Fending off the “Freshman Fifteen”

For most Americans, this week (or next) marks the beginning of a new school year even though TV commercials for sales on notebooks, backpacks, and other school supplies started airing months ago. If you’re an adult returning to school, like I was back in 2013, there could be a whole slew of emotions about re-integrating into that lifestyle, both academically and otherwise; but, there’s something about setting foot on campus that puts students of any age in a whole different frame of mind. Homework deadlines seem to pile up before the first week has even begun, sleep becomes non-existent leading up to midterms and finals, and healthful eating habits go right out the window before the first semester is over.

During my dietetic internship at Lehman College two years ago, I was assigned a group presentation where we reported on research findings about how college students tend to gain weight over the 6- to 8-week span of the winter holiday season (Thanksgiving through the New Year). Interestingly, though, the study participants weren’t “traditional” college students, i.e., 18- to 22-year-olds. In fact, the age span included grad students, some well into their 30s.

The study showed that, as seasons change and colder weather approaches, students are more likely to change their food, mood, and physical activity for the worse. Ongoing indulgences over the fall semester and into the holiday season can cause a significant increase in the percentage of body fat and fat mass, leaving students vulnerable to obesity development from those unhealthful holiday habits that may carry on further into their adulthood and passed onto their children or other family members. Increases in body fat are a major factor in morbidity and mortality which is why it is important to strategize ways to maintain healthful eating and other lifestyle habits during stressful times.

If you start paying attention to your habits at the beginning of the school year, committing to choosing a lifestyle that supports healthy eating and physical activity, and recruiting your friends and classmates to get on board with you, you may find it easier to carry that mindset over through the semester, the holidays, into the next year, and every year after that.

LCNC

Consider the following:

  • Head to class prepared. To avoid excess hunger and grabbing something not-so-great at the campus cafeteria or out of one of the many vending machines outside your classroom, pack yourself a bunch of healthy, satisfying snacks (e.g., apple with peanut butter or veggies with hummus) at the beginning of each week, then take one or a few of them with you when you head to campus for the day.
  • Cut out sweetened beverages. Added sugar and calories will do you no favors in keeping you fit, healthy, and energized. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink from it regularly. Take advantage of getting free refills from campus water fountains.
  • Read the Nutrition Facts Label. If you do ending up grabbing a packaged food or snack, be a savvy consumer and compare the sodium, calories, fats, and sugars in these items. Some vending machines have started incorporating a grading system to help you make healthier choices.
  • Go play outside. Even if you’re cramming in a study session on your own or with some classmates, you deserve to take a break. Go for walk or toss a frisbee to each other for at least 10 minutes. Spending time away from the books and engaged in physical activity is a great way to give your tired brain and eyeballs a break and quality time with your friends.
  • Join your campus’ nutrition club. A great way to stay committed to health and eating well during the school year is to get involved in activities that will guide those habits by default. Don’t have a nutrition club at your school? Start one!
  • Be compassionate with yourself. If you do overindulge, try to keep your focus on the goal of long-term wellness. Remember your health is determined more by what you do on average most days than what you eat during any one meal.

References:

  1. Díaz-Zavala, R., Castro-Cantú, M., Valencia, M., Álvarez-Hernández, G., Haby, M., & Esparza-Romero, J. (2017). Effect of the Holiday Season on Weight Gain: A Narrative Review. Journal of Obesity, 2017:1-13.
  2. Hull, H.R., Hester, C.N., & Fields, D.A. (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & Metabolism, 3:44-61.
  3. U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Nutrition on Policy and Promotion. (2013). MyPlate On Campus Toolkit. USDA: Alexandria, VA.

[A version of this article appeared on this blog on December 9, 2015.]

EVENT: Summer CSA Food Demo

REMINDER! If you’re in the East Village today, Tuesday, 8/22/17, we invite you to join us from 6:00 – 8:00 pm for our bi-monthly food demonstration at the Sixth Street Community Center located at 638 E. 6th Street, between Avenues B and C.

Watch us prepare quick, easy recipes using the fresh produce from the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm delivery. Grab a sample on-site and let us know what you think!

Food Demo 20170808.jpg

We hope to see you there!

Eating That Makes Sense

The sights, smells, and even sounds of food can be quite tempting—not surprising, considering our senses play an enormous part in our overall pleasure in what we eat. By considering the visual, aromatic, and auditory components of food, you can smartly strategize a way to accommodate and satiate your hunger without compromising your waistline. Preparing or selecting meals and snacks that satisfy your senses will increase your enjoyment without carrying additional calories.

Veggies in water

(image credit: Shutterstock)

Your eyes receive the initial impression of food, so a visually interesting and stimulating plate is especially important to your eating experience. Include at least three different colors and shapes in your meal to enhance its visual appeal. A plate filled with plump red beets, fluffy green kale, and an orange smashed sweet potato provides visual interest and a colorful pop. Luckily, colorful fruits and vegetables add key vitamins and nutrients to your plate. Beets, kale, and sweet potatoes add folate to support red blood cell production, vitamin K for blood and bone health, and the anti-inflammatory vitamin A, to name a few.

When evaluating a food’s desirability and quality, smell is nearly as important as taste, and in fact, may increase your pleasure in eating that food. Enhancing the smell of food is as easy as adding herbs and spices to your cooking. Concentrate on herbs and spices that bring flowery, fruity, or fragrant scents to your dishes. Stock your pantry with everything from cinnamon to curry powder, and sprinkle at whim!

“Mouthfeel,” that physical sensation you get when taking your first bite, is built on both the taste and texture of the food. Taste refers to the sweet, salty, sour, bitter, or umami nature of the food. To enhance your pleasure in a meal, add foods based on the tastes you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy bitter foods, add fennel to your meal. Fennel not only contributes a slightly bitter taste but also a cool, bright essence, and the antioxidant vitamin C.

Turgidity, the amount of water in a plant’s cells, lends itself to the crisp texture of food—which also appeals to the auditory senses. Select meals based on your affinity toward smooth or crunchy foods, or combine the two if you enjoy both. You may choose hummus (made of garbanzo beans, a manganese and folate champion) for its smooth texture, or yogurt topped with walnuts for a combination of smooth and crunchy.

Consider the following:

  • Create an overall ambience. The environment in which you eat further enhances your experience. Light a candle or two (unscented, so as not to compete with your meal) and set your table to enhance your eating experience.
  • Smell with your mouth. There are receptors for olfaction (sense of smell) in the back of your oral cavity that detect aromas just as much as your nose does. When you lean in to take your first bite, breathe in the delicious scents first through your mouth to enhance your overall enjoyment of the meal.
  • Savor your food. Before you begin eating, take a moment to be grateful for the food before you. Chew slowly, sipping water between bites. Embrace the flavors and textures in your mouth before swallowing.

Eating healthfully does not mean you have to sacrifice enjoyment. Understanding your sensory preferences and identifying your preferences in relation to healthy foods makes the act of eating all the more pleasurable.

[A version of this article was written for and published on YoffieLife.com on November 22, 2014.]

EVENT: Summer CSA Food Demos

Starting today, Tuesday, 8/8/17, we invite you to join us for our bi-monthly, on-site food demonstrations at the Sixth Street Community Center in the East Village, NYC.

Learn and sample quick, easy recipes using the fresh produce from the weekly Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm delivery.

SSCC CSA DWD Food Demo IMAGE_Aug 8

We hope to see you there!

A Day in the Life of a Dietitian: DishWithDina

There is a screenshot waaaay down in my Instagram feed of a conversation I had with my dad a few years ago when I said I would be going back to school to become a Registered Dietitian and he didn’t understand why I needed to spend so much time and money on a degree and title just to learn how to make a salad.

That discussion cracked me up at the time; but, here we are, four years later, and now it makes me equal parts angry and sad. Becoming a dietitian requires either a Bachelor or Master of Science (usually in nutrition), meaning four years of school––taking classes like anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, biostatistics, and medical nutrition therapy––or at least a couple of years in an accredited program for those who ended college the first time around without a B.S. to gain entry into a science program. After that, provided your application is selected, is a year-long competitive and exhausting dietetic internship/supervised practice (that’s 1,200 hours working for free, people––at hospitals, nursing homes, health clinics, and community programs––usually while simultaneously paying for and attending weekly seminars and/or full-on grad courses back on campus), followed by taking and passing a national exam. At the end of what seems like a venture into pre-med, you must be thinking, “Wow! Dietitians must get paid like doctors!” Not even close. In the U.S., the average annual salary in this field is about $53,000, and not much higher in the big cities.

Day in the Life

Those ain’t cookbooks.

Like my dad, so few people seem to actually understand––and respect––what a dietitian is and what this profession is about, even though 2017 marks the profession’s centennial with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the U.S. Hopefully, this blog will give you insight into my new life as a dietitian and the dietetics field overall; but, I encourage you to ask questions of any health and wellness practitioner to better understand their role––and credentialing––in supporting people’s health.

To start, not everyone has taken the same path to get to where they are in this field, and there are definitely some folks making it a little more confusing for the layperson than it has to be (or, perhaps, taking advantage because of it). Lately, and especially in the world of social media, it seems the general public tends to believe doctors––and celebrities––over dietitians when it comes to food and nutrition. Case in point: the newly released documentary What the Health which is getting plenty of buzz from all sides (and which I’ll save for a future discussion). So, how about we make a deal? I won’t perform open heart surgery if you don’t tell people about the miraculous weight-loss benefits of raspberry ketones and garcinia cam-whatever-the-heck. (I’m looking at you, Dr. Oz.)

Next, being a dietitian is not just about encouraging people to eat salad (though, yes, we would love for you to get your recommended daily nutrients by consuming all kinds of fruits and veggies to promote overall health and prevent disease). We span the gamut of occupations, from clinical nutrition to community and corporate wellness to public speaking to recipe development and foodservice management. The list goes on! For me, a typical workday––and, as an entrepreneur running her own private practice, that’s usually every day of the week––can often look something like this:

8:00 am – 12:00 pm – Conduct research on chronic conditions, rare illnesses, food-drug interactions, allergies and intolerances; review client charts and follow up with clients from previous week

12:00 am – 4:00 pm – Work with volunteers on community collaborations; develop marketing materials and online/social media promotions; draft and schedule blog posts; attend practice group conference calls and professional development webinars

4:00 – 8:00 pm – Meet with clients (weight loss, prenatal/gestational diabetes, disease management) for nutrition counseling sessions; write up client charts; follow up with interdisciplinary teams as needed

The only salad I make during these days is for myself during lunch. #burn

Lastly, as I’ve said many times before, I want to make a difference in this field and I realize it could be a bit of an uphill battle, if I let it. I remain determined to dispel some of the preconceived notions (or ignorance) out there and clarify any confusing concepts, and I would love your help. Thanks in advance to anyone who chimes in.

  • If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions about health-related issues about which you’d like to learn more, please post below.
  • If you are an “RD2Be,” please let us know what concerns you most about venturing into this field or what you’re most excited to pursue in your new career.
  • If you are a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist, please share below your stories of starting out, the wackiest things you’ve heard from clients, patients, or other health professionals, or any of the successes and challenges you’ve come across over the years. I’m hoping to turn this “Day in the Life” blog post into a series and would love to line up interviewees over the next few months.