Food Editor Caitlin Dickinson interviews the health blogger Positively Jessica Ward to shed light on healthy eating for students, and get exciting tricks and tips on how to have a healthier lifestyle at university
Hi Jessica! Would you like to introduce who you are and what you do in your own words?
Hello! My name is Jessica and I am an award-winning health blogger and passionate journalist, I am an avid explorer and foodie and fitness lover. I am equipped with a first-class degree in English: Communications at Work and I have written for an eclectic mix of clientele.
Through my own struggles with weight, bullying and depression I have created a space on the internet for motivation, inspiration and positivity – a true escape from the outside world. Also on my blog, you will find my travel adventures, my approach at always incorporating a positive edge, foodie finds and recipes, product reviews and lifestyle and student tips. The ethos of my blog is orientated around turning difficult situations into positive outcomes and always looking at life through positive eyes.
Have you got 3 words to describe yourself?
I am creative in all aspects of my life in and outside of the gym, I dream big and encourage other people to be ambitious about what they love. I am also a huge foodie, from the kitchen to restaurants. I love to experiment and eat delicious food.
What inspired you to health blog? Leading on from this, what motivates you to continue blogging?
In 2012, I created a blog to write about my memories and I used my blog to capture them in an online archive. My blog at that time, was my own special space of the internet that allowed me to escape from my reality. When I was at school I was bullied and this affected my confidence, my health and my mental wellbeing. I suffered from extreme depression and became suicidal.
Throughout my school life, I was in a very dark place. However, despite my struggles, I continued to radiate positivity and I focused on making other people happy. I did this because I was suffering from depression and I didn’t want people to know.
Whilst focusing on my studies at school, I also surrounded myself with loved ones and I tried my hardest to participate in positive activities to help me heal naturally. I discovered my love for baking, fitness, food and travelling.
In 2014, after taking the time-out, I realised that writing about my passion and my experiences may help other people. I wanted a place on the internet to talk about how I gained confidence, how I gained some strength and how I smiled again all through changing my mind-set, eating habits, my approach to fitness and mindfulness and how I encouraged myself to travel more.
Through my own journey, I have discovered that our flaws make us unique, they shape us and they define us.
My motivation comes from my passion to help other people and to help people realise that the mind, the food we eat and the exercise we participate in can be a great healer for many things and that having a positive attitude towards this will help in every situation.
What do you have in mind for the future of your blog?
I will continue to spread my positive ethos. As I grow as an individual and experience new situations, my ethos will grow with me as a person. I will continue to stay honest, focused, positive and grateful. I hope to write more about mental wellbeing and I want to produce more posts about being a healthier student. I want people to view the world through my eyes and see how I engage with the world around us.
Blogging can seem alien to some students. Have you got top 5 tips, or must-haves for creating a blog?
- Be you. Don’t ever try and be someone else in the industry as your viewers and readers will be able to read your content and know it is not authentic. Share your passion and write about what you love. The more passion you have, the more engaged your readers will be.
- Don’t be frightened to approach other bloggers. I have met some wonderful friends through the online world and I have also learnt some amazing tips by messaging other bloggers who are extremely creative in that industry.
- Be creative! – Don’t be afraid to be creative in all areas; through colour, language and photography.
- Choose a free blogging platform – to begin with, you don’t need any professional equipment! Keep things simple and keep them cheap.
- Go across multiple platforms – engage with other sources of media. Create your platform across a variety of social media websites to ensure everyone can access your content easily and efficiently.
What are the simple changes you can make to your diet to create a healthier lifestyle? Linking on, is this challenging or can it be simple?
The first thing you need to consider is will your diet and exercise regime be easy to maintain throughout your life? It’s a common misconception that healthy cooking and keeping fit is complicated and hard work. But it’s not! I started my wellness journey to enhance my life and for longevity, I wanted to have fun and I wanted to be creative.
- Plan your meals and/or workouts in advance, it makes them much easier to stick to.
- Do what you enjoy and you will more likely be more motivated.
- Be positive and have faith. Sometimes things are challenging, but if we adopt a healthier mind towards our goals we will instantly be more driven to achieve them.
My top 5 tips for living a healthier lifestyle gradually
- Be active with a friend and make it fun! Get moving in a way you love; run, dance, go to the gym, attend a fitness, do a workout at home using a YouTube video or simply go for a hike or a walk. Whilst I was studying, working out helped me de-stress and it also helped with my concentration levels.
- Stay hydrated. No coffee? – I didn’t live off coffee whilst I was at university because I was fuelling my body correctly and nourishing it. Stay hydrated with lots of water (you can infuse your water with fresh sliced fruit and fresh mint for a sweeter flavour). Another good option for hydration is green tea and peppermint tea – they’re delicious and can be drunk cold or hot. Hydration allowed me to stay focused and energised.
- Eat a rainbow. Yes, you have probably heard this phrase before. Source nutrients from a variety of different sources to ensure you are having a wealth of goodness. Eat well and nourish your body with nutrient dense foods and on an occasion, be mindful and enjoy some soul food too.
- Be kind to yourself – in the depths of my exams I did become a little overwhelmed and I cried many tears through stress. Taking the time-out to have fun and to unwind. We are not robots, so we need to let our bodies and our brains rest to ensure we can be more productive. Also! Rest is crucial to allow adequate recovery from exercise.
- Travel cheap – get walking to your next lecture, take the stairs instead of the lift and get off the bus one stop before. This is totally free and is an awesome way to keep fit and energised.
Being a student requires a tight budget – is it possible to have a cheap nutritious diet? Any savvy saving tips?
Yes, it’s totally possible and can be extremely creative and delicious. It’s time to start cooking in bulk and freezing your food.
For example; cook enough meat/veggie bolognese or curry for 4. Divide it into 4 portions and freeze each portion individually. When you’re ready to eat de-frost, and heat the portion and simply serve with rice, pasta or salad. This method can be done with most meals meaning you can buy larger portions of meat, veg and tinned goods (which are often cheaper) without any being thrown away.
Equally, why not have a cooking night with your friends and cook for a group and save any leftovers for lunch the next day. Prepping food for lunch the next day is much more cost-effective and much healthier than a pre-packaged sandwich.
As for preparing food, you can also prepare breakfast the night before too – hard-boiled eggs are always a good option with a side of toast in the morning as they provide a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Or you could make some overnight oats – porridge oats, milk/or milk alternative of your choice, 1 tsp of cinnamon and some grated apple – leave overnight and in the morning your breakfast is ready to go! These breakfast meals are filling, nourishing, they’re comforting and they are a source of brain food.
Use recipes online! Look through social media and scroll through the web for inspiration. I have gained a lot of my cooking knowledge from looking through books and from browsing healthy blogs.
What are your staple, simple foods you cannot live without? Are these easily available for students?
All of the ingredients I select are easy to source and can be used in multiple ways.
My top three staple foods are – oats (these can be made into flapjacks, into porridge or made into a granola – good snacks and wholesome breakfast options). Tinned goods – I loved tinned tomatoes, they make a wonderful sauce alongside some herbs and they’re a cheap way of adding flavour to any dish. I also love chickpeas and lentils. They’re a plant-based way of eating protein and they keep me feeling fuller for longer. You can blend them to make a dip, you can mix them into your sauces or you can oven bake them and make them into a crispy snack. Frozen fruit is also a good option too. Not only does frozen fruit last longer, it tastes delicious and totally refreshing! You can blend fruit to make a sorbet, you can put it in your water for a sweet infusion or you can simply put it on your porridge for added flavour.
Describe your ideal healthy meal and drink
I absolutely love turning my favourite indulgent meals into a healthier alternative so I can eat them daily and benefit from them. A stir fry is always my go-to – I chop lots of vegetables and pop them in a pan with some coconut oil, some meat/fish or lentils and then I add lots of spices. 5-10 minutes later I have a nutritionally balanced delicious meal with minimal effort. My favourite ingredient is dried spices! They add flavour, they instantly transform any dish, they last longer and they’re budget-friendly.
Have you got any healthy cheat day recipes? And have you got any foodie favourite recipes to suggest for us?
‘Cheat days’ are never my thing. I don’t ever view food as good or bad and I don’t categorise it in that way. I just use the 80/20 rule of eating nourishing whole foods the majority of the time and indulging 20% of the time. I am a true foodie and I always eat in moderation. No deprivation, no restricting and no limits. I eat the foods that nourish my body and that keep me feeling energised. Labelling food as a ‘cheat’ can lead to an unhealthy relationship with food.
When I am craving sometime sweet I do love ice cream so my go-to for a quick sugar fix is frozen blended bananas with almond milk, peanut butter and honey. This is delicious and much more nutrient dense than your shop bought sugar-laden ice cream.
However, if I want something more indulgent and I want to make something a little more soul hugging I always opt for my homemade gooey brownies and my comforting homemade curry. Check out the recipes for more yumminess!