Eating Well at Work

It’s hard for those that haven’t been there to understand how medical school, residency and/or long hours in the hospital changes what and how we eat.  There isn’t time to sit down to eat, there aren’t good choices and often, the only thing to eat is the “free” food at conferences.  But…. Free food isn’t free. There’s a reason it’s cheap (poor ingredients) and that it “tastes good” (lots of fat, sugar and salt)… but it makes us feel terrible after we eat it.  (Beware the middle of the night french fries!) More importantly, we aren’t providing the nutrients we need to take care of other people and ourselves.  So, what’s the answer?

Spend the money and the time to invest in your health! Grabbing donuts or bagels in the surgeons’ lounge in the morning, pizza at noon-day conference and a hamburger at MacDonald’s in the middle of the night is terrible. (You know it’s true).

 

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So what’s the alternative? Here’s a five-step, easy plan that will let you eat better, feel better and avoid gaining weight in medical school and residency.  This is predicated on cooking your own food but you can use this plan if you don’t cook by buying prepackaged foods.  But really…. If you can learn how to take out a gallbladder or care for ill patients in the ICU don’t you think you can learn how to sauté a few vegetables???

 

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  1. Make a plan
  2. Make a shopping list
  3. Shop once for the week and (when you can) prep ahead
  4. Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days
  5. Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry

 

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Make a plan

Map out your week’s meals and snacks using the “pizza rule” (nothing you cook should take longer to cook than it takes to order a pizza). Pay special attention to call days. It’s important to have really delicious food which can be grabbed in a minute when you are on call. I use Evernote to make my list for the week so I can share it with my family:

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If you like to cook, you probably already know where to find recipes you’ll like. If you don’t cook regularly, I post recipes on @drmlb with #CallFood that meet the “pizza rule” and would be delicious on call. Here are few other sites I use regularly: Eating Well, Cooking LIght, My Recipes, Food Network, Kayln’s Kitchen, Skinny Taste. If you use Evernote to organize your list, it gives you one other advantage – you can download their add-on and clip recipes from the internet directly to Evernote. Each “note” (i.e. recipe) in Evernote can then be shared with whoever you cook with (i.e. whoever gets home first can start dinner!). It also lets you search all your notes so you can easily find your recipes in the future.

 

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Make a shopping list

I use Grocery IQ for my shopping list. This app lets you organize your grocery list by the aisles in your favorite stores to make shopping faster. It also allows you to share the list with your significant other which means that whoever is able to get to the store first has the updated shopping list!   I don’t really use the “coupon” feature or the barcode scanner, but if you choose to use these functions, please use the FoodEducate app with it to make sure your choices are healthy!

There are other apps for shopping which come recommended by others which, to be fair, I thought I should share: Any List, Pantry Manager, Paprika

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Shop once and (when you can) prep ahead

Planning lets you spend less time in the grocery store and absolutely means less food wasted. When you get home from the store think about the meals you are going to cook later in the week. If your carrot soup on Tuesday calls for sliced carrots, diced fennel and chopped onions, chop them when you get back from the store on Sunday and put your “mise en place” in baggies or containers in the refrigerator. Cooking is not that time consuming…. but prepping is!

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One other good trick is to make “mirepoix” on the weekend for the week. Diced onions, carrots, celery, bell peppers, etc can be prepped and put in a bag. It can be an instant stir-fry on nights when you need something fast.  You can also put a handful in soups, omelettes, or wraps to get extra vegetables in your day. Mix it with leftover rice or other grains to make an instant salad (you can add tuna, if you want, too).

 

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Use your day(s) off to cook things that might take a bit more time and freeze some for other days.

You need good “comfort food” when you are working hard, but it can be both comforting and healthy. For example, this recipe for spaghetti squash lasagna. The preparation for this recipe isn’t that hard (you can steam the spaghetti squash in the microwave instead of roasting it in the oven, for example) but it’s a little too long for nights when you get home late and are really tired.

Learning to use a pressure cooker (my favorite) or a slow cooker like a crock pot is a great way to cook up a batch of something when you are home and doing other things without spending a large amount of time in the kitchen

No matter what you make or how you make it, make enough to freeze individual portions and then store them so they will stay fresh. Don’t forget to mark the containers with a Sharpie and eat them within 3-4 months!

 

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Keep a few “instant” healthy meals in your pantry

Despite my best efforts to plan, there are weeks when I’ve miscalculated amounts, don’t have enough time or just don’t want to eat what I had planned. When that happens, it’s great to have a go-to “instant” meal, which usually comes out of the freezer and pantry. Here are some to get your list started!

Moroccan Lentil Stew – (particulary good with harissa and served over couscous)

Quick meals from frozen ravioli

Shrimp fried rice

 

food be your medicine

It’s the First Day of Medical School – What Should I Do?

I’ve written before about what to do before medical school starts, how to study in medical school and strategies for succeeding in the basic sciences. But how do you put this information about organizing your studying and your day into a system that works?   Everyone will have variations on how they do this, but there are some fundamental principles that apply to all.

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Don’t get behind

From day one, the material matters and, from day one, it is voluminous. If you get behind, it’s really hard to catch up.

Study, don’t just read and reread.

You have to actively engage this material and review it (multiple times) to really learn it. You are no longer studying for a test, you are studying to take care of other people. The SQ3R method is used by many students, but there are other systems as well. What is important is to develop a system that works for you.  One tool used by many students is Anki, software that allows you to create electronic flashcards to review key points.

Tips on active studying from UCSD

Tips on active studying from the University of Utah

 Use going to class as time to “study”

One of the important components to active learning is to review the lecture material before it is presented.  This is the opposite of what most of you experienced in college, but it’s key.   Survey the handouts or slides and make a list of the important points to be covered. Stay actively engaged.

p.s. You can’t learn medicine if you are on Facebook in class.

Create a summary page for each lecture

Include the big concepts, and key points. Include specifics that are stressed by the professor, but avoid listing all the details. You may choose to hand write this, but most of you will come up with an electronic format and will organize the class notes, and your summaries using One Note, Growly or an equivalent software. Although your personal notes are fine on the cloud, don’t put copyrighted material or your professor’s slides where other people can see them (it’s illegal).

Begin with the end in mind

In the long term, what you are learning (yes, all of it) will be applied to taking care of patients. In the slightly less long term, you will be tested on this information on the USMLE Step 1, a high stake exam and the first part of your medical license.   Although some dedicated time to study for Step 1 is important, having a system to really learn the material in your basic science courses is by far the best way to do well on this exam.

Don’t sacrifice sleep.

If you don’t sleep you don’t learn as well. Organize your schedule so you get at least 7, but preferably 8 hours of sleep every night.

Eat well, play hard and stay connected.

Clay Goodman,MD the Associate Dean of UME at Baylor, tells our first year class that the first year of medical school is a 60 hr/week job. They need to get up in the morning and “go to work”, using the afternoon and evening to study. He then points out that if they work 60 hours and sleep 56 hours (8 hours a night) they still have 52 hours to work out, spend time with family and friends and do whatever else they want.

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So, what should you do the first day of medical school?

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Here’s what your schedule might look like…

The night before – pack your breakfast for the morning break and lunch for the next day. Review any posted slides – survey them to understand the “big picture” and use them to start your summary of the lecture. Write down what you don’t understand from the slides (yes, at this stage it may be every line… but that will get better!).

7am – wake up (If you prefer morning workouts, you can get up earlier and workout before class)

7:30 Grab a piece of fruit or a smoothie if you don’t like to eat an early breakfast. (If you are ok with it, eat the full breakfast now, but whatever you do, don’t skip breakfast)

8-12 Attend class – Stay engaged. Take notes, make sure the questions you asked yourself in the review are answered, raise your hand and ask questions if they weren’t. Eat your breakfast or a snack at the 10 am break.

12-1 – Lunch with your classmates. Play foosball, talk, or just eat, but take a real break.

1-5 Study. One hour of studying for each hour of class is about right for most people.   This may need to go until 6 or 7 if you have afternoon labs.

7 – Workout and then make and eat dinner. Working out is an important part of self-care. Exercise is essential to decrease stress and also will help you avoid the “freshmen 10”. Your dinner should be healthy, not processed, and definitively not Ramen noodles. Make sure you have fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

9-10 Look over tomorrow’s lectures and start your summary pages for those lectures. Once you are a week or two into this, you’ll be adding in reviews of material from previous weeks on a schedule.

10-11 Read a novel, watch TV, decompress.

11 Go to sleep!

You are starting on one of the most amazing journeys any human being can have… enjoy it! Don’t forget to keep a journal and take photos (but not of patients). The first time you actually interview a patient, put on your white coat, hear a heart murmur or take a test in medical school are just that … the first time. Write about the experience.

Let me know in the comments what other advice you have for the students starting medical school this summer!

 

 

Eating on the Run

“Downside, I skipped lunch and it is still in the work fridge. Upside, I don’t have to pack a lunch tomorrow!” – tweet from a new intern on her first day of work

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July 1st has arrived and a new group of interns are learning that’s it’s hard to eat well when you are crazy busy taking care of patients. Doctors really do know about nutrition, and we know we should set a good example. So why do we eat so poorly at work?  I can’t do better than the list of reasons from this post:

1.  The ”I don’t know when I’ll get to eat again” Phenomenon

2.  The “Graham Crackers and Peanut Butter” Phenomenon

3.  The “It’s free, therefore I must eat it” Phenomenon.

4.  The “I’m so tired I have to eat something to stay awake” Phenomenon

5.  The “I’m on call so I deserve a giant cookie” Phenomenon

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Why it’s important to make conscious choices about what you eat at work 

1. You actually hurt your patients if you don’t eat well. 

Physicians that don’t eat at work have slower simple and complex reaction times. You don’t think as clearly or respond as quickly. Start thinking about your own nutrition as a part of good patient care.

 2. If you are like most people, not eating at work will result in gaining weight.  

Even if you don’t gain weight, you will likely have a detrimental change in your body composition. (i.e. you’ll get flabby)

3. Not eating at work will result in losing weight for some people. 

For some people stress leads to appetite loss.  These are the residents that aren’t hungry even though they are not eating enough. The message here is that your weight during residency is a decent barometer of your stress level and how well you are coping.  If you are losing or gaining, notice it early and adjust how you are eating, working out and coping with the stress of your job.

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There’s no question that the best option is to plan, prepare and bring your own food to work.  Even though it takes time to do this, you’ll save time in the hospital by knowing what you have and where it is.  (A good point made in the article “Strategies Resident-Physicians Use to Manage Sleep Loss and Fatigue” which you can download from http://med-ed-online.net/index.php/meo/article/download/4376/4558). Food choices in the hospital are limited, often poor,  and not always available. Make time on the weekends to plan for the upcoming week and shop for good food.  If you can, choose one healthy recipe to cook on your day off and make enough that you have plenty of meals in the refrigerator for when you get home.

General principles 

  • Eat at least every 6 hours.  It’s probably better if you eat smaller amounts every 3-4 hours.  Eat even if you are “not hungry” if it’s been 4-6 hours since your last meal.
  • Make sure you are getting plenty of protein.  Eating simple carbohydrates makes you less alert and creates bigger swings of insulin levels.
  • Don’t drink your calories.  (But do drink enough water)
  • The processed comfort foods that appear like magic in hospitals (doughnuts, pizza, etc) seem delicious when you eat them, but are terrible for you.
  • Plan, plan, plan.  It’s worth it.
  • Eat fruits and/or vegetables with every meal.
  • Bring good food from home.  If you don’t cook, buy good food to bring.
  • Make sure you have “pocket food” in your pocket at all times.  (Food that fits in your pocket and doesn’t need refrigeration.) You may not be able to stop for a real meal, but you’ll be able to eat something.

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Examples of  “pocket foods”

  • Kind bars.  Many meal replacement bars might as well be candy bars when you look at the ingredients.  Clif, Larabar, and Odwalla are all good choices.  Kind bars have no added sugar, a fair amount of protein and are made of only real food.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  (Whole wheat bread, fruit spread, peanut butter without transfats)
  • Cabot 50% cheese or string cheese (higher protein, lower fat than most cheese)
  • Edamame (shelled is easier)
  • Homemade Trail mix – mix different nuts and dried fruits together and put in snack bags
  • Baked or steamed sweet potatoes with a little salt
  • Fruit

Healthy, Fast, Easy (and delicious) Recipes: CookingLight.com

It’s not easy to eat well as a medical student, resident or busy physician.  Besides setting a good example, eating well is important to feel well when working hard. .. not to mention it really pays off in the long run.  You don’t have to spend hours in the kitchen to eat well at work but you do have to cook (some) and plan (always).

One of my favorite sites to find healthy, easy, delicious recipes is cookinglight.com.  They have sections like  Superfast Stir-Fries and Sautés and Quick and Healthy Recipes which are fantastic for busy clinicians.  If you aren’t a cook, they also have a section called Cooking 101 where you can learn basic techniques.  Before you say you “can’t cook” remember – If you can learn anatomy, you can learn to cook!

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Coconut Curried Pork, Snow Pea, and Mango Stir-Fry

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Healthy, homemade steak house pizza

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Chickpea Bajane

Starting Internship (I know what you are worried about)

I sat at the table this week with our new interns and the outgoing chief residents. Listening to our new interns as they asked questions, I realized everyone starting their internship has the same fears, whether or not they express them:  Will I kill or hurt someone?  Will I look stupid?  What if they find out I’m not as smart as everyone else?  Will I get divorced/separated/alienated from my friends?  Will I gain weight?  How am I going to find time to take care of myself?

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What you are feeling is normal. Every doctor who ever started an internship felt exactly the same way.  The best way to manage your (healthy) fear is to have a strategy.   I’ve written in the past about how to succeed as an intern.  But if I were going to condense that advice into three easy rules (for every day except your day off)  it would be these:

1.    Read at least one section from a textbook in your field every day

2.    Learn something (in detail) from at least one patient every day

3.    Do something to take care of yourself every day

Read at least one section from a textbook in your field every day.

Your goal for the year should be to read a major textbook in your field cover to cover.  You don’t have to buy the physical book.  It’s fine if it’s on line or downloaded onto your iPad.

Once you have the book, make a list or spreadsheet of all the sections in all the chapters.  For most textbooks, it’s probably going to be a list somewhere between 150 and 200 topics.  When you look at the 48-50 weeks you will be working this year, it works out to basically a topic a day (with some days for review).

The real goal is not just to read these topics, but to really learn them.  So, when you read, don’t just skim.  Read to learn.  That means taking notes – and reviewing them.

Put a chart on the wall with the list and give yourself a gold star when you finish a topic if you have to, but find a way to make sure you cover all the topics (at a steady pace) during the year.

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Learn something (in detail) from at least one patient every day.

It’s really easy, as an intern, to get caught up in the work and forget that you are fundamentally here to learn – not to provide service.  Make it a daily habit to learn in detail about one patient in your care.  It will overlap nicely with your goal to read a complete textbook.  When you admit a patient with pneumonia, read the section (and make notes) on pneumonia and then check it off your list.

One other important point (that none of us like to hear) – You will make mistakes. Be humble, be honest, and learn from your mistakes. The mistakes you make (and maybe more importantly your “near misses”) are absolutely your most valuable teacher.  When you do make a mistake, use it as the topic you will review for the day. You are going to be really upset but be easy on yourself.  Being upset is the mark of someone who cares, but don’t let it escalate beyond a healthy response. Talk to your mentors and senior residents.  They’ve been there.

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Do at least one thing to take care of yourself every day.

This may sound trivial, but it’s not. If you can, try to eat well, get some exercise and be social every day.  At a minimum, though, pick one specific thing you are going to do for yourself and then do it.

Eat well

Get Some Exercise

Be social

Motivation to Exercise

For several weeks my schedule has gotten the best of me and all efforts at working out have fallen by the wayside.  So, I decided to think about fitness, motivation and the “MED” (minimum exercise dose) to maintain fitness.  Here’s what I came up with:

1. Consistency, not quantity is essential.

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2. Planning helps.

 

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3. Having a goal works better than not having a goal.

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4. At some point you just have to decide it’s important.

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Fast Easy Exercise: The Daily Fitness Solution

I went in search of an exercise equivalent for “fast easy recipes” and came up with a good find.   The Daily Fitness Solution provides 20 minute workouts that don’t require a gym or equipment.  It’s written by Reinhard Engels, who works in bioinformatics visualization at MIT.  So, as you might expect, his program is logical, simple and without hype.

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The workout program is more than reasonable, with rest days built in (which could be swapped with a workout day if you are on call)  No matter how busy you are, you can probably find 20 minutes!

I also liked his approach to weight loss – the  The No “S” diet:

The No S Diet, also known as the “Grandma Diet,” the “Why Didn’t I Think of that Diet,” and the “No $ Diet” is a program of systematic moderation I invented for myself that I imagine might work for similarly minded people.

No funny science or calorie accounting involved, just a few simple and mnemonic tricks for giving your willpower the upper hand.

There are just three rules and one exception:

  • No Snacks
  • No Sweets
  • No Seconds

Except (sometimes) on days that start with “S”

That’s it.

How could something this simple possibly work? Precisely because it’s simple — or rather, following the Einsteinian dictum, “as simple as possible, but not simpler.”

What To Do This Summer

This week approximately 16,000 US medical students are going to receive their diplomas and become physicians. There are also about 16,000 college graduates who will start medical school later this summer or early in the fall.  Congratulations to you all!

Nearly all of you have a well-deserved month (or two)  to rest and get ready for the next step in your training.  So, I thought it might be helpful to pass on a few words of advice on how to spend your time this summer.

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Do NOT study!

  • If you are starting your residency and you think it might help relieve your (normal) anxiety, here is what to do:  Buy one of the major textbooks and use it to get excited about what you are going to learn.   If you want to, plan how you are going to study for the year.   Skim the book if you really have to do something to feel less anxious, but don’t spend hours studying.
  • If you are getting ready to start medical school – step away from the books!  Seriously, there is nothing you can do that will make it any easier, so just enjoy your time off!

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Take a vacation (or two or three…)

  • Visit family and friends – take a road trip and connect with people you haven’t seen in a while
  • Hang out on a beach, go for some great hikes, read some great novels
  • Sleep late, eat well, and just rest

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Develop (or strengthen) an exercise habit

  • Use this summer to develop a daily exercise routine that you can take into your new (and crazy) schedule.  Overall, your goal for the summer should be to develop a balanced exercise program (cardio, strength training and flexibility).  If you’ve never done any strength training, hire a trainer and learn about it.  Your goal should be at least 30 minutes of cardio 4-5 times/week, 2-3 strength training sessions/week and stretching every day. If you develop a balanced exercise routine this summer, it will be much, much easier to continue this once you start medical school or your internship. Commit to doing at least 30 minutes of exercise a day this summer.
  • Running is one of the best (and most convenient) cardio exercises for medical students and residents (because it’s cheap, efficient and effective)  Use this summer to become a runner. If you hate running, find another good cardio exercise habit to develop instead – but pick one!
  • If you don’t own a bicycle, think about getting one that you can use to commute to school or the hospital.

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If you don’t know how to cook, learn.

  • Unless you want to gain a lot of weight, have poor energy and feel bad, you are really going to have to cook for yourself (or at least plan for good food cooked by someone else).  You won’t be able to eat what you need, particularly as an intern, unless you bring the food with you.
  • Learn some basic skills to cook simple things.  If you have good cooks in your family, have them teach you.
  • If you don’t have family members who can teach you, find cooking classes near you and sign up.  Many high end grocery stores and gourmet stores offer classes for beginners – look on line for classes near you.

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Clean Eating

If you want to lose weight, or just to eat “better” you might want to consider looking into the concept of “clean eating”.

Although eating clean works to lose weight, it’s not really a “diet” in the usual sense of the word. Clean eating is a lifestyle and way of eating that is medically very sound.  It’s getting rid of the junk food, eating often enough to maintain your energy and  “shopping the periphery” of the grocery store.  (Think about it – the food being sold on the periphery of the grocery store is mostly non-processed.)

Everyone has had the (horrible) experience during a call day of not eating anything all day, having a big meal in the evening  (often McDonald’s or an equivalent) and then being brain-dead from lethargy for 2-3 hours. In addition to helping you control your weight (and preventing weight gain during medical school and residency),  “eating clean” will prevent the on-call lethargy you get from eating junk food and can give you sustained energy during long work days.

In a nutshell, here are the “rules” for eating clean (Revised from lists published on ehow.com and cleaneatingonline.com)

How to Eat Clean

1. Eat 5-6 small meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2-3 snacks – and don’t skip meals! This means taking a cooler with you to work and/or having choices like meal replacement bars in your pocket. It’s important to eat every 3-4 hours to keep your insulin levels (and energy levels) from waxing and waning too much. It’s really important to never skip breakfast!

2. Eat a serving of complex carbohydrates at every meal (about the size of your fist). Grains should be unprocessed as much as possible (more fiber = more satiety) like brown rice or quinoa .

3. Minimize or (preferably) completely eliminate processed food, soft drinks and alcohol.

4. Eat fruits and/or vegetables at every meal.

5. Eat a serving (about the size of your palm) of lean meat, chicken or fish at (almost) every meal. Vegetarian options are fine, too (beans, tofu, etc).

6. Read labels. Try to avoid foods with white flour, sugar and sugar substitutes, saturated fats and trans-fats.

7. Take good snacks (like premeasured servings of nuts) with you to work so you don’t get tempted by vending machines and breakroom junk food.

8. Don’t beat yourself up if you cheat – in fact, you’ll probably need to have a cheat day (on purpose) every once in a while. But recognize it’s a cheat day and not a permanent change from your new way of eating.

9. Keep things interesting by checking out recipes and cooking for yourself. You can subscribe to Clean Eating Magazine or at least pick up an issue to check it out.  The Diet Rebels Cookbook: Eating Clean and Green, Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You and Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Cookbook: Delicious Recipes That Will Burn Fat and Re-Shape Your Body! are cookbooks with good recipes for clean eating. Here’s some websites with recipes, too: cleaneatingonline, eatcleandiet, cleaneatingmag

Why You Should Eat Breakfast

Most of us start very early in the morning and have a variety of excuses why we don’t/won’t eat breakfast, most often “I’m never hungry this early” or  “I’m in too big a rush”.  You don’t have to go to medical school to realize that your blood glucose levels will be low after 8-10 hours of no food.  It’s why things like donuts and sweet cereals are so popular for breakfast  But a quick infusion of sugar to spike your serum glucose leads to a spike of insulin which leads to hypoglycemia.  Not a good idea if you want to stay awake in class or be sharp when seeing patients.

It’s much better to eat a breakfast with carbohydrates, protein and little fat if you want to sustain your glucose levels.  There are a lot of other advantages to eating a good breakfast.

No one with a busy schedule is going to spend time preparing a “fancy” breakfast in the morning.  But there are many, many good options that don’t take any time at all.  I’ve listed some great websites and recipes below – but don’t limit yourself to these.  Look into typical breakfast choices in other countries, eat the leftovers from last night’s dinner…. Just don’t skip breakfast!

15 ways to eat a beautiful breakfast

18 Quick Breakfast Recipes for Busy Mornings

12 Smart Ideas for Breakfast On the Go