Healthy body, healthy mind: researching nutrition for young women

To start us off, can you tell us a bit about yourself? 

Of course! My name is Gupan Xu, but you can call me Nicole. I’m a final year Bachelor of Health Sciences student at La Trobe University, and I recently completed a six-week placement at the Victorian Women’s Trust (Rosie’s parent organisation). Since my major is public health and I’m passionate about improving nutrition amongst young women, I was asked to do a research project for Rosie.

Sounds cool! What kind of topics did you research? 

I wrote three literature reviews during my placement (if you’re not sure what a literature review is, here is a good summary), which involved reading a lot of journals, books and case studies about: undernutrition in young women, adolescents’ primary dysmenorrhea (more commonly known as menstrual cramps) and endometriosis, and teen mental health issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Image by Dan Dimmock on UnSplash.


I’m curious about your research on ‘undernutrition in young women’. Can you tell us a bit more about that? 

Improving nutrition amongst young women is crucial, as it has a huge impact on factors such as menstruation, mental health, and socio-economic prospects. As this public health paper explains, good nutrition and gender equality are mutually reinforcing, as the empowerment and overall wellbeing of women go hand-in-hand. 

On a more personal level, I used to have really bad eating habits, which took a huge toll on my physical and mental health. I hardly ever ate vegetables, consumed a lot of junk food, and sometimes I would only have one meal a day. When I realised how tired, dull and low I felt because of this, I made the effort to eat a more regular and balanced diet. It took me a month to get used to it, but now I can really feel the positive effects! My skin is better, I feel happier… I really feel much better than I did before.

Image by Alexander Grey on UnSplash.

You mentioned that there’s a connection between nutrition and menstruation. What’s the relationship between the two? 

I started getting serious menstrual cramps around two years ago—most likely due to my chaotic and unhealthy lifestyle. While researching for my second literature review, I discovered that one way to reduce menstrual cramps is to exercise more, so I decided to try it out. Exercise has always been my weakness, but since experiencing the benefits that come with improving my diet, I’ve been way more motivated.

I recently started pilates and dancing, which has been so great! I feel like my body has gotten stronger and I don’t get tired so easily anymore. While my menstrual cramps are still pretty bad and sometimes it’s hard to stay motivated, I’m really proud of myself for doing more exercise and being proactive about addressing my dysmenorrhea.

Image by Juan Camilo Navia Maim on UnSplash.

Right, and exercising has heaps of benefits for our mental health too right? Can you talk about your research within that realm?

Yes it definitely does! The third literature review I wrote as part of my placement was on young womens’ mental health in relation to COVID-19. I did a lot of reading about the psychological dilemmas young people are currently facing due to the pandemic, such as anxiety, depression, and social isolation. 

Researching this made me consider what steps I can take to improve my own mental health. In the past, I responded to negative emotions by simply pushing them away, which is detrimental to our health. Now I’m learning to address sad feelings and thoughts in a more positive way, such as having a big cry when I need to, talking to trusted family members and friends, exercising (working up a sweat releases endorphins in your body!) and making time for my hobbies. 

How are you feeling now that you’ve finished your placement? 

To be honest, at the beginning I was a bit disappointed as I had my heart set on doing something big for feminist causes, which I didn’t think would involve sitting in an office and writing reports… But when I started searching for information, case studies and literature I really enjoyed it. I learnt so much! 

I’m very grateful for this opportunity, as applying this knowledge to my real life has made me feel so much healthier and positive, and I hope that I can use this research to help other young women too. 


Nicole is a public health student at La Trobe University who is passionate about establishing a career in women’s health. Nicole loves all things feminism, pets, and K-pop.


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