Hello and welcome to the last post in the PhDelicious series! Today’s guest post comes from Amber Davis, a self confessed health nut and green juice addict. Amber developed the amazing Happy PhD online course and has has just released a new ebook on Finding your Academic Voice. Please do try out some of Amber’s top healthy tips and let us know how you get on. You can show Amber some love on @_AJDavis! I’m feeling pretty smug sitting here drinking my herbal tea!
For me, eating well for academic work means two things: increase nutrition and taste, and decrease stress. Yes, stress. The first may seem obvious, the latter less so. Let me explain. Stress is extremely detrimental to academic performance, and for the body it does not really matter what the source of stress is: whether it is mental, emotional, or, indeed, nutritional. I first came across the concept of nutritional stress when I read the book ‘The Thrive Diet’ by Brendan Brazier – who argues that nutritional stress is the main source of stress in our lives. Obviously, Brendan hasn’t written a PhD. But what he says has merit: you can bring your stress levels down and increase your mental energy and clarity, by feeding yourself well.
When I was finishing my PhD, I had very little energy (read my story on my site). One of the things I changed dramatically in an attempt to improve my health was my diet. Now, it is one of my key self-care practices. The main changes involved increasing the amount off vegetables I eat, decreasing sugar and simple carbohydrates, and cutting out stimulants such as coffee. If you want to join me and try the same, here are some ideas.
- Eat or Drink your Greens. Lots of them.
I love my green juice for breakfast! A couple of years ago I did a 6-week detox diet cleanse, and drinking fresh vegetable juice was a major part it. I thought it a little strange at the time, and I had not ever suspected I’d come to like green juice so much it would become a daily habit. I make just under a litre of green juice every morning – I pour myself a big glass, pour my boyfriend a big glass, and put the remainder in a jam jar to have in the afternoon (mostly I have it after yoga class).
To make my standard daily green juice you will need:
2 cucumbers (organic or peeled)
a few stalks of celery
a handful of dark leafy greens (I tend to use kale or spinach)
a thumbsized piece of ginger
an organic lemon
The lemon and ginger are key for getting a zingy tangy juice. It’s delicious!
Juicing can be intimidating for two reasons: cost and hassle (and the initial weirdness, but you’ll get over that soon enough). You’ll also need a juicer to get going (this is mine). I say: give it a try anyway. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I juice first thing in the morning, before I have quite woken up. That way I just do it. Any later, and I think: ‘nah, too much work.’ When I make the effort it always pays off: on the days I’ve had my juice I feel so much more energised, fresher and ‘cleaner’. Green smoothies are perhaps easier to start with, as you’ll only need any old blender, not a juicer. Somehow I prefer green juices over smoothies, but you might prefer otherwise.
My juice/ smoothie guru was Kris Carr, who has an e-book to get you started. Don’t want to spend money on juice recipes? Try my friend Alison Smith’s free e-book instead (it has some of my juices and photographs).
Just for the record: I don’t have JUST juice for breakfast. I also have some porridge, or (spelt) toast with almond butter or tahini, or something else substantial.
Adding vegetables to your lunch can be a challenge. The best thing to do is to cook or prepare lunch at home, and carry it with you. Not always convenient, but it’s worth it.
At the moment I like stir-fried veggie lunches, often topped with an egg. Make sure you always include complex carbs, as well as protein and fats alongside your greens. You’ll need some staples, such as (canned) chickpeas, butter beans, brown rice, as well as eggs, canned or smoked fish, nuts, seeds, and of course vegetables. Once you do, you can use anything lying around in your fridge to make your own healthy creations. It may sound complicated, but it’s not – you just need to get the hang of it. I like Sarah Wilson’s similar ‘mish-mash’ take on creating such meals.
My own lunch today was a stir-fry of left-over vegetables and left-over red quinoa, with an egg scrambled in. Good!
Note: if you use canned beans and legumes: RINSE them before use to remove most of the gas-producing compounds. You, and those who share your workspace with you will be thankful.
If that fails, green juice or smoothies can always come to the rescue to provide a veggie boost, alongside your bought soup and/or sandwich. Preparation is key. It helps to plan ahead and do a big weekly shop for vegetables and staples to make sure you’ve always got the ingredients you need at hand.
For dinner, try adding one or two extra vegetables to the table. Your plate should be at least half filled with vegetables.
- Ditch the sugar
I don’t know about you, but when I have to do challenging mental work I get cravings for sweet things later on in the day when my energy starts to slump. I used to fix these cravings by walking to the café or baker’s on the corner and treat myself to a chocolate bar or something else sweet (that seems so far removed from my current reality!) when I thought no one was looking. Sugar highs and crashes would reliably follow.
Listen to me: if you want steady energy levels, ditch the sugary treats. (Along with white bread and pasta).
That doesn’t mean you have to go without. I have found the perfect afternoon no-sugar chocolaty pick-me-ups. Try these Fudgy Protein Bites.
What you’ll need:
- 1 1/2 cups coconut oil
- 1/2 cup cacao powder
- 2 tablespoons rice malt syrup (I use stevia instead to create a 100% no-sugar variety)
- 2 pinches sea salt
- 3/4 cup vanilla protein powder
- 1/2 cup chia seeds
- 1/3 cup maca powder (if not using maca powder add a little extra protein powder)
How to make them:
- Melt the coconut oil in a glass bowl over a pan of boiling water on the cooker (you can turn the heat off once the water boils).
- Mix in the rest of the ingredients and stir until smooth.
- Transfer to paper mini or normal size cupcake cups.
- Put on a tray in the fridge or freezer until set.
My first attempt:
They don’t look quite as glamorous as those above but they tasted exquisite. My subsequent attempts have become more elegant by using smaller cup cake moulds.
Maybe you look in despair at the ingredient list. I too had none of these ingredients in my cupboard (with exception of cacao) and wasn’t too keen on spending a fortune on ‘health foods’. Moreover, I was a bit sceptical of such ‘healthy treats’. They could not possibly taste good. Trust me, they do. I have had to switch to a completely sugar-free diet for health reasons recently, and I did not know how I would manage. Since finding this recipe I don’t think I’ll have too many problems.
Want more? I like this recipe for raspberry ripe too.
- Cut out stimulants such as coffee
I have never been a coffee person. Nevertheless, I drank coffee daily when I lived in Italy while writing my PhD, as you cannot live in Italy and not drink coffee (this seemed to make sense at the time). The truth is: it made me jittery and all over the place. Coffee stimulates the adrenals, which gives you an energy boost, for which you pay with lower energy levels as a result of adrenal exhaustion in the long run, if you’re not careful. When you’re under stress as it is, which is not unlikely when you’re writing a PhD, drinking coffee is not the best idea. How much coffee is too much is up to you, but cutting back is never a bad idea.
Alternatives for coffee:
Try drinking green tea. It has a little caffeine, so it will give you a bit of a lift if you need it, but unlike coffee it has many health benefits, including high levels of antioxidants. Altogether it seems that green tea improves brain function. Just don’t buy it cheap. Cheap green tea (in teabags) tends to be disgusting. If you insist on using tea bags, I quite like Clipper green tea. Or, go to your local teashop and buy loose leaf tea. I like flowery Chinese green tea myself.
Another alternative is herbal tea. I always have Yogi Tea in my kitchen cupboard, as well as many other herbal blends. Or, I make ‘ginger and lemon tea’, by simply pouring boiling water over a couple of slices of ginger and organic lemon.
I hope this post got you inspired. I have just started a Pinterest board with healthy recipes, which may also be of use. Good luck in the kitchen, and good luck with your PhD!