Being healthy isn’t a quick or easy endeavor — we get it! We certainly don’t have an unlimited budget for $15 green juices or enough hours in the day to spend two of them at the gym. In our “5 healthy habits” series we get inspired by tips & tricks from real women (no celebrity yoga gurus allowed!) and share the healthful practices they’ve incorporated into their daily lives.
As a dual degree MD/MBA student with a passion for wellness, I have learned that medicine is a paradoxical field. Doctors are expected to go above and beyond for their patients to provide superior patient care, but unfortunately, the culture and difficult lifestyle of a medical professional do not translate to physician wellness. I have spent the past four years learning some of the fundamentals that our mind and body demand in order to remain healthy and happy, and these are some of my daily activities that have helped me to become my best self.
1. Eat a low-carb breakfast. I start each day with a high-protein, high-fat meal. Insulin is not as effective first thing in the morning due to high levels of counter-regulatory hormones (cortisol, adrenaline), so a low-carb breakfast is the way to go. My go-tos are scrambled eggs with spinach and avocado, or a smoothie (avocado, banana, almond + cashew butters, coconut oil, spinach, cocoa powder, almond milk — you can even make it the night before!).
2. Drink at least 80oz of water, and avoid sugary drinks. Water makes up about two-thirds of our body composition, and yet most of us are walking around chronically dehydrated. One of the easiest changes I made that has improved my health is to drink at least 2/3 of my body weight in water in ounces every day. I use the Waterlogged app to track ounces throughout the day. Equally as important to drinking water is avoiding sugary drinks. While I never was a soda drinker, I’ve cut out beverages like iced tea, lemonades, and even juices due to the high sugar content. The American Heart Association recommends a woman consume no more than 25g of added sugar per day. To put this in perspective, a 12oz can of Coca-Cola has 39g of sugar!
3. Complete HIIT workouts. As a lifelong dancer and now a group fitness instructor, I need to be physically active every day. My body craves it, and my mood depends on it. Being a medical student often means I am pressed for time, and high-intensity interval training (HIIT) allows me to train effectively with a shorter exercise duration. HIIT = short bursts of high intensity alternating with periods of recovery, and what is great is that this concept can be applied to almost any form of exercise (running, rowing, biking, etc.). Other than the time benefits, research has shown that it burns more fat, improves insulin sensitivity, and increases your resting metabolic rate when compared to continuous exercise.
4. Do at least one thing that makes me smile. This sounds like an easy one, but after long days in the hospital, it’s easy to just go to sleep and neglect self-care. When we smile, we release endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine in the brain. Dopamine activates our reward circuitry, makes us feel happier, and turns on the learning systems, while serotonin also contributes to positive mood. The theory of positive psychology dictates that if you raise a person’s level of positivity (i.e. smiling), then their brain experiences a “happiness advantage,” and they perform better than if they are feeling negative, neutral, or stressed. I’ve learned to stop feeling guilty and give myself permission to focus on me. Whether it is dancing around in my apartment, seeing friends, or buying new shoes (!), I try to always make time for what keeps me smiling.
5. Read nutrition labels. This is something all of us should be learning in middle school; unfortunately, many people are still unaware of how to quickly and effectively find out what is in the food they are eating. First, I skim the ingredients list — I try to avoid foods where sugar (or one of its synonyms) is one of the first three ingredients listed. Next, I look at the serving size — am I eating a portion that should be feeding three people? Finally, I skim through the rest of the nutrition label, mostly checking the percentages of fats, carbs, and protein, as well as the number of grams of sugar. In general, I try to get 50% of my calories from fat, 30% from protein, and 20% from carbs.