Setting an Example: Eating Well

At some point all physicians give advice to their patients about dietary changes to improve health.  Let’s be honest.  We don’t do so well ourselves.  The “classic” fare of residency (donuts or muffins for breakfast, pizza for lunch, and some fast food on the way home) doesn’t really give you much credibility when you are talking to patients.

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No medical student or resident is going to be able to eat perfectly, exercise regularly, and do all the other things that lead to a healthier lifestyle.  But every little change you make now will pay off.  You’ll feel better and have more energy.  You’ll be less likely to gain weight.  And – you’ll be able to talk to patients  – with specific examples – about what they can do to improve their own health.

In the crazy busy life of medical school and residency, it’s hard, if not impossible, to spend time and energy to shop, cook and eat really well.  It doesn’t get much better once you start your practice.  What is possible, no matter how busy you are,  is to realize that there are some simple things you can do to improve what you are doing now.

My top 10 tips for better eating in medical school and residency

1.  Eat fruits or vegetables with every meal or snack.  This may mean buying a bag of apples once a week and just eating apples twice a day (boring but effective).  Even better, follow the “USDA plate” recommendation – ½ fruit and vegetable, 1/4 protein 1/4 grain/complex carb on every plate of food you eat.

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2. Eat breakfast.  If you are up too early to really eat, make a smoothie the night before to put on the blender when you wake up and take it with you in the car.  My personal favorite:  ½ cup plain Greek yogurt, ½-1 cup of fruit, ¼ cup egg whites (pasteurized, in a carton), 1-2 Tblsp honey.

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3.  Eat more eggs (especially egg whites).  Eggs have gotten a bad rap, but they are very cheap and very easy to cook.  Cook hard boiled eggs on the weekend to eat for breakfast or snacks during the week.  Make omelets or huevos ranchero for dinner.  Go ahead and spend a little more to get cage-free eggs to do the right thing.

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4. Don’t skip meals.  Even on the worst call day you can keep a meal replacement bar or two in your pocket.

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5.  Pack the food you need for call days the night before so it’s ready to go in the morning.

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6.  Chop up a bunch of veggies on the weekend to throw in salads, soups or in wraps.

7.  Cook or buy one good meal on the weekend that will last for part of the week.   A good stew or soup?  Lasagna?  Look for good recipes on the web.  If you really don’t want to cook, find a healthy caterer or restaurant to buy it instead.

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8.  Take a good sandwich to work for one or more meals.  Peanut butter on whole wheat may be monotonous, but a) it doesn’t have to be refrigerated and b) it beats McDonald’s.

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9.  Free pizza isn’t really free.  It’s incredibly high calorie and the ingredients in the cheap kind aren’t good for you.  (Same for take out Chinese, donuts, muffins, etc)

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10.  Skip the liquid calories.  Cokes may give you an energy boost, but you are better off with real calories from a piece of fruit, a sandwich and some coffee or tea.  (but learn how to use caffeine effectively)

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6 thoughts on “Setting an Example: Eating Well

  1. Great post! Good nutrition is key to wellness and stress management for residents as well as everyone. Myself a recent resident, I blogged about my tips to eat well while on call and working long hours (http://www.practicebalance.com/2012_04_01_archive.html). I especially love that you mention hard boiled eggs; they have been my go-to snack. Filling, perfect protein, good fats, cheap, easy and no worries about cholesterol… people need to let go if that myth!

    As a resident I was guilty of the “free lunch” mentality, but I totally agree that the long-term effects of eating junk – especially while already leading a stressful lifestyle – are not worth it. Thanks for addressing this important topic.

  2. I applaud any effort to make residency and fellowship healthier for those getting through–nice article! Great points on diet, but a few other points:
    –Eat PROTEIN with every meal and don’t worry about getting more than a serving or two of fruit. You can never eat too many vegetables. The protein will help stabilize blood sugar levels and hunger, which get a bit whacky in sleep deprived individuals.
    –Don’t worry about skipping the egg yolks. There is NO evidence that eating cholesterol raises your cholesterol; however a diet high in sugar in refined carbs will (plus these carbs will increase risk of insulin resistance). So will a diet with the “bad” fats, such as hydrogenated anything.

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