The Chicken and the Egg

We just wrapped up National Women’s Health Week and it got me thinking, being a national woman and all, how most of my clients and classmates––females in their 20s and 30s––are just now developing their identities, getting their first “real” jobs, and starting families, while my close female friends and I are in our mid- to late-40s, reminiscing about the million lives we seem to have already lived.

I’ve always said it’s never too late to start…whatever––a new habit, a new skill, a new career––but sometimes, UGH. Who has the time and energy? The older I get, the more set in my ways I’ve become (mostly about my routine and schedule) and now, with what already seems like two full-time jobs, I have to add a third: taking care of myself.

I was tempted to title this post “The Spring Chicken and the Rotten Eggs” because I believe that, while I’m young at heart and open-minded enough to want to soak up every new lesson and experience that comes my way, I’m starting to physically and mentally feel different, depleted. At 48 years old, I act half my age, but feel twice it. (Granted, the last few years of returning to school and rotating through my dietetic internship probably fast-tracked the age process for me.) I’ve got so many thoughts and ideas rushing through my brain at all times and a fairly full schedule. Before my feet even hit the ground, I’m a good part of the way through my to-do list. Yet, no sooner do I break for lunch, it feels like it’s time to wind down for bed and I’ve barely chipped away at the rest of my daily tasks.

Way, way back when I first learned about how oocytes develop and transition to ova, I did some mental math and figured I’d be hitting menopause when I turned 45. (The average age in America is about 511.) It hasn’t happened yet, but with each passing year, it has become all I can think about, waiting for it like a phantom hiding around the corner, ready to pop out and surprise me at any moment. I so want to embrace the decades in front of me, but I’m a planner by nature and I’ll admit I’m concerned about how to work around some of these challenges that seem to come with menopause. I’m already anxious, irritable, and depressed on any given day, sweat profusely when I’m barely moving, and often find it difficult to concentrate on—oooh! Squirrel!

But I think it’s easier to do than to undo, so how should we prepare for what awaits us on the other side of this decade?

17th-Menopause-talk

(image credit: http://www.sproutlifestyle.com/)

For starters, let’s rejigger our numbers so that we’re not overeating. To maintain a healthy weight, we’ll require about 100-200 calories less each day than we did twenty years ago2. (Click here to calculate your daily needs.) But be sure to still pay attention to nutrition by eating high-quality protein (including those of the plant-based variety like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds), a healthy mix of fruits and veggies, fiber-rich whole grains, and good fats like those from olive oil, salmon, and avocado.

We should also be keeping active and including strength training in our weekly exercise regimen to protect bone density and muscle mass and reduce our risk of fractures (ain’t no fun getting a hip replacement at any age, let alone when you’re 70)3. Plus, if you continue to eat as you always have and don’t increase your physical activity, you’re likely to gain weight.

Calcium plays a major role in supporting our health as we age, so be sure you’re getting your recommended 1,000mg a day by adding foods like yogurt, sardines, tofu, or broccoli to your meals (click here to read my previous post on calcium)4. Vitamin D is a big deal, too, and the easiest way to get 600 IUs is through daily sun exposure. Be careful not to overdo it here, though, because you don’t want to chance getting sunburned. A mere 10 minute walk outside during lunch will suffice. Otherwise, you can add a mix of fish, fortified dairy, cheese, or eggs (with the yolks) to your daily meal plan5.

Sleep is also important. Start setting an alarm for yourself about an hour before bedtime and give yourself time to unwind, relax, reflect, and mentally prepare for the next day6. This means detaching from technology, so no screens once that alarm goes off.

I’m considering putting together a month-long challenge in July for females over 40 (but open to anyone who wants to join)––something related to weight loss and lifestyle habits. I realize the summer, which can be packed with graduation parties, barbecues, and other social events, may be especially difficult to stick to new eating guidelines; but that’s why it’s called a challenge. Besides, I don’t believe in waiting for the “perfect” time to start anything and I think if we can do it then, we can sustain it long-term.

If any of the above has resonated with you, regardless of your age or menopausal status, please leave a comment below. Let me also know if you’d be interested in joining our July challenge. In the meantime, please check out this handout (that I designed last year when I was a dietetic intern at Betances Health Center) to help you better understand some of the wellness measures you can take through each decade of your life or click here to access the fact sheet from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics if you’ve already entered the wonder(ful) world of menopause.

References:

  1. Women’s Health: Menopause.” The Center for Menstrual Disorders & Reproductive Choice website.
  2. Warren, R.M. (n.d.) “8 Diet Changes Women Must Make After 40.” Health.com website.
  3. Munger, R.G., Cerhan, J.R. & Chiu, B.C. (1999). Prospective study of dietary protein intake and risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 69(1), 147-152.
  4. Dawson-Hughes, B., Dallal, G.E., Krall, E.A., Sadowski, L., Sahyoun, N., & Tannenbaum, S. (1990). A Controlled Trial of the Effect of Calcium Supplementation on Bone Density in Postmenopausal WomenThe New England Journal of Medicine, 323, 878-883.
  5. Calvo, M.S., Whiting, S.J., & Barton, C.N. (2004). Vitamin D fortification in the United States and Canada: current status and data needs. American Society for Clinical Nutrition, 80(6), 1710S-1716S.
  6. Jacobsen, M. (2014). Midlife Nutrition — Helping Women Over 40 Overcome Nutrition Challenges. Today’s Dietitian, 16(3), 30.

Open Wide: May 2017 Edition

These days, everyone from professor/author/food policy advocate Marion Nestle to my grad school classmates to my dietetic colleagues inspires me. In addition to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, I have also been a student member of its many Dietetics Practice Groups (DPGs) such as Food & Culinary Professionals, Nutrition Entrepreneurs, and Public Health/Community Nutrition, among others. I make a point to carve out time every morning to read the many newsletters I receive to develop as much insight as possible. The more I learn, the more driven I am to do the best I can and make a difference in the field of nutrition…locally, nationally, and globally.

My long-term goal is to help fix what ails so many people in this country by teaching them (a) how and what to eat to optimize their health and reduce their risk of disease, (b) how to be savvier food shoppers, and (c) to really understand that what goes inside their bodies can have a huge impact on how they feel and act. Becoming a Registered Dietitian, opening my own private practice, and continuing to pursue a Master of Science degree in nutrition is setting me on the path to becoming an expert in my field. But there’s always so much more I can be doing and want to do.

Macaulay

(photo credit: Vickie Savvides, Sharon Pang)

In the next decade, I want to make DishWithDina a brand across all media to reach a wider audience and help people achieve their healthful lifestyle goals, be it through a talk show or a road show. For now, I’m starting small and allowing myself to be patient in my pursuits. I’ve been keeping up with weekly blog posts that I hope you have been finding educational and/or entertaining. This summer, I plan to launch DishWithDinaTV and cannot wait to share the line-up with you! By the end of the year, I expect to engage with more and more of you, both in-person and virtually, and look forward to learning about your own food stories.

Every minute of my life up to this point has paved the way for me to succeed in these new (ad)ventures. I am fearless, I am committed, I want to continue to be inspired, and I am thrilled to have a chance to be inspiring to others.

A Salad a Day

Eating healthfully does not have to be a difficult feat of strength and will. In fact, I encourage you to create a simple salad every day based solely on ingredients you have in your house or can easily grab at your local grocer and dump into a bowl.

I have been having so much fun with Mason jar salads lately. (Yes, food nerds like me think salads are fun.) Originally, my meal planning and prep work used to take up half a day every Sunday. I would divide all my ingredients into their own containers so I could mix and match and assemble a variety of veggie-friendly meals for myself during the week. But, lo and behold! I became a Mason jar salad convert.

Mason Jar Salad

My Mason jars are extra large (32 oz) and light green, but you could go for the clear, smaller version if you’re slowly working your way into the meal prep and veggie lifestyle. Assembly is easy, but requires some thought as you don’t want your fragile, leafy greens sitting in a puddle of dressing for three days. HurryTheFoodUp shows you how to properly structure your salad and TheMuse gives you lots of ideas about the kinds of foods you can integrate into your salads, so play around and experiment with different flavors each week. Try to always have a protein (chicken or chickpeas), a carb (sweet potatoes or carrots), and a fat (avocado or walnuts) in your combo. When you’re ready, you can simply shake up your salad and eat directly out of the jar or shake, dump everything into a bowl, and toss in a handful of croutons. Ta da!

Mason Jar Avocado

For more information and ideas about how to get lots of veggies and other yummy, good foods into your daily meals, check out my previous blog post “It’s Easy Being Green…” And please leave a comment below and share with us what’s been working for you or what you’re struggling with. We’re here to help make healthful eating as easy as possible!

Lead the Way to a Healthy Office Culture

Sometimes it seems we spend all of our time at work, and our eating habits are influenced very much by our office environment––from the tempting vending machines to the cool new lunch spot around the block to the boss buying bagels with cream cheese every morning.

Sitting down at work for eight hours (or more) a day is also a major disadvantage to our health. It increases the likelihood of heart disease, weight gain, and other illnesses. Not to mention, when we leave work, most of us sit in the car or subway, and then sit at home. That is a lot of sitting in one day.

You can still maintain a healthy, nutritious lifestyle at your office if you plan accordingly, make small changes every day, and learn how to “work” your workday to your advantage.

Workplace pic

(image credit: Hunter McMillan)

Use your workday structure to plan healthy eating. The great thing about being at work is having that daily structure. Although you may not know when certain stressors are coming your way, you usually know exactly when you have your lunch break and can escape for a little bit. Set that time aside for yourself to eat healthy, and mindfully, without any distractions. View your lunch time as an important meeting with yourself where you refuel and recharge.

Get a colleague on your team. It is important to have friends––and coworkers––who can support and live a healthy lifestyle with you. Announce to your colleagues that your health is important to you and tell them about your goals. Before you know it, you may have your whole office practicing healthier eating habits. Also, your boss will be thankful. After all, healthy employees are more cost-effective and productive!

Plan and pack ahead. This is key for eating healthy at work. Pack yourself a lunchbox the night before with a variety of healthy snacks that include fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins. If you have a fridge in your office, use it to your advantage, and pack a yogurt and fresh berries. Make sure you have some options so when a craving creeps up, you have a good mix of foods to chose from. If you stay at work late, bring extra snacks. Sure, packing ahead of time may be a little time-consuming, but once you get in the habit of having healthier eating options at work, you’ll feel better and find that it was worth sacrificing some time upfront.

Keep a stash of backup snacks. In case you completely forget your lunchbox at home, or are simply rushing around, make sure you have some extra snacks at work. Some great options of non-perishable items are low-sugar protein bars and trail mixes, low-sodium beef jerky, and instant oatmeal. Keep items that are healthy, but not too tempting. You wouldn’t want to be reaching for your backup snacks simply because the temptation is there. This is your emergency stash.

Keep a clean desk. That is, clean from candy jars, cookies, and any other snacks. Studies show that snacks are more tempting when you see them, so try to keep them out of sight1. Follow these simple steps: Close the lid on that jar of candy and put it away in a cabinet. Move the box of donuts from the meeting room, to the break room. Take an alternate route to your desk to avoid that break room temptation.

Have a water bottle in sight. Staying hydrated is just as important as healthy eating, so always keep a water bottle on your desk and take breaks to sip on it. If needed, set an alarm clock to remind yourself to drink up. Other than keeping you hydrated, water will also help you feel fuller and prevent you from misjudging your feeling of thirst for hunger.

Break, move, and stretch. Every hour or so, take a few minutes to walk somewhere, whether it’s to the furthest bathroom or even for a breath of fresh air. If you don’t have anywhere to go, try to stretch at your desk, or do some squats, maybe your colleagues will join you! Finally, when you leave the office, ditch the elevator and walk down those stairs. Feeling even more active? Park your car few blocks away from the office or walk to a further subway station to get in a few extra steps on your way home.

It might take some time and dedication to manage your weight and eat healthy in an office environment, but it can be done. Stand up for your health, set some time aside to plan, and you’ll notice the difference soon enough. Don’t be surprised if your whole office follows your lead. Energy and a great mood is contagious, so cheers to a healthy office culture!

Editor’s note: Did you know May is Global Employee Health & Fitness Month? Click here to learn more.

References:

  1. Sonnentag, S., Pundt, A., & Venz, L. (2017). Distal and proximal predictors of snacking at work: A daily-survey study. Journal of Applied Psychology, 102(2):151-162.

Marta Dulaba Author Pic

Guest post by Martha Dulaba, nutrition student