Resistance to junk food, a cost saving of £15 a week and feeling more alert were among the benefits for one De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) student as part of a three-week health challenge.
Alisha Gendu was just one of the 25 Medical Science students – and staff – who carefully followed strict regimens as part of a challenge to gain a greater understanding of the difficulties faced by obese people.
The 21-Day Healthy Lifestyle Challenge saw students take on either a physical challenge such as attempting 10,000 steps a day or a food-based task like giving up crisps.
Third-year Alisha, from Leicester, wrote a blog about her experiences while attempting to dramatically improve the nutrition of her breakfasts.
The 20-year-old said: “My health was in a grey area. I was kickboxing three or four times a week and walking almost everywhere. Physically, I was relatively healthy but nutritionally…I was awful. Poor time-management meant I would always strive for convenience while running to a class and convenience food vendors are rarely healthy, and when they are, they're expensive – and I'm a student! So I'd often get a vending-machine chocolate or two before rushing into a lecture, and perhaps a hot chocolate to wash it down.”
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So her challenge was to eat a regular healthy breakfast, to quit replacing meals with chocolate and incorporate more fruit and vegetables. “I wanted to eradicate sweet junk-food and squeeze in a healthy breakfast every single morning. I hoped cutting out junk food would only leave room for healthier options such as fruit and veg.”
During the first week, she found it harder than anticipated, especially when friends or her sister would eat junk food in front of her as a tease. But she found strength and motivation from a Facebook support group run by fellow Medical Science students undertaking the challenge.
“It demonstrated that everyone has their own challenges, vices and aspirations,” Alisha said. “Where I found running easy, others struggled. Where some found healthy eating integral to their lives, they were not as physically active. Regardless, I continued exercising and drinking water and even began incorporating salads – dressing was necessary.”
Overall, Alisha found the challenge to be a huge positive as well as a learning experience. She said: “In a sense, this challenge felt like some kind of divine intervention. I hadn't struggled with maintaining regular physical activity but my diet prevented any further progress at the gym and frequent sugar binges meant my blood sugar spiked dramatically. As a biology student, I'm well aware that sugar has the capacity to alter mood and, when abused, can trigger diabetic symptoms as well as progress on to the disease itself. You'd think I'd be more mindful of the health risks already.
“Not only was I feeling more alert but my mood began to settle. I became awakened as to how mindlessly I ate, as before I'd accept food almost reflexively.”
However, perhaps the biggest and most pleasant surprise was the effect on Alisha’s purse – a saving of £47.61 over the course of the challenge – or £15.68 a week.
She used to spend on average £18.20 a week on her chocolate-laden breakfasts but when substituted for porridge and soya milk, it fell significantly to £2.33. “That revelation is now the reason I regularly accompany my dad to do the grocery shop,” Alisha said.
She added: “Now that it’s over, I've found I eat less junk now. Focusing on time-management was the biggest help. I've found that even if I’m late to class, having been late because I've needed to fit in a breakfast has been very much worth it – I'm more focused in class, my mood is brighter and my sugary cravings have plummeted. I’m also hoping to see improved results in the gym and work on punctuality a little more!”
The Facebook group proved to be a great resource with the students encouraging each other through the ups and downs of their challenges. The group was joined by American dietician Sheryl Lozicki [15,200 followers on Twitter] who gave the students fantastic advice and support.
The idea for the challenge came when senior lecturer Dr Louise Dunford, the programme leader for Medical Science at DMU, was on a recent research visit to a Philadelphia university and an American academic explained how a similar challenge had benefited students.
Dr Dunford, who joined her students for the challenge by completing 10,000 steps a day, said: “I was delighted to see how enthusiastically the students all took up their challenges and tried to stick to them.
“It definitely raised awareness about how difficult it is to lose weight for obese individuals who may have to change lots of things about their lifestyle. Although the challenge has ended, it’s great to see some of the students sticking with their new healthier eating and exercise habits.”
Pedometers and fitness DVDs for the feat were provided thanks to a DMU Teaching Innovation Project grant.
Posted on Tuesday 14th March 2017