights out about three times a week. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going out, but I was definitely drinking too much on each of these nights (sorry Mum!!). My alcohol tolerance went up and up and so to feel an effect, I had to drink more and more until it got to the point that I was having close to a bottle of wine (with a bottle of sprite because I hated the £4 wine I was drinking) at pre-drinks. This was followed by sugar packed VKs and numerous sugary sambuca shots. That’s bad for a few reasons. Most importantly, it’s dangerous to drink in such high quantities because it damages your liver and you can put yourself in danger. My friends and I used to spend the morning after a big night out in each others’ rooms trying to piece a night back together. That seemed funny at the time but in reality it’s scary to think that we were all drinking so much we couldn’t remember our nights. So be careful and please try not to get so intoxicated that you’re forgetting what happens on nights out. When I first got into fitness I stopped drinking and having a break was exactly what I needed to realise that my attitude to drinking was unhealthy and dangerous. Realising this was one of the key reasons that I cut down on my alcohol intake and started to take a more sensible approach to alcohol consumption.

Think about the alcohol calories

I gained weight when I was first at university and alcohol played a huge part in that weight gain. If you are eating sensibly in the day and not starving yourself then you will gain weight if you are drinking as much as I was because you will be taking in more calories than your body needs because of the added alcohol calories. On a typical day of eating I will take in about 1900-2000 calories. If I add a night out into that equation I could be taking in 3136 calories daily! More calories than your body needs = weight gain. I’ve broken down the calories of a big night out that I would have at university and looking at them, I am amazed that I didn’t put on more weight!

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If you are going to drink, what changes can you make?

When you start at university you should be busy having the time of your life and so all of these tips should come secondary to doing what makes you happy. It would be very easy for me to tell you to drink less having had two years of getting very drunk myself on some brilliant nights with friends. So just take these tips as a bit of general advice and use them how you wish.

Firstly, in my third and fourth year, I made lower calorie alcohol choices and always had a glass of water for every alcoholic drink. My drink of choice was normally a single vodka soda water with a wedge of lime served with a glass of water. Avoid sugary drinks like VKs, WKDs and sambuca and your body will thank me for it! I drank my drink and made sure that I had a glass of water afterwards. This stops you from drinking excessively because every other drink is a non-alcoholic one. It also helps to stop your body getting as dehydrated as it would without water and this stops the bad hangovers! When I have bad hangovers, I make poor food choices and you definitely won’t see me at the gym. So not only does drinking add calories on the night, it then also ruins the next day. Drink less alcohol and more water and this shouldn’t be a problem!

Secondly, don’t drink just to get drunk. I used to quickly drink horrible drinks so that I was drunk and ready for a night out. Later on, I changed this approach. I went to bars with friends and had nice glasses of wine that I actually enjoyed. I went to club nights that played music I liked and so I enjoyed these nights without drinking or without drinking too much. It was at this point I realised that if I was having a rubbish night, alcohol wouldn’t make it better and so I shouldn’t treat a bad night as an excuse to drink excessively. During freshers week, or afterwards, you may find that you are feeling homesick or just a bit overwhelmed. Alcohol will only heighten these emotions so be warned that it may not be sensible to drink if you are feeling a bit down. If you are having a good time with friends, you shouldn’t need to get really drunk. If you’re having a bad night or a bad time, drinking too much will only make it worse and no one wants to be the emotional drunk (been there, done that).

Thirdly, and some people might think that this sounds ridiculous, but if you can’t resist drunk food then prepare some healthy snacks for when you get home. I’m not saying that you should eat cucumber or apple slices, but I used to make sure that I had pitta bread and humous, or leftover dinner, waiting for me at home. This stopped me heading straight to the kebab shop once I left a club and seemed a good compromise that still allowed me to have a post night out nibble.

What to do if you don’t want to drink?

Trends have changed since I started at university and I recently read that 50% of students now don’t drink because of concerns over its health implications. It’s great to see that attitudes are changing and should be reassuring for those of you who don’t want to drink. If you’re one of those 50%, will you have a rubbish time at university? No way! I completed Dry January this year and during it, I had one of the best nights out of my university life. I made myself coffee mocktails and although my housemates laughed at me a bit at the time, nobody really noticed. I played the drinking games, I went out and had a brilliant night and woke up without a hangover. There’s also not much more entertaining than going out and watching your friends when they’re drunk and you’re not…Who do you think was laughing the next morning?

Find some people with similar interests. I made some brilliant friends in my final year who also didn’t drink much and we had dinner parties together, went to the gym with one another and did other non alcohol related activities. Look for like-minded people and you will quickly find that there are many ways to have fun at university without alcohol. Having said this, you can still be friends with people who go out a lot even if you don’t drink. Just find other activities that you all enjoy – I want to remind you that there is so much going on at university besides drinking. Try to drink sensibly, have a lot of fun and get involved in university life as much as possible and you will have a fantastic three (or four) years.

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