Back on the Horse (After Finishing My Course)

Several years ago, one of my physicians had a nurse who always smelled very strongly of cigarettes. Every time I saw her, I wondered how she could smoke when she worked in healthcare (yes, I know that many healthcare professionals smoke). She is well aware of the health consequences of smoking, right? And isn’t it part of her job to be a positive example of healthy living to her patients? 

A couple of weeks ago, I finally fulfilled my goal of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). This required nearly four years of online coursework, followed by an 8-month internship and a comprehensive exam. It was such an educational and fulfilling experience; however, I would not say it was the healthiest time in my life. 

Going to school full-time with three young kids is a lot of work. While I did my best to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the process of becoming credentialed, stress often got the best of me. As a result, I placed some of my habits on the back burner. Handful of chips to get me through a study sesh? Yes, please. Sacrificing sleep in pursuit of an A? You betcha. 

I found myself thinking again about my old nurse friend, and about how I could, to some extent, understand how she could partake in such an unhealthy behavior. Here I was, training to educate people about how to nourish their bodies in the most healthy way, sometimes engaging in behaviors that I would not recommend to my future clients.

Now that the dietetics school pressure valve has been released, I am looking forward to relaxing a bit and working on being my healthiest possible self (and raising my healthiest possible family, of course!). 

Here are my priorities for getting back on track: 

Cleaning my kitchen. 

 My cluttered kitchen counters. 

My cluttered kitchen counters. 

 

Do you ever overeat when you feel like aspects of your life are out of control? Recent research from Cornell University discussed the link between overeating and clutter. Researchers in the study compared snacking behavior among female participants who were offered crackers, cookies, and carrots in a messy, chaotic kitchen, compared to female participants who were offered the same snack foods in a tidy kitchen. In this study, participants in the cluttered, noisy kitchen ate 65 more calories from cookies than those in the calm eating environment. (1)

Sixty-five calories may seem insignificant; however, if a person ate 65 extra calories per day for one year, she could gain up to 6.8 pounds, depending on other factors like exercise! The researchers suggest that disorder and chaos create a sense that a person is not in control, and that some people tend to indulge more when they perceive that a situation is not within their control.

I admit that decluttering was not high on my priority list during my internship. My kitchen is always a little cluttered and very, very noisy, with three little ones running around. If cleaning it up a bit will help me to be a healthier eater, then that will be time well-spent. Plus, it will help with the second item on my to-do list... 

Planning and preparing. 

Pre-dietetics school, when I lost close to 40 pounds, one of my keys to success was to plan my meals. A 2011 study supports this, and indicates that planning meals in advance is a strong predictor of intake during the meal. (2) In other words, making decisions on the fly about what to eat and how much may come back to bite you in the you-know-what. 

Cleaning out the kitchen allows you to better know what ingredients you have available, so that you can begin building your meal plan. Here are some tips to get you started on meal planning. 

Measuring it out. 

As a nutrition practitioner, I am very familiar with the recommended portion sizes for a variety of foods. Theory and practice, however, are two very different things. If you put a massive bag of Cheetos in front of me, do you think I can eat just 21 of them? No way, dude. On the flip side, if I walk past the fridge and grab a small handful of baby carrots, does that count as one serving toward the recommended 5-9 servings a day? 

Research strongly supports portion control as a means of controlling weight. Measuring portions can also help ensure that you are getting enough of the right nutrients in your diet each day. 

Do you have to measure everything you eat every time you eat it? Not at all. But it is very helpful to measure your foods for a couple of weeks to see what a proper portion looks like, and to revisit this strategy every so often so that you stay on track. 

Unwinding.

Stress is such a doozy. In addition to making you feel terrible in general, it has the potential to seriously mess up your metabolism. Research suggests that stress increases cravings for sugar and fat (3), slows the metabolism (4), and increases insulin resistance (4). 

Now that I have more time and fewer responsibilities, I am working on dialing back the stress level by getting plenty of sleep, doing the workouts that I love (Crossfit, trail running, and rock climbing), and building in downtime away from the computer and phone. 

Focusing on progress, not perfection. 

There is an old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. As a perfectionist, I sometimes struggle to make changes in my life because I fear that I will not do it just right. I’ve come to realize there is no “just right” in healthy living, and that making a few small positive changes is far superior to doing nothing at all. 

Do you feel like you need to become healthier but don’t know where to start? Just set one achievable goal. Decide to exercise for 30 minutes a day, or to eat 5 servings of vegetables, and stick with it. You will be better for it, and your success in making that change will empower you to make other healthy choices. 

What about you? What do you do when you feel like you’ve gotten off track? 

Sources: 

1. Vartanian LR, Kernan KM, Wansink B. Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments.Clutter, Chaos, and Overconsumption: The Role of Mind-Set in Stressful and Chaotic Food Environments. 2016. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2711870. Accessed June 20, 2016.

2. Fay SH, Ferriday D, Hinton EC, Shakeshaft NG, Rogers PJ, Brunstrom JM. What determines real-world meal size? Evidence for pre-meal planning.Appetite. 2011;56(2):284-289. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2011.01.006.

3. Harvard Medical School. Why stress causes people to overeat - Harvard Health. Harvard Health Publications. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/why-stress-causes-people-to-overeat. Published February 2012. Accessed June 27, 2016.

4. Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Habash DL, Fagundes CP, et al. Daily Stressors, Past Depression, and Metabolic Responses to High-Fat Meals: A Novel Path to Obesity. Biological Psychiatry. 2015;77(7):653-660. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2014.05.018.