Food as Fuel: How to Maximize Your Workouts with Proper Meal Planning

In our last post, we encouraged you to get up and get moving; but, much like how a car can’t run without fuel, your muscles can’t function if you’re also on empty, so this week, we are going to teach you how to keep your “engine” running properly so that you can exercise at your optimal level.

One small note before we dive into our discussion: the recommendations we provide below are for pre-, during, and post-workout nutrition for a healthy, active, adult population, and protein needs are increased for people that are consistently active. Individuals with chronic health conditions (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease) or at certain life stages (pregnancy, adolescence, the elderly) should speak with their doctor and Registered Dietitian first to find out their individualized nutrition needs based on their specific health status before beginning any form of physical exercise.

Diet-Plus-Exercise

(image credit: Health and Exercise Coaching)

Pre-workout

“Should I eat before my workout?” This is a common question that someone has when they begin exercising and the answer is often debated as there’s not a clear-cut rule; it depends on the individual. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) recommends you should eat a small meal or snack consisting of proteins and carbohydrates about 1-3 hours pre-workout, depending on how your body tolerates food.Carbs give you energy to exercise, while proteins provide your muscles with the right amino acids (the building blocks) so they can perform at their peak. It is best not to eat immediately before or too close to your workout because you may experience some gastrointestinal discomfort since your body is trying to digest the food while your muscles are engaging in the exercise.

If your workout is of low-moderate intensity and for a short duration (less than an hour), you may be fine with skipping out entirely on eating before exercising. However, you should bring some carb-rich snacks with you during the workout in case you feel tired or weak so you’ll have something easy to eat that gives you a quick shot of energy. It is especially important for people that exercise in the morning without eating breakfast to pack some snacks, since their bodies are in the fasted state and without food for many hours.       

Some suggestions for pre-workout fuel:

  • A peanut butter and banana sandwich (with whole wheat bread)
  • Whole grain cereal or oatmeal (choose one that’s low in added sugars) with low-fat milk and fruit
  • Scrambled eggs with whole wheat bread

Lighter pre-workout snack options (or to bring with your during workout):

  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Apple with nut butter
  • Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins: one part nuts), or nuts and dried fruits
  • 1-2 hard-boiled eggs
  • Granola bar (choose one that’s low in added sugars and saturated fats)
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter

Stay Hydrated!

Exercise causes an elevation in body temperature, which results in your body producing sweat in order to get rid of the excess heat. When sweat evaporates, it allows your body to cool down resulting in substantial water and some electrolyte loss during exercise. It is very important to stay hydrated during your exercise to restore the water loss!

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(image credit: Shift)

Listed below are guidelines from The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) regarding hydration and exercise.2

Hydration before exercise:

  • Drink 2-2.5 cups (16-20 fl oz) of water at least four hours before exercise

Hydration during exercise:

  • Drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of water every 15-20 minutes when exercising for less than an hour
  • If you’re exercising for more than an hour, drink about 1 cup (3-8 fl oz) of a sport drink (with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes

Remember to drink water throughout your workout and try to avoid drinking water only when you feel thirsty. Thirst signals that your body is headed toward dehydration and is not suggested to be used to monitor hydration status. The above fluid intake guidelines may vary based on factors that affect your level of sweating such as air temperature, intensity of your workout, and body size; thus, be aware of your fluid loss and hydrate accordingly. Also, make sure to drink adequate amount of water after exercise to replace your fluid loss as well.

Post-workout

To help your muscles recover and repair after an intensive workout, it is recommended by the AND and ACSM for you to eat a post-workout meal rich in high-quality proteins and carbs within two hours of completing the workout.Your body uses stored energy (glycogen) in your muscles during your workout, so eating carbs help to replenish the nutrients that were lost. Consuming proteins post-workout is essential to rebuild and repair your muscles.

Some suggestions for post-workout fuel:

  • Homemade post-workout smoothie (with a high-quality protein source, and a good ratio of fruits and other ingredients like the combinations in this guide)
  • Low-fat chocolate milk
  • Plain greek yogurt with berries or other favorite fruits
  • Whole grain wrap with turkey (or egg) and veggies
  • Pita bread and hummus
  • Small bowl of rice and beans
  • A plant-based protein source with some whole grain carbs

Though it is important to consume more protein when you’re active, eating extra protein than your body needs does not help increase your muscle mass and strength. So, be cautious of consuming protein shakes or protein supplements; they are not necessary if you are consuming adequate amount of proteins from your diet. Not only can excess protein intake cause weight gain, but it could be harmful to your body, as it puts more stress on the kidneys to eliminate the waste products of protein metabolism. Also, there is no evidence that show protein supplements are superior to foods that contain high-quality proteins.

Food table

(image credit: Health Wealth)

Beware of the post-workout treat.

Some people feel hungry after their workouts and may be tempted to reward their hard work with a big meal or sweet treat. But be careful of what you’re eating after your physical activity, as the calories can add up. Also, individuals often overestimate the number of calories burned via exercise and end up consuming additional calories, which may end up promoting unwanted weight gain.4 For example, walking one mile might seem a lot to some people that have just started exercising, but it only burns around 100 calories. If you want to reward yourself after a challenging workout, get a manicure/pedicure or skincare treatment, watch a movie, or splurge on something nice for yourself. It is best to stick to having a nutrient-dense post-workout meal in an appropriate portion size. And if you were planning to eat a regular meal shortly (2-3 hours) after the completion of  your workout, just skip the post-workout meal or have a small snack instead.

How are you currently fueling your workout? Are there any changes you would like to make? Share with us in the comments below.

References:

  1. Timing your pre- and post-workout nutrition. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. http://www.eatright.org/resource/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/timing-your-nutrition
  2. Selecting and effectively using hydration for fitness. American College of Sports Medicine. https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/selecting-and-effectively-using-hydration-for-fitness.pdf
  3. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine: Nutrition and athletic performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. 2016;48:501 https://journals.lww.com/acsm-msse/Fulltext/2016/03000/Nutrition_and_Athletic_Performance.25.aspx
  4. 3 Basic Tips to Avoid Weight Gain with a New Exercise Regimen. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. https://www.eatright.org/fitness/exercise/exercise-nutrition/3-basic-tips-to-avoid-weight-gain-with-a-new-exercise-regimen

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

Squash That Couch Potato: 6 Simple Ways to Stay Young and Healthy

The Fountain of Youth may never have been found, but one of the secrets to staying young and healthy has long been discovered––regular physical activity! Along with following a nutrient-dense and varied diet, exercising consistently not only helps you maintain a healthy weight, but research has consistently shown that it reduces your risk of developing chronic diseases, slows down the aging process, and helps your brain function optimally.1 Yet, regular exercise is often neglected due to hectic lifestyles and long work days.

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(image credit: Center for Health Equity Research)

In a recent study, researchers examined the immune systems of middle-aged and elderly adults over the age of 55 who regularly exercised by cycling for the majority of their lives. They looked for markers of T cell production in the blood (T cells have a variety of roles in the immune system, such as killing foreign invaders). The researchers then compared the cyclists’ immune systems to similar aged, healthy people who were sedentary, and a group of young adult that didn’t exercise.

The surprising results showed that the levels of newly made T cells were about the same in the older cyclists group as those found in the young adults group, suggesting that regular exercise protects against a critical aspect of aging, the loss of immune system protection. Thus, being physically inactive––not merely aging––may lead to the deterioration of your immune function. The cyclists also didn’t lose muscle mass (a major concern as we get older), had healthy cholesterol levels, and didn’t gain as much body fat than their sedentary peers.

Senior Cycling

(image credit: Senior Cycling)

Engaging in physical activity is important for mental health as well as it has been shown to elevate mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve sleep, leading to better cognitive functioning.The parts of the brain that control thinking and memory appear to have greater volume in individuals that are physically active versus those that are not.

Regular physical activity can also reduce your risk of developing diseases and chronic conditions such as cardiovascular (heart) disease, stroke, diabetes, colon and breast cancers, and obesity. Exercising on a consistent basis over time can improve your cholesterol levels, lower your blood pressure, and lower your blood sugar level.

Lastly, incorporating strength-training activities also helps increase your muscle mass and strength, and slows down the loss of bone density that results as you get older. Elderly people are at a higher risk for falls and hip fractures, but adding balance and strength-training exercises to your daily workout routine can help anyone reduce their risk.

Heart Health

(image credit: MedExpressRx)

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults should do at least:

  • 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking, dancing, or bicycling, or
  • 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) per week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity such as running or bicycling uphill, and
  • strength-training exercises on 2 or more days each week3

With all these great health benefits, it is important for everyone to be active, regardless of age, health status, or size (but be sure to get your doctor’s OK before you engage in any new fitness regimens).

Consider the following:

  1. Move a lot and oftenEven if you lead a sedentary lifestyle due to having a desk job or if you travel regularly, find ways to include the following “NEAT” (non-exercise activity thermogenesis) activities as often as possible throughout your day:
    • Take the stairs instead of the elevators within buildings and public transit stations
    • Stand or walk when doing tasks if possible
    • Do stretching exercises at your desk during breaks
    • Walk outside to get lunch or take a short walk after meals
  2. Forget the treadmillNot everyone likes going to the gym or is able to join one, and that’s okay. There are many forms of cardiovascular exercise you can enjoy such as brisk walking/running in the park, dancing, swimming, or playing a sport. Even shopping at the mall, walking your dog, or doing household chores for a period of time counts!
  3. Take a classYoga, Zumba®, pilates, barre, hula hooping…the list of exercise classes that are available to join seems to be endless! Find one that piques your interest. Many places offer a free trial class for new students, so ask if you can check one out before committing. For New Yorkers, Shape Up NYC is a free, drop-in fitness program with many locations throughout the five boroughs that offers various fitness classes. Individuals living in other cities can research what might be available (for free or low-cost) at local community centers.
  4. Grab a buddyNot only can someone motivate you on the challenging days when you don’t feel like moving, but socializing and spending time with a friend, family member, or co-worker might make the actual exercising seem much more fun as well.
  5. Set goals and track your progress. Start small and work your way up. If you’re just starting out or have an erratic schedule, it might be best to spread out your exercises throughout the week, and slowly reduce the length of time spent being sedentary.  For example, try walking 3,000 steps every day for one whole week or running for 30 minutes once a week, then add a component of intensity, duration, or frequency the following week. Keep track of your progress…before you know it, you may need to set new goals!
  6. Have fun! Find a fitness routine that you enjoy doing and let it become a normal part of your life. It is much easier to stick to something you like than force yourself to do something you don’t.

What physical activity are you already doing regularly? What would you like to start doing? Share with us in the comments below and keep an eye out for our follow-up blog post where we will be discussing what to eat to fuel your workout and how to reap the most benefits out of your exercise routine.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Physical Activity and Health
  2. Godman, Heidi. Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills. Harvard Health Blog.
  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

 

Helen bio pic

Guest post by Helen Cheng, Dietetic Intern

Ding! Dong! Dieting Is Dead

The field of dietetics is either getting trickier or simpler by the minute, depending on how you look at it. The profession itself includes the word “diet,” but many Registered Dietitians are trying to promote overall health versus a focus on the number on a scale, taking into account the true definition of diet is merely the types of food that an individual regularly consumes and not meant to denote a restriction of calories.

Yes, there are benefits of managing one’s weight. During my schooling, we learned of certain increased risks for people with a high body mass index (BMI) and/or a specific waist-to-hip circumference; but, we also learned that every body is different and many people can be healthy at any size.

When meeting with clients looking to lose weight, the first thing I ask is, “Why?” Sometimes, it’s about body image, sometimes, it’s about managing a health condition where weight loss may benefit them; but, more often than not, it’s about establishing healthier eating and other lifestyle habits, like home-cooking or exercising or wanting to include vegetables in as many meals as possible. In my practice, when I work with clients like this, I always encourage them to continue eating whatever makes them happy and to also focus on foods that will give them the most nutrient-dense, health-supportive bang for their buck.

While some of my clients enjoy tracking food and calories to be sure they’re getting an overall variety of foods throughout the day and adhering to a specific daily caloric requirement (based on their height, weight, and physical activity level), they know there’s no pressure to be “perfect” in their eating habits. We discuss moving away from depriving themselves of foods they enjoy and stop using words like “good/bad” or “clean/dirty” regardless of what they’re eating. In fact, in a recent study, it was found that all foods serve a purpose, be it providing enjoyment, energy, or something in between.1 On a related note, we continue to gain more information of the relationships between certain foods and their health benefits, like dietary fats, which help migrate us into realizing that all foods really do fit.

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What a Registered Dietitian eats.

Unless there is a clinical condition where certain foods may exacerbate certain symptoms or do further harm (e.g., diabetes, kidney diseases), we should ease off restricting our diets; that is, the foods we eat regularly. If you find yourself in a rut or obsessing about being “perfect” in your eating habits or otherwise, or generally want to incorporate healthier habits in your lifestyle, I encourage you to work with a Registered Dietitian and other health provider or counselor, if needed, to help rearrange—not change—your habits in a way that supports your overall health and wellbeing.

Consider the following:

  • The scale is one of many numbers. Depending on fluid shifts (water retention after eating an overly salty meal, for example), body fat percentage, and muscle mass, that number you see in front of you can vary greatly day by day. There can be two people with the same weight whose overall body composition is much different from each other, so try not to be too influenced by your scale.
  • Focus on progress, not perfection. If you’re starting out learning new habits of any kind, be patient with yourself. Set small daily or weekly goals and celebrate the little victories to keep you motivated. The overall balance and variety of your habits have to be realistic for you in order to lead to long-term results.
  • Dig deep or learn to let go. What’s really motivating you? If that number on the scale elates or depresses you, find out why. Same thing with calorie counting. Specific numbers can sometimes feel restrictive whereas healthy behaviors can be liberating.

References:

  1. Linardon, J. & Mitchell, S. (2017). Rigid dietary control, flexible dietary control, and intuitive eating: Evidence for their differential relationship to disordered eating and body image concerns. Eating Behaviors, 26: 16–22.

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!

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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.

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.