Category Archives: Wellness

Healthy Eating for Students

Whether you live on campus or off, in a dorm room with no kitchen or with a fully-applianced one, learning to cook regular, nutritious meals for yourself is one of the most important life skills you’ll ever learn.

It’s also a very daunting challenge if you never had to cook for yourself before and have no idea where to start.

I know I can’t be the only person out there who’s struggled with feeding herself regularly, and there are many things I wish I’d learned or thought of earlier. So, some things I’ve picked up over the last few years:


  • Prioritise nutrition by planning meal times into your schedule. This means at least breakfast, lunch and dinner!
  • Eat a high-fibre breakfast. A bowl of cereal with yoghurt or milk gives me a huge boost of energy that keeps my hunger pangs away longer than anything else I’ve tried so far.
  • Buy fresh, local produce wherever possible. Not only are these often cheaper, fresh fruits and veggies you don’t have to cook make for make for much healthier snacks. I cheat myself into getting my daily fruit intake by carrying an apple around and gnawing on that when I’m hungry in the middle of the day (at least, when I remember to!).
  • Speaking of cheating, an easy way of getting part of your daily vegetable intake is to chop some vegetables to throw in with your uncooked rice (if you like rice, that is). Good vegetables for this purpose include squash and (baby) Shanghainese bak choy, but technically anything can do. Experiment and see what you like.
  • The January issue of Student Health 101 @ UBC has a great section on basic cooking in dorms and/or apartments that is worth checking out.


By ‘dorms’ here, I mean the traditional sleeping space with no attached kitchen and/or a communal kitchen with limited to no cooking facilities. Think microwave and fridge.

  • Introducing my favourite appliance in first year: the Toastess electric multi-purpose pot. This magnificent little kettle doubles as a cooking pot, which allowed me to make mac ‘n’ cheese, ramen and soup. If I’d been into eggs back then, I would have boiled them. Think creatively — whatever you can cook in a regular pot can probably be done here (in smaller portions).
  • For those of you who enjoy a rice-based diet and dislike cafeteria rice, it may be worth investing in a small rice cooker. You can bring back your side dishes from the caf in a reuseable container. Fancier brands like Panasonic even have special settings to make banana bread, but recipes claiming you can do this in any old rice cooker abounds on the internet. (I haven’t tried making banana bread in a regular cooker, so don’t take my word for it.)


You don’t have the skill or time to make meals out of whatever fresh produce happens to be selling today. Cooking for yourself for the whole week freaks you out. If this sounds like you, read on.

  • Invest in a good beginners’ cookbook if you need it. The one I swear by is Starting Out by Julie Van Rosendaal, which I picked up at Book Warehouse when it was on sale. (Regular price maybe around $25.) Targeted towards college student novices in the kitchen, it explains basic cooking terminology, techniques, and different kinds of produce. The recipes I’ve tried are consistently decent and this is my go-to guide when I need to find out how many minutes it takes to cook a fish or boil pasta.
  • Learn how to make a few quick, basic meals and go from there. A few things I can count on myself doing include fried rice, fried dumplings, vegetable soup, and pasta.
  • Enjoy variety on the limited knowledge you have by creating a schedule for what you’ll eat each day and leave learning new recipes and/or experimentation for the weekend. Sounds pedantic, but it keeps you from worrying about what your next meal is going to be. This is also a good way of making sure you’re covering all the basic food groups in your day/week.
  • Make large batches of whatever you’re cooking and freeze or refridgerate the extra portions for another time. Some people like to make enough food for the week, but do note that it is unhealthy to keep cooked food in the fridge for more than two or three days. Leftovers are also my quick and easy solution to tomorrow’s lunch.
  • Once a month, I like to bake or make things I can freeze for future meals, e.g. cheese and parsley scones (to go with my soup), Chinese scallion pancakes (烙饼), leek turnovers (韭菜盒子), etc. You’ll thank yourself for planning ahead, especially during exam time. Alternatively you can just buy frozen foods — I need to stock up on dumplings and wonton soon.
  • Frozen vegetables like spinach are a good alternative to fresh. Not only do you save on copious rinsing (as anyone who’s dealt with fresh spinach knows) and create space for other, less pesky vegetables in the fridge, frozen spinach is harvested closer to peak ripeness and flash-frozen then, so retains most of its nutrients (so I’m told), instead of fresh spinach which needs to be picked earlier in order to be transported to its final destination before wilting away. (Fresh local produce is obviously the best choice, but not everyone always has time to go to farmers’ markets.)
  • Ask friends for tips and simple recipes they use. Take a look at the UBC Wellness Centre’s Guide to A+ Eating. Check out recipe sites and food blogs, but don’t stress if you don’t get it straight away — these are usually targeted towards people already comfortable in the kitchen. And you will be.

Got more tips? I’m always ready to hear tips on eating better!

Setting a Sleeping Schedule 2.0

As if the universe was actually paying attention to my ramblings for once, it heard me say, ‘I don’t have the willpower to go to bed early,’ and sent an evil bug into my system that knocked me out for most of yesterday.

Oh, right, staying healthy is a good reason to get enough sleep.

It’s my fault, really — in high school, I discovered (through many rounds of trial-and-error) that if I lost out on so much as two nights of good sleep (read: 9 hours), I would be down and out for the week. Since coming to UBC, I’ve managed to go many, many more nights without this happening and was obviously lulled into a false sense of security on the subject of my immune system. Well, no more.

(Of course, I could have just picked something up lately from goodness knows where, but let’s run with the sleep thing for now, ‘kay?)

I’m currently throwing all my responsibilities to the wind and am doing nothing but sleep. This isn’t really hard, since I feel too lousy to do anything else, and have no inclination of dragging this out.

Also boiling down the rules I set for myself in my previous post down to one:

At 6 pm, everything must stop. This includes the laptop and internet.

Advice for things to do instead:

Cook dinner so you can eat at 7 pm, as opposed to, you know, 10 pm. Shower early. Find activities unrelated to the internet and/or computer to do. (There was a time before the internet, you know.) Do not read fiction in the evening — you know you’re incapable of stopping once you start and will just read the whole book in one go, which might be until 3 am. If you’re desperate for something to do, go to bed earlier to get up earlier. Now there’s a novel thought.

But just go to bed at the same time everyday.

I leave you now to go back to sleep, but not before sharing an awesome Nike ad:

Yesterday you said tomorrow. Just do it. Nike.

Setting a Sleeping Schedule

We’ve all heard the news before: a good night’s sleep helps you do better in school and/or work. Getting more sleep keeps your immune system up, energises you for longer periods of time, helps with memory retention, thinking on the spot, and a number of other good things. From personal experience, I know that my grades show as much as 10% in difference when I’ve been running on little sleep for several weeks and when I’ve been getting adequate sleep for a few.

I know all this, and yet still have trouble putting myself in bed at a reasonable hour. Why?

Lack of willpower.

Sounds odd, doesn’t it, that I don’t have the willpower to go to bed, especially when I’ve been feeling pooped for hours? It makes more sense when you look at all the tasks I have to do for the week and all the readings I haven’t done, particularly when I’ve fallen behind (yes, already!). I think, ‘If I stay up a little longer to do [insert task here], it’ll be one fewer item on my list tomorrow.’

But that’s not what always happens, because more often than not, I get distracted by technology. See, I’ve been pooped for hours! I just want to sit in my chair and read emails, or write a blog post, or do something completely unrelated to school when I get home. To top it off, I’m often also quite hungry because I find it easier to skip meals when pooped than to get up and make a good meal. (Yes, I need to change that too.)

So I’m setting myself a bunch of new rules:

  • At 6 pm, all work for the day must stop. Go make dinner. Read a book. Plan for tomorrow. But no actual work.
  • Laptop may only be switched on before 6 pm if it is actually needed for the task. Internet time should be scheduled and limited. (Make a list of things I need to do on the internet for when I am online, not as they come up.) After 6 pm, I can only switch it on if I have fed myself and showered and have a specific purpose for switching it on, e.g. writing for myself.
  • Be in bed to fall asleep by 10 pm.

The problem with these, of course, is that they’re really hard to implement. Sometimes I can’t fall asleep knowing that I have way too much to do and not enough time to complete everything in. Then what? Stay up to do more or stay awake worrying?

These are the arguments I go over, but hope that if I keep insisting on these bedtime hours, I’ll use my time more wisely and procrastinate less before 6 pm because I know that I’m not going to have much more time in the evening to do anything I don’t do now.

If anyone has any suggestions on how to make me go to bed on time, I’d be happy to hear them.

On an unrelated note, the bright side of the world being this cold is that the ground is frozen over and I can cut across grass without worrying about my boots getting muddy.

New Year, New Thoughts

There is something about the first day of a new year that attracts us. The first day of the lunar new year. A birthday. We promise ourselves that this year, things will be different, that this year, things will get better.

In reality, we know that there’s no physical difference in this day than any other. That we make these days special in our minds, and that the promise of a fresh start is one we’ve created. We identify days we’ll ‘try again’ all throughout the year: the first day of a month, the first day of a new week, tomorrow, today.

And there is power in choosing a new beginning, today, here, now, that we mustn’t forget, later on in the year, when we are weary.

But since it’s sometimes easier to embark on new beginnings with other people, and New Year’s Day is as communal a day as we’re going to get, here’s to the power of community in helping us make the changes we want.


Following my exhaustion over the last couple of years, I thought really hard about what life means to me, and have decided to go Back to Basics.

(Yes, I thematised my resolutions. Sounds a little artificial, but it helps give a tighter focus to what I want out of my 2011. And I’m not the only one doing it: Jason Mraz wrote a pretty awesome post on his Now Here’s Resolutions that I think you should check out.)

In 2011, I want to:

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Lessons Learned in 2010

Sign: I wish that I could have been warned

Academic education aside, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do in this last half year by doing everything wrong — even the things I already knew were bad ideas. Apparently, I sometimes make the same mistakes just to remind myself why they’re mistakes in the first place.

So some advice to myself and to you for the rest of our university careers (and perhaps beyond):

1. Don’t do three part-time jobs while in school.

This is key. Full-time school and essentially full-time work do not mix. There are only so many hours in the day. Something has got to slide, as my schoolwork did slide in the month of September when I was busy burning myself out.

Oh yes, and I have volunteer commitments on top of all that. I tend to overestimate how much I can take on at a time — for some reason, I thought I could handle it for a few weeks, and I did, but continued to suffer for it in the long run.

2. Don’t get more than a week behind in school. (Two, if it’s an actual emergency.)

This guidelines applies if you’re aiming to do well in school or if you’re particularly struggling with a course. If you’re just aiming to pass and you’re not genuinely afraid of failure, then you’ll live.

It’s not to say that you can’t do well if you fall more than two weeks behind in school — just that it’ll be very, very difficult. If you’re a week behind, you can spend a couple of weekends playing some intense catch-up. A month behind, as I was at the end of September and two jobs, just meant playing exhausting catch-up for the rest of the term as readings continue and midterms and assignments pour in.

3. Most importantly, don’t ever give up food and sleep to ‘cope’. Seriously.

I can’t reiterate this (to myself) enough: sufficient sleep, nutrition and exercise are essential to managing life well.

Because I was rushing around so much, I had cereal in the mornings, sandwiches while commuting, and collapsed in my chair in the evenings with too little energy to make myself a decent meal, or even chew. Definitely not enough nutrition for what I needed to do.

Then I fell into the college trap of sleeping less in order to accomplish more. People are often telling me how little sleep they get, as a sign of how hard they work. Why not join the crowd of four-hours-a-nighters?

Because it doesn’t work for me and, I suspect, doesn’t work for others either. They just say it does.

Mid-October, there were days I literally could not get out of bed without being sick if I woke before my body wanted to. I spaced out and/or fell asleep in the most inopportune places. I missed classes and mixed up the timelines for my readings. Most depressingly of all, I was trying my hardest but my grades were telling me that I was still doing a whole grade lower than when I was getting food and sleep and not even trying all that hard at school.

It wasn’t until I made the conscious commitment to eat and sleep properly again (screw the grades) that I began functioning and doing better. Sleep and food are what saved my GPA from falling into the abyss this term, not quitting on them.

4. Don’t lose touch with the people and things that are important to you.

When you do badly physically and mentally, you can feel pretty badly about yourself. At times like these, you might feel like you don’t want to see anybody, or you feel guilty when you do things for pleasure because they’re ‘wasting’ time you could be using to catch up.

I gave up playing the piano, reading for pleasure, writing emails to long-distance friends, and hanging out with Vancouver ones because I ‘didn’t have the time’.

You have to make the time. Take short breaks doing things you care about to refresh your mind and spirit. Force yourself to get emotional support from your friends and family when you feel badly about yourself. You need them most when you want them least.

5. Don’t beat yourself up.

Understand that you are doing your best, no matter how much you dislike where you are at the moment. It’s easy for other people to tell you what you should do, but no one really knows the full extent of the problems you’re facing or how limited your resources for coping may be. Even comparing yourself to your past self can be counter-productive — you are not in the same place you were and can’t necessarily expect yourself to achieve the same that you used to (at least not right now). So don’t even think about comparing yourself to others. You will get through this if you give it time and keep up the effort. You just need to be kind to yourself.

Have faith that things will improve. Because, as I can tell myself now, they do.