Fast Tip Friday #1: Getting the Most Out of Your Sandwich

Happy Friday! This Friday is extra special, since it’s the beginning of the holiday weekend. I hope you all get some good relaxing in and eat delicious food this weekend! Bring on the holiday food.

Living a healthy lifestyle is all about simple tips and tricks. Small changes truly add up to great results. This Friday, we’re talking about getting the most out of your sandwich.

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Sandwiches are fantastic. They’re not only delicious, but can be jam-packed with nutrient power. Plus, they’re easy to make and don’t cost a whole lot of money. The trick is to build your best sandwich.

Step 1: Choose your base. Build your sandwich on 100% whole-wheat bread for a nutrition boost. Whole-wheat bread comes with B vitamins, which give your body energy, and water-insoluble fiber, which helps keep things moving, if you catch my drift ;). Plus water-insoluble fiber helps lower your risk of colon cancer, hemorrhoids, and diverticulitis.

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Step 2: Make a choice. Decide whether you are feeling meat/fish or cheese. Choosing one over the other will slash calories and saturated fat. Plus, in my experience I’ve found I couldn’t really taste much of a difference in sandwiches with both meat/fish and cheese versus sandwiches with only one filling. If you go with meat/fish, choose turkey, chicken, salmon, tuna, or a white fish for lean protein. But, if you’re really feeling roast beef or steak, go for it! Just stick to a proper portion (about the size of a deck of cards).

Step 3: Slather wisely. Unless you are a die-hard mayonnaise person, go without. Choose mustard, honey mustard, pesto, avocado, or oil/vinegar instead. Mayonnaise is essentially all fat with no extra nutrients = empty calories. If you really have to have it, stick to the ones made of an avocado base and measure out only a spoonful. Usually I eye-ball portions, but when it comes to mayonnaise you gotta be careful.

Step 4: Bring on the veggies. Sandwiches are a perfect vehicle to carry all sorts of veggies. Pile on lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, peppers, olives, cucumbers, and more for a tasty way to eat your veggies.

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Nugget sandwiches are “out of this WORLD” amazing!

Step 5: Go to town! Enjoy that delicious sandwich, especially since it’s packed with nutrients to fuel your body. If you start getting full, save the other half for later.

With these steps, you’ll be able to enjoy that sandwich you’re craving, without feeling deprived. The best of both worlds :).

Have a great weekend and spend time with your loved ones!

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What is your favorite sandwich combination?

What are your holiday plans this weekend?

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Holiday Eating 101

img_2567The holiday season is filled with treats galore and heaping plates of holiday goodness. Generally, people seem to feel two ways about the aftermath of holiday eating: 1. you can leave overstuffed and bloated, full of regret, or 2. you pass up your favorite holiday treats, so while your jeans still fit nicely, your heart is sad and you’re fixated on not eating that truffle while you had the chance.

Well, I got good news for you, the holidays don’t have to end this way. You can have your gingerbread man/woman/child (#politicallycorrect), and eat it too.

Do this to enjoy those special holiday treats and not have to buy new jeans:

1. Holiday eating is a marathon, not a sprint. When faced with the holiday buffet, take a lap to first gather intel on the available food. Did Aunt Patty make her famous sweet potato pie this year? What are the protein options? What kind of veggies are up for grabs? How many desserts are we talking about? Once you scan the foods, we can start talking strategy.

Put the veggies on your plate first. Like the MyPlate guidelines, make those veggies about half of your plate. Veggies are filled with nutrients and fiber, so choosing mainly veggies will ensure you’re still giving your body proper fuel, while the fiber helps take up stomach space to prevent overeating.

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Next, aim for 1 animal protein source (pick between the chicken, ham, steak, etc.) and serve yourself a portion about the size of a deck of cards. Choosing only 1 animal protein and sticking to a serving size will help lower the chance of eating too much saturated fat at the holiday feast.

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Give yourself 30 minutes before helping yourself to seconds. Holiday time is filled with lots of conversations, which can distract you from realizing when you’re full. Let yourself enjoy talking to the people around you before filling up on more food. Chances are, you’ll end up forgoing seconds, so you’ll be able to enjoy dessert more.

Before you know it, it’s time for the grand finale: the dessert bar. Similar to dinner, take an inventory of what’s available. If you’re more of a sampler, take a sliver of the different desserts to get a taste of each without going overboard. If you want a more substantial bite, pick one of your absolute favorites and serve yourself a portion. Or, if you want two desserts, serve yourself a half portion of each.

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2. Eat in slow-mo. Savor each bite of your food and take the time to notice the flavors in each dish. Eating slowly makes the dining experience more memorable, plus you begin to pick out seasonings and textures you may have missed if you had just shoveled food in your mouth. Slowing down your eating gives your body more time to send fullness cues to let you know when it’s time to stop eating. Best of all, you’ll have more time between bites to partake in conversation.

3. Drink responsibly. Holidays can certainly be boozy and alcohol is a sneaky one. Drinking can cause you to easily overeat, since your inhibitions are lowered and alcohol messes with your hunger cues. Plus, alcohol calories don’t come for free. Stick to 1 drink if you’re a lady and 2 drinks if you’re a fella. When it’s time for the main course, drink water between bites to let the food take center stage and to prevent over-drinking during mealtime. Also, taking a break to drink water helps prevent dehydration and can increase feelings of fullness.

4. Get moving. Propose a walk before the meal (or after) to get your body moving. Walking is an easy way to sneak in some activity without having to change into gym clothes and take a shower after. Taking a nature break gives you time to re-charge and prompts some of the best talks with those around you. Even more reason to get outside :).

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5. Enjoy! Laugh, chat, bond, and chill with those around you. The holidays come only once a year, and for many this is the one time to hang out with certain people. Let the focus be on those around you and not solely on your plate. Over-indulging on occasion is perfectly okay. One meal will not cause you to gain 10 pounds. Listen to your body and resume normal eating after the feast with some activity you love and you’ll be just fine :).

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Eat Responsibly!

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What is your favorite holiday food?

What are your holiday eating tips and tricks?

What does “moderation” look like?

When it comes to nutrition advice, by now you’ve probably heard the snazzy saying “eat a variety in moderation.” Or, my personal favorite version (curtesy of my high school teacher), “everything (legal) in moderation.”

But what does “moderation” mean?

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Okay, eating an entire plate of cookies in one sitting is probably not moderation…but one cookie is fine by me!

Giving nutrition advice is a double-edged sword. One, we want the advice to come off short and catchy in hopes that people will remember and abide by it. Unfortunately, simplifying can lead to misinterpretation.

In reality, the message would be something like, “eat a variety of nutrient-dense foods, including mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole-grains, and then choose lean protein, like chicken breast, eggs, beans, nuts, legumes, etc., and don’t forget you can also have some dairy products, like low-fat yogurt, milk, cheese, but life would suck without cake, so every once in awhile eat that piece of cake, just don’t eat cake every single day.”

Who would ever want to read that? That looks like a whole bunch of words.

So let’s break down what “moderation” means. Moderation looks different depending on who you are, making it tricky to define. The dictionary definition is something like “the avoidance of excess or extremes.”

When it comes to food, my definition of moderation is based off of a few key bullet points:

  • Eat what feels good: Veggies, fruits, whole-grains (brown rice, whole-wheat couscous/pasta), lean protein (eggs, salmon, chicken breast, beans) and yogurt power my body through the day and I feel nourished after eating these types of foods. These foods form the basis of what I eat. Depending on your personal preferences, choose a few foods you like to eat from these food groups and create meals around them. When a treat pops up that I really want, I’ll eat it and stick to a serving size.
  • Nothing is off-limits: Knowing that I can eat anything I want means there are no “special/untouchable” foods. When you hold a food on a pedestal and deprive yourself of eating it, chances are you will eventually succumb to your craving and overindulge on that food. Or, you may stick to your rules and not eat the sacred food and instead overeat other foods in place of what you truly want.

EX: Full-fat ice cream is off-limits. So, I purchase some reduced-fat version of ice cream/sorbet/diet food version instead and eat the entire container because it’s “better” for you than the full-fat version and I’m proud of myself for not buying the off-limits ice cream. But, then I just ate the entire container. Meanwhile, if I brought the full-fat version and served myself a serving size in a bowl (no eating out of the container), I would have satisfied my craving and not binged on something less satisfying.

  • Seconds are okay: When serving meals, portion out what a single serving looks like because if you’re still hungry you can go back for seconds. This will help preserve the basis of moderation, which means not too little and not too much of something.

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Moderation can be an intangible concept, but once you create your own version of what moderation looks like to you, it can be an enjoyable way of eating. Keeping the basis of what you eat grounded in nutritious foods, of course.

Eat Responsibly!

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What does “moderation” look like to you?

What are your key bullet points for “moderation?”

 

Mental Roadblocks

Today I took a fitness class that combined strength-building exercises with cardio-based intervals. In the past, I’ve usually stuck to the 5lb weights for any free-weight exercises, but something compelled me to select a set of 5lb dumbbells and a set of the 8lb ones. A mere 3lb difference, but to me that had been enough to prevent me from even trying before.

I told myself to start with the 8lb weights and if it was too difficult I could drop down to the 5lb ones. I gave myself a way out. 

As the music started, I picked up the 8lb weights for the first exercise circuit and began the motions. Turns out I could physically do it. The more movements I did, the stronger I felt. I began to tell myself I could actually do it and hushed that voice in my head that had told me previously that I wasn’t strong enough.

I ended up using the 8lb weights throughout the entire class. I couldn’t believe it. My mind had convinced me I would drop down to the 5lb weights within the first circuit, but once I began to trust myself I didn’t need that safety net.

Mental roadblocks will always appear, whether they’re noticeable or not. Overcoming them is a whole lot easier said than done. Today that roadblock was an extra 3lbs, that somehow seemed impossible.

One way of getting through a mental roadblock is no longer telling yourself you “can’t” and instead pull a Nike and “just do it” and allow your thoughts to catch up with you later. By the time the voice in your head starts talking again, you’ve already been doing what you previously told yourself you couldn’t do, so that voice has no choice but to encourage you to keep at it.

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Navigating the giant corn maze was a true test of defeating mental roadblock

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How do you face mental roadblocks?

Impostor Syndrome

There have been times where I looked around and couldn’t believe how I got here. Somebody pinch me….amiright?

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Impostor syndrome is most certainly a “thing.” Everyone in our graduate group is fantastic and brilliant, sometimes it’s hard to not compare.

Our new cohort of students just started their first year. During orientation, we had a panel of us “seasoned” students share our experiences and answer questions for the first-years. It didn’t take us long to get on the topic of impostor syndrome. I was surprised to learn that these people I admire felt like an impostor at times too. Although it felt oddly comforting to not be alone in this feeling, we shouldn’t be wasting energy feeling this way.

Someone out there saw something in us and we deserve to be here. We’re not perfect, and will never be. Perfection is a fantasy. But, we’re here to learn and strive to do the best we can. We will never know everything, but we will know enough to make informed decisions and use our knowledge to design studies to answer our questions.

During our Graduate Group in Nutritional Biology Research Symposium a few weeks ago, I placed first in the poster competition. I couldn’t believe it.

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Sometimes the feeling of being “not good enough” creeps in. It’s time to let that feeling go. I’m learning and will always be learning. Learning new material, learning from my mistakes, learning from others, learning from myself.

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Have you ever felt like an impostor? How did you overcome impostor syndrome? 

WTF Wednesday – Since When Did Everyone Become a Nutrition Expert?

It’s nearly impossible to scroll through your Facebook newsfeed or Instagram feed without encountering someone posting something about nutrition. It’s great that people are caring about what they eat these days…but sometimes it can do more harm than good. This brings me to the theme of this week’s WTF Wednesday: Since when did everyone become a nutrition expert?

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Don’t get me wrong, it’s wonderful to form your own opinions about health issues and nutrition topics. To each their own. The pitfall is when these opinions are not grounded in science and are marketed to the mass public to seem like the truth.

We need to be wise consumers. We need to think critically. The age-old saying holds true, especially when it comes to nutrition:

“If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”

So what to do when people are posting about juice cleanses “detoxifying” their body or about some miracle ingredient that promises everlasting health?

  1. Hold your horses: Read the article, listen to the news story, read the Facebook post. Then do it again. Most nutrition stories are posted in a sensational way to deliberately hook you in. Break this appeal by re-reading the article multiple times. Now we can start dissecting the claims.
  2. Science the sh*t out of it! Probably the best line from “The Martian” movie and it certainly applies here. Does the article reference an original research study? If so, go to the actual study and read it. If not, Google search the nutrition topic to find the original research or search in a scientific database, like PubMed. Many journals are open access, which means you don’t need a subscription to read the articles. If you’re a student, most universities provide students with access to almost all journals and the librarians are great at helping you locate an article if you can’t find it.
  3. Think critically: Read the original research paper. Investigate the journal it was published in. Was the journal peer-reviewed? “Peer-reviewed” means the research paper was sent to multiple experts in the field to review and provide comments/feedback. This process decides if the paper is credible, adds to the scientific literature, and should be published. It’s a rigorous process that is lengthy and can make even the toughest scientist shed a tear. But, it makes the paper better and means the paper has been thoroughly reviewed before it’s published. If the research was published in a journal that was not peer-reviewed, then it’s not held to the same high, rigorous research standards and you need to take the conclusions with a grain of salt.
  4. Consult the expert: Does the source of the original post have a Masters/PhD in Nutrition from a reputable university and/or is a Registered Dietitian (RD)/Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN)? The Masters/PhDs degrees mean the person has been through research training, so this person can provide feedback on the quality of the research design and interpret what the study concludes. The RD/RDN credential means the person has completed a dietetic internship approved by the Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, passed the Registration Examination for Dietitians, and renews this license annually. RDs/RDNs are able to provide nutrition advice and diet plans, so they are the people you want to consult with when trying to tune up your diet or have questions about a new diet trend.

The nutrition field is constantly growing and changing. New findings are released every day and the technology boom has given more people access to this information. It’s up to us to sort through what’s out there and make informed decisions.

Find credible sources. Reach out to faculty and researchers. The professor I work under creates Fact Sheets about many different topics in nutrition here.

We’re here to help bridge the gap between the lab bench and the community and we want to do this together.

Eat Responsibly!

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What’s the latest nutrition news story you heard? What did you think of it?

WTF Wednesday – The Gluten-Free Apocalypse

By now you’ve probably heard something about a gluten-free diet. But what the heck does that even mean?

Contrary to popular belief, gluten doesn’t exist in nature. Huh? Let me explain. Gluten is made up of 2 proteins: gliadins and glutenins. These 2 proteins are found in wheat, rye, and barley. When they come together with water, gluten forms. Gluten doesn’t exist in oats, but due to cross-contamination with other grains in North America, oats here may contain gluten. Except for Cheerios because they got on that gluten-free bandwagon real fast.

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Look at that huge dough ball of GLUTEN (front and center, like the star of the bread show)

Gluten isn’t the devil (except when it comes to Celiac Disease, we will get to that), like you may have heard. In fact, it’s one of the best things because it gives dough elasticity and that doughy-feel. I am a proud supporter of bread.

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This is what happens when you make bread with only gluten…a masterpiece explosion! But it doesn’t taste good…so don’t do it

However, gluten is actually a dangerous thing for people with Celiac Disease. Consuming gluten-containing products causes the body to “attack” itself leading to damage of the small intestine. This is bad news since the small intestine is the primary site of nutrient absorption. Damaged small intestine = poor nutrient absorption = nutrient deficiencies (i.e. iron deficiency anemia, osteoporosis, etc.), among other serious health effects. Currently, the treatment for Celiac Disease is to avoid gluten.

Only a very small percentage of Americans have been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, so what’s the deal with everyone hating on gluten? It all began when a study was published in 2011 suggesting non-celiac gluten intolerance is a thing, but the precise mechanisms/biomarkers for diagnosis are unknown.

This sparked the gluten-free market explosion. Companies started re-formulating their goods to be gluten-free, making gluten-free versions of already existing products, or plastering that “gluten-free” label on products that never contained gluten in the first place, like nuts. It was heyday for people with Celiac Disease, since previously there were very few gluten-free products and of that many tasted like cardboard/were probably cardboard.

Why the sudden interest in avoiding gluten? Well, many Americans consume what’s known as a “Western Diet.” This means red meat galore, dinners out of a box, and laughing in the face of vegetables. The Western Diet is linked to a long range of health complications. Plus, all that saturated fat, salt, and lack of fiber doesn’t make you feel very good. Hello, feeling sluggish and tummy aches. With this news of non-celiac gluten intolerance, many felt they could attribute these symptoms to gluten.

Since there used to be barely any gluten-free products on the market, people with Celiac Disease couldn’t eat most things that came in a box. Instead, they had to rely on foods that naturally have no gluten, like fruits, veggies, nuts, turkey, salmon, tuna, etc. All the good stuff. People noticed this type of diet and lifestyle led to people looking more trim than the average American. They wanted in. Hence, the gluten-free diet industry explosion.

However, in 2013 the same research group released another study saying they couldn’t find evidence to support their initial finding of non-celiac gluten intolerance. Although there currently are no ways to diagnose/define this gluten-sensitivity, there still are people who anecdotally feel better on a gluten-free diet. I’m sure we will see more research to come in this area.

Until then, here’s the takeaway (for those without Celiac Disease, since you should listen to your doctor and not me):

  1. Eat your fruits and veggies! Seriously, they are super awesome for providing your body with essential nutrients and giving your body the fuel it needs. Plus they have fiber, which keeps you regular (a.k.a. smooth sailing in the bathroom).
  2. Save your money: Gluten-free products are more expensive and many are not fortified with required nutrients, like B-vitamins and iron. Gluten-free does not mean whole-grain, so many don’t have much fiber and we all know how good fiber is for us.
  3. Center meals around veggies and lean protein. Make a tofu-veggie stir fry, bake salmon with a range of vegetables, look up different vegetarian recipes to get creative. The Moosewood Cookbook is great inspiration.

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Do you follow a gluten-free diet? What are your reasons for doing so?

What are your thoughts on “gluten sensitivity?”

 

WTF Wednesday – Drunkorexia

Hi friends! I’m starting a new blog series: WTF Wednesday, where we will explore controversial/bizarre/unique nutrition topics. The aim of this feature is to clear up misconceptions and shed light on what’s happening in nutrition. If you have any requests for topics, feel free to leave a comment or email me at nutritionphdeats@gmail.com. Here we go!

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WTF is “drunkorexia?”

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Drunkorexia is an emerging trend, especially among college students, that involves combining diet-related behaviors with excessive drinking. These behaviors include restricting food intake, over exercising, or binging/purging.

The goal is to compensate for alcohol’s empty calories. Alcohol calories are not freebies-there are 7 calories per gram of alcohol, which means ~125 calories in 5 fl oz of wine, ~150 calories in a can of beer, and ~100 calories in a vodka shot. Not only is 7 calories per gram a fairly hefty amount (there are only 4 calories per gram in protein and carbohydrates), but there is essentially no redeeming nutritional value in alcohol, such as vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. (however, red wine does have bioactive chemicals from the skin of grapes and beer has a small amount of B vitamins and certain minerals).

Drinking on an empty stomach leads to getting drunker faster, since there is no/not enough food in the stomach to help absorb the alcohol and slow down the transfer of alcohol into the bloodstream. This could lead to negative alcohol-related consequences, including nutritionally.

Alcohol impacts our nutrition in a few different ways:

  1. Drinking alcohol replaces the nutrient-dense foods you could be eating instead. Drinking also lowers inhibition, making that late night Taco Bell run seem a lot more appealing and can lead to over-eating. If you give me a glass of wine and cheese, you better hurry in and grab some before the cheese is gone ;).photo
  2. Alcohol lowers the absorption of certain vitamins and minerals, such as thiamin, folate, and vitamin B12, which could up your chances of a nutrient deficiency. This is especially important if you are a vegetarian or vegan, since it’s difficult to get enough vitamin B12 without eating animal products (side note: take a B12 supplement if you do not eat animal products, please & thank you :)).
  3. Wonky things happen with metabolizing vitamins A and D when alcohol is thrown into the mix. Most Americans, especially women, have low vitamin D levels. If you choose to consume alcohol, get your vitamin D well before you have that beer.
  4. Alcohol is a diuretic – it causes you to pee faster! This leads to more zinc, potassium, calcium, folic acid, and magnesium ending up in your urine instead of being used in your body. Potassium and calcium are nutrients of concern, which means many Americans already do not meet their need.

If you choose to drink, counteract the drunkorexia:

  • Stick to one drink per hour and alternate rounds with water, seltzer, or club soda. Ask the nice bartender to add in some lemon and lime wedges (even cherries) for added flavor, plus it looks pretty.
  • Eat, eat, eat. Keep your regular meal times (especially on drinking days) and stock up on nutrient-dense meals. Make sure you have something in your stomach before that glass of wine. Center meals around veggies and add in a side of whole-grains and lean protein. Example: Bake salmon with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, toss in broccoli and mushrooms, and add 1/2 cup of whole-wheat couscous to your portion.IMG_6064
  • Get your vitamins and minerals:
  1. Whole grains are a good source of thiamin, folate, and zinc;
  2. Vitamin D is found in eggs, salmon, and mushrooms;
  3. Vitamin A is in red/orange-colored fruits and veggies;
  4. Meat and shellfish have zinc;
  5. Potassium is found in fruits and veggies;
  6. Calcium is in dairy products, tofu, and broccoli;
  7. Vitamin B12 is in animal products (supplements are recommended for vegetarians and vegans);
  8. and dark leafy greens, nuts, and dark chocolate houses magnesium.
  • Hydration is major key (thank you DJ Khaled). But seriously, when you’re thirsty drink water. Water helps with fluid balance and keeps our bodies running.

Let’s stop this trend before it fully catches on. Down with the drunkorexia, drink responsibly.

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A New Beginning.

This past week marked the academic end of my third year as a doctoral student and official transition into my fourth year.

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Truthfully, this past year was hard. It was hard on myself, physically and mentally, which led to it being hard on others in my life. I certainly wasn’t the most enjoyable version of myself during this stressful period. It’s something I must work on.

Being a PhD student is filled with many ups and downs. As my professor says, “if it was easy, anyone would do it.” Currently, I am on a much-needed vacation  and already feel like so much weight has been lifted. I wasn’t on my computer for an entire day and it was blissful.

I plan for this vacation period to serve as a reflection period for how to move forward in more productive ways rather than letting the stress turn me into an ugly stress monster. It’s stressful stressing about stress….am I right? 😉 It’s just not worth it.

Although this past year had some low points with research not going the way I anticipated, it was filled with many learning opportunities. I certainly learned many lessons in conducting research and will take them with me moving forward into the next project. Sometimes I feel stuck, but I need to remind myself I am growing and I don’t know everything and never will. Sometimes things are just out of our control and that’s okay. We just need to re-group and move on to get out of the mud. I am thankful for the people around me that taught me this.

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I want to reignite my passion for nutrition, starting with this space. I aim to have a consistent posting schedule filled with summaries and commentaries on current nutrition research topics. I want to share more quick and easy healthy meals/snacks to show healthy living is possible, even in the throes of graduate school. I also want to be honest and let others know you are not alone when you feel overwhelmed in school and work. These periods pass. It’s only when they’re gone that we’re able to appreciate them for what they’ve taught us and how strong we really are to make it through. I hope you stick around for this journey.

The Work Will Always Be There.

Truth.

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The past few weeks have been especially draining. Every minute seemed to be assigned to complete some sort of task. The work just never ended. I spent the entire past weekend in the lab and only left to go home to sleep. But the sleep was restless because the dreams were about the work. I hit my breaking point.

The work will always be there. There will always be something to do and if there isn’t, you will find something to work on. We are driven to perform and accomplish. But we need balance. We need nights off to watch reality TV with good friends and hot cups of chamomile tea. We need that time to prepare healthy food to nourish our bodies. We need time away from the screen and a chance to explore nature. We need to get lost in a good book. We need to make time to live.

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The work will always be there, but the world is rapidly changing. We need to make the time to see the places, the people, the things. Sometimes I need a reminder, and maybe sometimes you do too.