Nutritank was founded in 2017 by two Bristol medical students who noticed a gap in their education. Since then, Nutritank has started over 15 more societies at medical schools around the UK. “Nutritank’s university-based societies aim to promote the need for greater nutrition and lifestyle medicine training within medical education.” The group aims to help students improve and learn about their diet, lifestyle, and mental health to prevent diseases rather than treat them after the fact. Nutritank St Andrews began three years ago, but, like most other things in life, had to pause with the outbreak of COVID-19. So, current president, Lottie Strange, feels like this is their first real year in St Andrews. Lottie’s work this year focuses on expanding the group to non-medical students since she believes their message is valuable to every student at St Andrews, not just students within the medical school.
Sunrise swims and porridge —– Nutritank’s most popular activity. Lottie encourages anyone to come along! Weather permitting, the group meets once a week in the Castle Sands pool to start their day with a cold dip in the sea followed by warm porridge on the beach. Lottie points out that many studies have proven the benefits of cold water on both mental and physical health. Good for the body, cold water helps jumpstart the day, leading to more productivity. Additionally, rising with the sun by partaking in the sunrise swim boosts one’s mood and helps students begin their day with more positivity. Waking up with the sun leads to less procrastination and the production of more endorphins, among other benefits, since it helps you to be more in tune with your circadian rhythm. Not only are cold water and porridge beneficial to one’s health, but also taking part in the sunrise swim as part of a community is equally vital for mental health. This is especially true after so much time spent inside in lockdown or isolation due to COVID-19. Lottie points out that partaking in the sunrise swims are a good first step to prioritising both mental and physical health. She noticed that this simple activity promotes important life skills and habits: getting up at a specific time;, showing up to an agreed meeting place with friends; being prepared (in this case with warm clothes, tea, porridge for after the dip); and listening to your body (realising when you are too cold and should get out of the water, and when your stomach rumbles indicate hunger). These skills are important, practical, and vital to learn at university so that one can carry them with them for a whole lifetime.
Lottie has also found that the sunrise swims help with confidence and communication. Speaking out when you are cold or hungry is usually not a difficult thing to do, but, in doing so, students gain the confidence to speak up in other situations as well. Lottie uses the example of an appointment with a doctor. The sunrise swims help students become more in tune with their bodies, so they might be more likely to understand if something is not quite right. The courage to simply ask another student for an extra towel after a swim might lead to confidence in speaking up in other areas of their life. A student who takes part in the sunrise swims with Nutritank St Andrews might have newfound courage to go to their doctor and ask for help with something more serious; but that courage stemmed from something as little as asking Lottie for more tea as they were worried about catching a chill after dunking in the Castle Sands pool. In today’s fast-paced lifestyle, it can be easy to ignore certain signs our bodies are trying to tell us. So, in addition to the sunrise swims, Nutritank St Andrews emphasises the importance of meditation and yoga, so as to find moments to slow down and check in with oneself both mentally and physically. Lottie believes this side of medicine is usually lacking in the curriculum of most universities. Specifically, she mentions the importance of the mind-body connection, and a holistic approach to medical issues.
The porridge after the cold-water dip is another important part of Nutritank’s message. “Nutritank connects and empowers like-minded people… by expanding their knowledge of nutrition and lifestyle medicine. We believe that information surrounding food, nutrition and lifestyle medicine should be understood so that it can be applied to… wider society.” Porridge on Castle Sands is a way for Nutritank St Andrews to open the conversation surrounding nutritious food for university students. Lottie emphasises the importance of variety in one’s diet since the gut-brain axis has a serious impact on one’s mental and physical health. “The gut-brain axis consists of biodirectional communication between the central and the entric nervous systems, linking emotional and cognitive centers of the brain with peripheral intestinal functions. Recent advances in research have described the importance of gut microbiota in influencing these interactions.”
To help educate university students, Nutritank St. Andrews has hosted potlucks, cook-alongs, and batch-cooking sessions. Lottie acknowledges the reality of a student’s busy schedule and tries to recommend recipes that take under thirty minutes. Cooking can often be a daunting task, so making it a group activity turns cooking a meal into an enjoyable social gathering. Lottie uses cooking as a way to destress and take some time for herself, often putting on her favourite music, or enjoying a new podcast. With cooking, a seasonal variety of products makes an impactful difference on the nutritional value of a meal. Eating something in season right now, like pumpkin or squash, is going to not only taste better but be better for you, than a cucumber that has been flown halfway across the world. It does not have to be incredibly elaborate. Try to get as many colours onto the plate as possible, with ingredients that are currently in season in the UK. This usually ensures a highly nutritious dish. Lottie also finds that trying new ingredients helps her with her cooking creativity and avoiding the inevitable rut of repeatedly making the same dishes. Recently, she has been experimenting with tahini, something she has not cooked with before.
Nutritank has just been certified by the Association for Nutrition to implement its curriculum in medical schools around the country, promoting education about nutrition. Nutritank St Andrews provides important opportunities for university students to learn more about healthy living in a relaxed and informal social setting. Lottie wants everyone to sign up for the events and to come and get involved to see what the society is all about. She believes that this society is suited for every student at St Andrews, and is incredibly open and inclusive to anyone who wishes to come along (you do not have to be a studying medic).