Top 5 Healthy Springtime Tips

Even though spring has barely sprung outside, the spring semester is coming to an end. Tomorrow is my last day of class for the semester! Thankfully I don’t have any final exams, just one presentation on Wednesday and then I will no longer say that I am in school and working at the hospital at the same time. Now I’m taking a week of rest and relaxation until I hit the books again to start studying for my RD board exams (it makes me nervous just thinking about it!).

Since we are well into spring, I thought I would just share some of my 5 favorite things to do in the spring to stay healthy and happy!

1. Go outside! I know the cold weather is still lingering (especially up here in Cleveland), but getting fresh air and sunlight has been found to increase energy, decrease stress, improve digestion, and give your immune system a boost. Going for a walk is a great way to try to hit your 10,000 steps for the day and soak up some vitamin D.
2. Clean! Throwing out all the unnecessary stuff in your house/apartment/room has some surprising benefits. Living in a clean and uncluttered space decreases stress levels and makes you more productive. Not to mention, people who live in clean spaces are more likely to eat healthy, and cleaning can be a bit of a workout 😉
3. Check out a farmers market! The growing season is in full swing and farmers markets are the perfect for stocking up on produce. They are a great way to try out a new fruit or vegetable, see what is in season, and support local farmers. Plus you get the great to know exactly where your food came from and how it was grown.
4. Socialize! The longer days and rooftop restaurants & bars are the perfect excuse to spend time with friends and family. Spending time talking with other people can boost mental health and reduce your risk for dementia.
5. This is a big one…get ready…Put your phone down! It is so easy to get caught up in the virtual world of work and social media that it can be hard to disconnect (I’m guilty of it too), but try to unplug for at least an hour every day. Maybe put your phone in airplane mode an hour before bed, don’t check email or social media for at least an hour after you wake up, or leave your phone at home while you do my first four tips. It will help you be less distracted, more productive, more present, and you might even talk to someone and make a new friend.

Happy spring!

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It Isn’t Only About Calories

What is the first thing you think about when it comes to health or weight loss? I am pretty sure I can guess that it is either diet or exercise. Did I guess correctly?

While diet and exercise both play very critical roles in health and body weight, there are many other things that people tend to forget about. Yep, it more than just calories in versus calories out than can impact how you feel or how much you weigh.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Sleep –Not only can lack of sleep leave you with brain fog and feeling tired, it can also make it difficult to lose weight. Here’s why: lack of sleep increases a hormone in your body called ghrelin- your hunger hormones that tells your brain it is time to eat. Therefore, lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories and have more cravings. Also, just like a lack of sleep makes your brain feel tired, it makes your metabolism feel tired too. That means your body doesn’t function as efficiently and you aren’t burning calories the same way as you would if you were well rested. Not to mention, it is difficult to get in a good workout in when you’re tired.
  2. Stress – When you are stressed, your body goes into the “fight or flight” response (also called “survival mode”). Just like the name, your body is doing everything it can to survive; your cortisol (stress hormone) levels increase and your body stops using your fat stores for energy. Why? Because your body thinks it needs to hold on to and use all of its energy to deal with the stress. Think about it…in evolutionary history, stress use to mean running from a dangerous situation, which does in fact require lots of energy, but now our stressors (like work and school) don’t require the same amount of energy as running from animals does. High stress and cortisol levels also cause you to crave energy dense/high calorie foods because, again, your body thinks it needs lots of energy to handle the stressor.
  3. Inflammation – Inflammation is a natural way the body protects and heals itself, but excess inflammation can cause weight gain and increased risk for chronic disease. Sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat are all pro-inflammatory foods (aka the bad guys), and more and more studies are showing dairy, artificial sweeteners, chemical food additives, and white flour are also culprits of inflammation. This means that even if you are only eating 800 calories per day worth of these foods, you are unlikely to lose weight (and you might also find yourself with headaches, fatigue, joint pain, and increased risk for heart disease and cancer).

While I am the nutrition guru and wish that all problems could be solved with nutrition, it is important to remember that there are other factors that control our weight and overall health. Try getting an extra hour or two of sleep, doing some relaxing activities (like yoga, reading, listening to some music, or taking a walk outdoors), and cutting out some of the pro-inflammatory foods and see how you feel. You might be surprised by the results after just one week!

My Experience on Whole30

Don’t mind me just sitting over here indulging in a big bowl of ice cream.

The cycle of restricting foods (and dieting) and then binging on “unhealthy” or “forbidden” foods has never been as clear to me as it is right now. That’s because I just completed day 30 (the last day) of the Whole30 diet.

After my experiment as a vegetarian for a month, I thought I would try out another diet. The lucky winner- Whole30. Whole30 is a diet designed to “end unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system”. Sounds great until you hear what is involved. On Whole30 you aren’t allowed ANY grains, legumes, sugar, sweetener (including things like honey), dairy, soy, or alcohol. What does that leave you ask? I have pretty much spent the last month eating only meat, fish, eggs, fruits, and vegetables. It got real boring, real fast to say the least.

If you catch my drift, it was not an enjoyable experience. If you have read many of my previous posts or know me well, you know that I am not one to cut any foods out of my diet – you name it, I’ll probably eat it (yes, even as a nutrition student and future dietitian I eat (and love) chocolate, ice cream, buttered popcorn, and even a loose with chili cheese fries from Detroit’s Lafayette Coney Island), so having to cut so many things out of my diet was a challenge.

In theory, sticking to a diet made up of whole foods is great, but not allowing any wiggle room leads to overeating all of the “forbidden foods” later on (aka the big bowl of ice cream I am having). Cutting out foods can create an unhealthy relationship with food, it is restrictive, not sustainable, and most of all, it isn’t fun.

So, how was Whole30?

Like I said before, it is really boring because there wasn’t a lot of variety. It was also very difficult to go to restaurants or gatherings with food since there were so many things that were off limits.

Do I feel better?

Honestly, I don’t feel any different – aside from the fact that all I want to do is eat dessert, bread, and a big chipotle burrito bowl. But also remember, my diet was pretty rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins before. It wasn’t like I was starting out eating McDonald’s on the daily.

Would I recommend Whole30?

That would be a big fat NO! I see no reason why you have to cut out things like whole grain bread that is packed with fiber, beans that are a good source of plant based protein, and dairy products that are full of calcium and protein. I actually think you end up in an even worse situation after Whole30. Think about the restricting and binging cycle I mentioned — after 30 days of restricting, all you want to do is overeat/binge on the foods you avoided for a month. (It has even been difficult for me, someone who is very aware of these restrict and binge patterns, to resist eating an entire pint of ice cream and a loaf of bread right now.)

On the other hand, I do think the emphasis of fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is great! Everyone could benefit from eating a few more of these and a few less sugary and starchy foods (since they make up the majority of a standard American diet). Note that I said “a few less”, not “eliminate” the sugary and starchy foods. There is no reason why pizza and chocolate can’t make there way into a healthy, balanced diet.

I think this pretty much sums up my thoughts on Whole30. Have you done Whole30? If so, what are your thoughts?

Coconut Oil

This week’s topic brought to you from the family dinner table last weekend.

It seems like coconut oil is everyone’s favorite oil right now. It is encouraged by the recently popular clean eating, paleo, and ketogenic diets. Why is it so popular? There may be some great health benefits of coconut oil, but there are still some fuzzy areas that need more research. When asked, most coconut oil users can’t tell you why they use it or why they think it is healthy, so I thought I would share some insight.

Cholesterol

There are two main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Saturated fat is considered the bad kind of fat which increases our LDL (bad) cholesterol. Unsaturated fat is known as the good or healthy kind of fat, which can decrease LDL cholesterol. Both saturated and unsaturated fats can boost your HDL (good) cholesterol a tiny bit, too.

Coconut oil is 90% saturated fat (which is more than the 65% saturated fat in butter!). Therefore, coconut oil, just like other saturated fats, increase that bad LDL cholesterol (not good!). However, coconut oil is unique in that it seems to give your HDL a little extra boost compared to all other fats.

This is where it gets confusing. Right now, when you go to the doctor, they test your blood for the amount of LDL particles and the amount of HDL particles in your blood, but they don’t look at the size of those particles. There has been some new research showing that the size of these cholesterol particles might be a more accurate measure of heart disease risk rather than the number of particles.

Here is where coconut oil comes in…while coconut oil increases the number of LDL particles (just like other saturated fats), it might increase the size of these particles, which could mean good news for your heart disease risk (the bigger the better!). But remember, this is still new research and we don’t consider this 100% fact yet.

MCTs

Then there are the infamous MCTs (medium chain triglycerides) that coconut oil is known for. MCTs don’t need to be digested the same way as other fats and are a readily available energy source for your cells. For this reason, they have historically been used as a therapeutic agent in people with fat malabsorption, cystic fibrosis, and epilepsy.

Most fat digestion requires the fats you eat to be transported to the liver via triglycerides in order to be used, but because MCTs don’t go through the normal digestion process, there are some studies showing they can decrease triglycerides and aid in weight loss. MCTs also have some anti-inflammatory properties, which is also good news from a health perspective.

Conclusions

While all of this sound great, I would still be a little skeptical. Much of this is just preliminary research, there are few research studies, and the results are inconclusive. So while coconut oil is fine every now and again, choosing oils high in unsaturated fats, like olive, sunflower, and avocado oils, are definitely the best choice as far as we know.

Cruising to the Finish Line

Happy April! I guess it has been quite a while since I wrote my last official update on my Dietetic Internship in December. It seems like every day goes by so slowly but suddenly I only have 4 weeks left of this semester of school and 15 weeks lefts of my Internship.

Since December I have had my bariatric rotation, renal (kidney) rotation in a dialysis unit, critical care rotations in the Medical, Surgical, Trauma, and Neuro Intensive Care Units, and now I am in my pediatric rotations. I definitely enjoyed critical care more than I thought I would and more than I enjoyed my general medical/surgical rotations earlier in the year. It was a lot less talking to patients (mostly because they were sedated and on a ventilator), and a lot more tube feeding and TPN (IV nutrition) calculations.

I originally started my Internship thinking I would want to work in pediatrics, but by the time I started peds I knew it probably wasn’t where I really wanted to end up. The past three weeks in my general pediatrics were definitely a nice change of pace getting to see kids, but it is also a whole new world. I feel like I am back at square one trying to learn all the different infant formulas. My next three weeks are in the Neonatal and Pediatric Intensive Care Units, which I think I am going to like a lot more than general pediatrics since I liked the adult ICUs.

Between all of my clinical rotations, we also had a ton of activities in March for National Nutrition Month. We had one full week dedicated to doing things in the community, including playing fruit and vegetable games with kids at a Head Start preschool, teaching a nutrition health class at a high school, participating in a high school health fair, and doing a food demo for hospital employees. Our biggest event was the National Nutrition Month Celebration Day in the atrium cafeteria at the hospital. Each intern, including myself, put together a big presentation board, an activity, and several handouts about a specific nutrition topic.img_1214.jpg My topic was plant-based diets (don’t worry, I’m not saying you should become a vegetarian or vegan). I discussed the importance of limiting meat consumption and encouraged more beans, vegetables, and whole grains. Not only are there lots of health benefits of plant based foods, you also get more variety of nutrients by switching things up. (I have included my plant based grocery list and plant based protein source handouts here, too!)

Plant Based Grocery List

Plant Based Protein Sources

From all of these community events I realized that I take for granted how much I know about nutrition. Because nutrition is the world I have been living in for the past 5 years, I sometimes forget what the average person knows. Some of the questions I got during the week really reminded me that people don’t know enough about nutrition and I have a lot of valuable knowledge to share.

I also had a big presentation for all of the hospital dietitians in March, which was probably the most nerve-racking experience ever. So, now that March/National Nutrition Month is over, I feel like I am just cruising to the finish line. I have a few big papers do before the end of April for school, one more big presentation at the hospital, and only three more major rotations until my Internship is over!

And for the final (and most exciting) update, I recently found out I won a scholarship for an educational international travel experience once I graduate in December! The location of my trip has not been confirmed, but I will keep you posted when I decide.

I guess I need to do these updates more often so they aren’t so long. Until next week, Happy Easter and Happy Passover from this RD2Be!

When you are stuck in a rut…

When I was planning my blog post for the week, I had in my head that I was going to do a Dietetic Internship update and talk about all of my exciting National Nutrition Month activities from this month. I’ll definitely do a post on this but it is going to sit on the back burner until next week.

As I have shared here on my blog several times, I have a lot on my plate working as a Dietetic Intern and going to graduate school. Between work, school, assignments, papers, and everything in between, it feels like this semester has sucked the lift out of me. I felt like my mantra was “work, sleep, homework, repeat”. I wasn’t feeling like myself and I even skipped out on going to the gym for two full weeks (which is 100% not like me- exercise is my stress reliever and boost of energy)

This lack of motivation and “blah” feeling really hit me a few weeks ago. I had to get back to my workouts to relieve some stress and give me a jolt of energy. Clearly my typical routine of going to the same gym everyday after work and doing my Kayla Itsines BBG circuit training wasn’t working so I decided to try something new.

In the past, I have found group fitness classes are much more motivating than working out alone. The energy of all the people around me always motivates me so I thought this would be a good place to start. I frequent yoga and spinning classes, but in order to pull me out of my rut I had to jump outside my comfort zone. The solution: find every fitness studio in Cleveland that offers a free first time class and give it a shot.

…And that is exactly what I have been doing. In the last week I went boxing for the first time (something I never thought I would do) and tried out a climbing class on a versa-climber (which, holy s***, was the hardest 30 minutes ever!). Since the weather has been a little bit nicer this week (ie. The sun made a few appearances), I have also been able to go for a few runs outside. Boy, does fresh air do wonders for your mood and energy.

To be completely honest, the last week has been amazing. I feel like a new person, I have so much more energy, my friends can’t get me to shut up about my new favorite workout classes, and I also happened to get some exciting news this week (tune in to next week’s post to find out!).

What is the point of all this and why should you care about my rut?

Well, because I think I can confidently say that everyone falls into a rut at some point. We are all busy with dozens of responsibilities being pulled in dozens of directions that sometimes cause us to get burnt out and lose motivation. Maybe you lose motivation to workout (like me), but maybe it is your schoolwork, job, or something else.

If you get stuck in a rut, don’t just sit down there. Figure out how to pull yourself out. There is no way that we can all be motivated all the time. Einstein famously said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”. If what you are doing now isn’t working then try something new…something that excites you or makes you feel good. Even just stepping outside for 30 minutes a day to get some fresh air can completely change your mood. It might not be easy to step outside your “normal” but it can definitely be worth it!

Healthy and Fast Meals with (almost) No Cooking Required

I’m not going to lie, I have slacked off a little (or a lot!) when it comes to cooking this year. Between school, work, trying new workout classes ;), and trying to get a decent amount of sleep, cooking just hasn’t been a priority. But don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean I’m having frozen meals or fast food – it just means my meals are a little more simple and don’t take much time to make.

Whether you are a student like me, a working professional, home taking care of kiddos, or have other responsibilities, time is always the number 1 excuse for not eating healthy, so today I thought I would share my tips and tricks for fast and easy, healthy meals.

1. Cook ahead of time – I typically only turn on my oven and stove one or two times a week. I’ll make some chicken, roast some veggies, brown some ground turkey, and cook some rice or quinoa. From start to finish, it usually takes me no more than an hour. I keep everything in separate containers in the fridge so it’s ready when I get home from a long day at work.

2. Build a meal – Now that you have all the food is cooked and ready to be eaten, all you have to do is put it together. Think of it like an assembly line…add some rice, chicken, broccoli, and sauce to a bowl, pop it in the microwave and voila, dinner is served.

3. Oh, wait – there is no step three 😉 It is so easy there are only two steps! See, no excuses!!

Here is a little cheat sheet for building a healthy meal:

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  • Tricks if you are really short on time:
    Choose canned tuna, buy a pre-baked chicken, or try canned beans which don’t require cooking for your protein sources
  • Use frozen veggies that you can steam in the microwave – no baking or chopping required.

Now that you have the “recipe” to build your own healthy meal, I thought I would share some of my favorites. Some might sound strange, but I promise they are tasty! Also, lots are vegetarian since I was experimenting with being a vegetarian for a month.

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No excuses now! What are your favorite meals to build?