You Can Eat From All The Food Groups And Still Be Healthy

It’s official (or at least I’m making it so). You absolutely should not be cutting food groups out of your diet in order to stay healthy. Even the fitness stars you religiously follow on Instagram are able to eat fully balanced diets that involve carbs, fats, dairy, everything. So if you were thinking of taking on the Whole30 diet or trying out Paleo in order to do the whole “New Year, New Me” thing, put the kale down and back away slowly.

A healthy diet does not involve depriving yourself. In fact, you should be enjoying yourself. A good diet includes colorful plates of food, filling portions, tasty flavor combinations, and treats. Especially treats.

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The most important thing, for me, is making sure my meals 1. have variety and 2. look happy. What I mean is, I want to be healthy but I don’t want to eat salad every day. Mind you, I’m not a salad hater, but sometimes, constantly eating leaves gets boring, no matter how much you dress them up. So instead of drowning myself in vegetables in the pursuit of a healthy body, I simply make sure I get the amount I need. The rest of the diet equation can be played with, and when it comes to food groups, I’m v. inclusive.

Of course, a lot of people also think that eating well has to come with a ton of planning and monetary resources. Well, I’m going to be honest with you. I have not used a grocery list in over a year, and, being a college student, money gets tight sometimes. And yet, I can still manage to make healthy meals. How? When I go to the grocery store, I shop by food group. I make sure I have grains, starches, veggies, fruits. proteins, dairy, and something sweet. I also stay stocked with spices, herbs, and oil. Then, when I get home, I find creative ways to combine the items from all the food groups with a sense of balance. I don’t have to buy anything fancy, but I can actually make fairly elegant dishes if I’m willing to search for recipes based on the hodgepodge of things I have on hand.

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It also helps to have certain go-to recipes and hacks that you know will contribute to keeping a balanced diet. If I am going to eat a salad, I make an oil infused vinaigrette to ensure I get those extra nutrients. A glass of milk after a workout can be even more beneficial than water (when I was in high school, my cross country coach would even have chocolate milk for us to drink after interval training on hills). Instead of consistently using meat for protein, I’ll sometimes have peanut butter on toast first thing in the morning.

The beauty of eating this way is that you can actually eat more. When you eat mostly processed junk or diet restrict by eliminating food groups, you waste caloric intake on things you don’t need. This is what causes people to gain weight, bloat, and feel sluggish. When you give your body the recommended amounts of each food group, you’ll quickly find that your plate can be twice as full as before and yet you won’t gain weight. This is because you’re being strategic with your food.

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Today, for example, I had pasta for lunch. Pasta is one of those dreaded carb foods that a lot of fitness people avoid, but guess what? It’s perfectly fine. Eating grains is normal for the body and expected. I started my day off with an apple before my morning workout. For lunch, a small bowl of leftover chicken alfredo and a cup of Indian chai, which kept me full until a late dinner. Since I wasn’t eating some wimpy salad for lunch, I didn’t experience any lust for sweet and salty snacks around 4pm. For dinner, black bean stuffed sweet potatoes and peas. And after I finish writing this? A cookie wouldn’t hurt. On a day like this, I’m eating fruit, vegetables, dairy, grains, and proteins, along with plenty of water and a workout. And frankly, I feel great!

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A Fake Instagram Influencer Just Taught Me A Lesson

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Social media influencers, meaning people who are heavily followed on one or more social media accounts, often team up with brands to sell products. This marketing technique is achieved with varying levels of stealth and success. Someone as influential and well-known as Kim Kardashian can cause products to sell out of stock, simply by endorsing the product on Instagram or Twitter. While many campaigns have reached great success by paying influencers to interact with and endorse their products, social health campaigns and other issues of public welfare have worked with influencers far less often, especially if the influencer isn’t an extremely famous celebrity. So far, many brands have been able to successfully market products like clothing, food, or technology through the help of influencers who have 40,000 to 80,000 followers, but social issue campaigns, like voting registration, tend to use high profile celebrities to get their point across.

Addict Aide, a french organization that seeks to prevent substance abuse, decided it wouldn’t be shelling out that kind of money for a high profile campaign endorsement. The solution? They created their own influencer, built her social media presence from the ground up, and then used the fake profile to spread their message.

I don’t follow many influencers on social media. I love their aesthetic profiles, but I prefer for my content feed to be mainly composed of people I know in real life. Yet, when I read an article about Louise Delage, the fake persona created by Addict Aide and their ad agency BETC, I noticed two things: 1. She posted the exact type of content that many of my friends and peers like to follow and  2. Had she been a friend of mine, I would not have noticed anything abnormal about her pictures.

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A post shared by Louise Delage (@louise.delage) on

But there is something abnormal.

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A post shared by Louise Delage (@louise.delage) on

She is drinking in every photo she posts.

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A post shared by Louise Delage (@louise.delage) on

When you look at all of the photos together, it seems so obvious that the fake character might have a drinking problem, but in real life, people rarely post several photos of themselves drinking, one after the other within a short period of time. You might see a photo from a friend or peer once per week, and it is mixed into your feed with tons of other images. You could be regularly looking at the evidence that someone you know has an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, and never realize it because you don’t put the pieces together.

Having just turned 21 a couple of weeks ago, I’m acutely aware of my new responsibilities. I can buy a drink or a bottle of wine any time I want, and because I’m a college student, I’m almost constantly surrounded by alcohol (or at the very least, conversation about alcohol, parties, tailgates, and more). At my university, many people are starting to talk more candidly about mental health, but alcoholism and substance abuse are often left out of the conversation. Instead, we treat alcohol abuse like a joke.

Images like these are extremely common on the social media feeds of my peers, and are occasionally given hashtags like #alcoholic for good measure:

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Social media content like this as well as popular TV characters who heavily rely on alcohol such as Lucille Bluth on Arrested Development or the cast of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, are supposed to be silly and humorous. Of course this humor trope and normalization of substance abuse also blurs lines when it comes to discerning when someone has an alcohol problem. Many millennials seem to believe that as long as you have a job/make it to class, avoid receiving a DUI, and keep up a healthy appearance, they do not have an alcohol problem and are not in danger of developing one. This is a myth, and it is becoming increasingly important for college students and all young people to be aware that just because you are functioning on a daily basis doesn’t mean you are in the clear. Further, young people need to be better educated on how to spot warning signs of substance abuse in their peers and ways to address them.

For students who experience mental illness, it is paramount that substance use is approached with care, as heavy use of some substances, like alcohol, can worsen depression or anxiety over time. If you notice that you or someone you know seems to be self-medicating a mental problem with alcohol, it is extremely important to find more effective therapies and medication, as the seemingly helpful properties of alcohol won’t last forever.

If you notice that it takes you significantly more alcohol than it used to in order for you to feel tipsy or drunk, that’s another sign you might need to cut back. It’s natural for your body to get continuously more acclimated to alcohol, but if you seem to be building up a tolerance that results in you needing more than a few drinks to feel the effects, you have likely been drinking too heavily. Alcohol limits vary from body to body, so use your discretion and take notes of how many drinks you order at the bar. If the number starts creeping up over the course of a year, its time to cut back.

Finally, know that alcoholism doesn’t happen all at once. You won’t wake up one day and suddenly be an alcoholic. Becoming an addict is a gradual process, which is precisely why many people don’t recognize when their joking love for whiskey and vodka has become a full out addiction. Being drunk on occasion is not a problem, but if you are specifically aiming to get drunk or wasted every time you drink, your relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy. You should be able to enjoy alcohol for its taste or its light effect (i.e. being tipsy at most) without wanting to get constantly drunk. You should also take note that you should avoid drinking alcohol to feel better about something. Sure, if you have a bad day at work, you might want to pour yourself a glass of wine, but if you drink every time you’re in a bad mood, you’ll naturally develop a habit.

If you notice that you have a friend, like Louise Delage, who always has a drink in her hand  and/or shows any of the above signs, be sure to have a discussion. If you haven’t recognized the warning signs, its possible that they haven’t recognized them either.

 

 

How I Eat Healthy On Tiny Intern Wages

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“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”  ~Jim Rohn

It’s 6 pm and you’re getting home from work. You’re exhausted, irritated, and hungry. It feels like lunch and breakfast occurred in an alternate universe and your stomach could go concave at any moment. This is a recipe for disaster and you know it, but you pass a cheap burger place on the way home and you can’t resist. You end up ordering a greasy dinner for yourself and eating it with your laptop balanced on your belly while you watch Game of Thrones. It isn’t a pretty sight.

Hopefully the above scenario doesn’t describe you, but it definitely describes me … and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

Eating healthy is especially challenging when you’re a perfect storm of almost broke and super busy. If you’re in the middle of job searching, working in an entry level position, working as an intern, or just live in a really expensive city, it will seem a lot easier to buy $1 pizza slices after work rather than cook a healthy meal — Unless you have the right knowledge about cheap, easy dishes that can be made in advance.

At some point you’ve probably heard the term “meal prep” which usually refers to the process of making one large dish that can be eaten throughout an entire week. The term gets tossed around in the blog community and in real life, but how many people are actually doing it? From my quick survey of the interns and young professionals I work with, not very many. Meal prepping and eating on the cheap seems so good in theory but few people want to do the research necessary to figure out how to do it. Well, as previously mentioned, I’m broke and busy, so I did the research for us all.

The first thing you need to know is that not all cheap foods are created equal and not all expensive foods are created equal. For example, if you’re looking to buy a cooking oil for meats and other items, you might feel inclined to reach for one of the cheaper options like a generic vegetable oil. This is actually the wrong choice, however, because a bottle of olive oil will do a better job flavoring your food and you can use it to make dressings for salads as well — say goodbye to overpriced, over-caloried Ranch. You also have to pay close attention to sales. Sometimes an item seems cheap (like an out-of-season fruit that has been placed on sale) but it actually still costs more than another option. You might reach for the sale item because it seemingly makes sense and then end up walking away from the register with a frown because your groceries were more expensive than you imagined as you were shopping. To fix this problem, remember to compare sale prices on fancy items to the regular prices on regular items. If strawberries are on sale for $3.50 but apples always cost $1.50 .. well, you can do the math.

Next, you should know that canned foods are not the enemy. We all know that canned foods are cheap, but most people don’t consider them healthy. However, you can often modify canned foods to be healthier than the nutrition label. For example, you can buy canned beans and rinse them and drain them in the sink to remove the excess salt for a healthy meat substitute when you can’t afford fresh, lean meats.

Lastly, you should know that some foods seem “fancy” but they’re actually cheaper than you think. Growing up, I always thought edamame was a special treat reserved for the girls who came to lunch swinging a Vera Bradley lunchbox that matched their monogrammed backpack. I was wrong. You can buy frozen edamame for the same price as a lot of frozen vegetables and toss them in salt for a healthy snack or a side dish without breaking the bank.

So once you have this information, you can start thinking about meal prep. If you want to really make the cheap life convenient, you’re going to have to learn to cook some basic meals in large quantities. This may seem daunting at first, but it’s really not so bad. To make things simple, think about your meals in terms of a base, a middle, and a top. Your base is the bulk of the meal that fills you up and it’s typically a grain (pasta, rice, tortillas, quinoa). Your middle is what makes your meal interesting and it’s typically fruit, veggies, meats/beans, and cheeses (cheap options include chicken or beef bought in bulk, broccoli, oranges, canned tuna, nuts, there’s tons of options!). Your top is usually a sauce or literal topping like guacamole or hummus and it’s typically the most expensive purchase of the three. When you shop, you should be buying your bottom in bulk, your middle on sale, and your top as a little luxury item. You can create all sorts of combos with your options that can translate into different meals throughout the week. For example, I can make a ton of pasta with chicken and alfredo sauce on my day off and turn some of it into a casserole later in the week by adding an extra middle or two and throwing it into the oven.

Of course, this guide is by no means comprehensive, but I’m mainly just trying to explain that eating on the cheap and meal prep isn’t as difficult as it may sound. If you’re looking for recipe ideas, there’s tons of sites available, and some of my favorites are here and here.

Good luck and happy (cheap) eating!

 

How Do You Know If You’re Physically Fit?

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Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity. -JFK

On my blog, Brain Brawn Beautie, I talk about matters of health every Wednesday. The vast majority of the time, I talk about mental and emotional health by tackling topics like stress, self-actualization, self-care, grief, and much more. I find these types of topics to be most relevant to my daily life, however, every now and again, I do talk about physical health as well.

I started thinking about how little I discuss physical health yesterday, and how that directly relates to how little I’ve been working out lately. Then, I started to wonder if I’m actually “in shape”. When I go to the doctor, I’m told that I have a healthy BMI, and I eat generally well. I drink nothing but water, except for the occasional soda/sweet tea splurge when I go out to eat. Yet, am I really healthy? As a person who not only discusses health through my online content, but also coaches a gymnastics team, I’m really starting to wonder if I’m living up to my own hype.

My boyfriend just recently enrolled in his required college fitness class, which will be condensed into a month long course during a university summer session. When I looked at the requirements on the syllabus, I laughed. The requirements for the course seemed ridiculously difficult! These kids have one month to be able to run a mile in less than 6 minutes (Something I could only do when I was running varsity cross country). They also had to be able to do 60 push-ups in 2 minutes, and an even larger quantity of sit-ups.

Even though I wasn’t taking the course, I felt oddly pressured just looking at the syllabus, as I wondered if these types of requirements are really indicative of what a 20 year old should be able to do. And if so, could I?

Out of curiosity, are started doing some research to see what other people consider, “in shape” to mean.  Some people believe that you can prove fitness by holding a plank position for a full minute. The website cheatsheet.com suggests that as long as you do at least two hours of moderate to vigorous exercise each week, you should be pretty healthy. Harvard Medical says that if you want to stay in shape, you should regularly swim, do Tai Chi, and/or strength train.

The number of definitions and opinions on physical fitness seem limitless. I didn’t want to pick just one. As I was looking around for definitive answers on the web, I stumbled across the Mayo Clinic’s 5 step fitness program. In this program, the first step involves assessing your current level of fitness by completing several tests like walking/running the mile, and doing push-ups — just like in my boyfriend’s fitness class. Then, after they describe the tests, they tell you to design a fitness program for yourself and just monitor your progress. That’s when it hit me. Maybe fitness shouldn’t involve some lofty end goal like the ones required in a fitness course. Maybe the goal should just be progress.

Physical fitness and getting in shape can easily be a long, and confusing road for a lot of people. Every person on this earth has a different body, and while it can be enticing to just ask, “what weight should I be at my age?” or “how many sit-ups should I be able to do on the first try?”, it will probably be a better choice to let progress be your goal. Rather than focusing on fitting into a mold, simply focus on being a better you than you were yesterday. If you’re improving, you’re doing something right by any doctor, scientist, or trainer’s standards.

Today, I’m starting my new exercise plan, and my only goal is to improve. I plan to run, do push-ups, do sit-ups, and maybe toss a fun fitness class like Zumba or Barre into the mix. Most importantly, I’m going to track my progress so I know when and where I need to step up my workouts. And if I get to a point where I really feel like I can’t improve on something any more than I already have, I’ll change the rotation. For example, if I ever manage to max out how many push-ups I can do in a minute, I’ll start practicing a side-plank, or I’ll try to learn more yoga moves.

I think the idea of broad requirements for physical fitness are a little antiquated. Sure, they might be useful in a general sense — like teaching a med student whether they need to tell their patient that a medical condition may be related to their weight, and therefore, they need to step up their exercise game. When it comes to designing a workout for yourself, however, I think you should forget the requirements, tests, and quizzes you see all over the internet. The information out there often changes or conflicts, and all those rules tend to result in more stress than they’re worth. If you’re exercising multiple times a week in a measurable way and you’re improving over time, I think you’re going to be just fine.

Your Stress Might Be Making You Sick

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Since I was a little girl, I have struggled with eczema, a chronic skin disease that results in itchy, dry, inflamed patches all over the body. This particular skin disease is fairly common, it affects millions of Americans, but a lot of people grow out of it. For those who bring it into adulthood like myself, eczema can be especially frustrating when”flare-ups” typically caused by periods of stress.

A few months ago, I was going through an extremely busy period at college, and I was suffering from sleep bulimia. I was sleeping for about 4-5 hours per night, working constantly, and experiencing perpetual periods of stress and anxiety. This resulted in my skin erupting into dark brown and red patches that I haven’t been able to get rid of for what feels like ages.

Now that the school year has ended, I finally feel like I might have time to see a doctor, but I was also hoping that simply coming home, getting more rest, and relaxing more often would lead to my skin clearing up. I was wrong.

After getting home, I felt less stressed on the surface, but in reality, I was still dealing with my stress problem. I found myself getting frustrated more often and agitated more easily. Small mistakes or issues during my day led to emotional explosions. After some research, I learned that most people tend to deal with stress in one of two ways, “fight” or “flight”. “Flyers” react to stress by becoming depressed, withdrawn, and spaced-out. “Fighters” react to stress by becoming angry or keyed-up. I also learned that whether you’re a flyer or a fighter, prolonged stress periods can lower the immune system.

Skin diseases aren’t the only thing that can be worsened by stress. During periods of frustration, migraine sufferers can expect more episodes. Insomniacs can have increased trouble sleeping. People with heart problems are more prone to an incident. Even people who have no chronic illnesses can expect stress to make them more susceptible to muscle pain, nausea, colds, and much more.

Most Americans are stressed for some reason or another, whether it’s a recent divorce, a loss of a family member, or just having too many things on the daily to-do list. According to the APA, 65% of Americans cite work as the most stressful part of life, due to low salaries, excessive responsibilities, lack of social support, lack of control over job-related decisions, and unclear performance expectations. Chances are, at some point, you’ve felt like you were inches from a breakdown at the office or you left your job at the end of the day wanting to punch someone in the face. Even if you don’t realize you’re stressed out, you may be experiencing fight or flight responses anyway, because sometimes, stress is subconscious. In the forefront of your mind, everything seems handled and under control, but underneath, your brain is racing and chattering away without you.

As I learn to deal with my own subconscious stress, which rears its ugly head both physically through my skin and emotionally when I find myself arguing with someone for no reason, I’ve been working towards recognizing a fight or flight response when it happens. When I become extremely frustrated, I have to ask myself, “Is this worth being so upset that I’m going to cause my skin to look worse?” or “Am I really that mad or do I just feel overwhelmed because I have a lot to do?” Then, if I find that I’m more upset than I really should be, I go grab a healthy snack and some water, find a quiet place to sit, and just breathe and relax for about 15 minutes. I do a quick, meditative breathing exercise so that I can cool down. I get myself away from others so I don’t say something I’ll regret later. I eat a healthy snack because I know that if I’m stressed out, I probably haven’t been eating well lately either, and my immune system will benefit from fruits, vegetables, and water. This little restorative session leaves me feeling a lot better.

I hope to enter the summer with much clearer skin because, honestly, I’m a tad vain and I hate it when people ask me if I’m covered in bruises or a cashier stares at my skin when I reach to hand them my money. But, I also hope to enter the summer with a much clearer mind. Considering that my physical sickness is partially just in my head, it’s my brain that I want to start healing first. Mind over matter is my new motto.

Why Sleep Bulimia Is Ruining Your Health And Your Grades

So I’m insanely exhausted because I only slept for 3 hours last night. I had a huge assignment due today and if I have a lot of assignments going on at once, the largest one with the farthest away due date (Hint: term papers) always gets pushed to the last minute. I had to stay up until 5 am to finish my work last night and I still had to get up at 8 am.

So how does this affect my health? Well, apparently, being awake for 18 straight hours causes your brain and body to function in similar ways to a legally drunk person. So yes, when you pull an all-nighter to write a paper, you’re basically writing it drunk.  In addition, sleeping this little is linked with weight gain and illness.

A lot of people, myself included, try to deal with the sleep deficit problem by sleeping for very long hours on the weekend to make up for the lost sleep during the week. Doctors call this pattern, “Sleep Bulimia” and they highly recommend that you avoid this type of pattern. Instead, they say you should try to keep your sleep pattern as regular as possible, meaning you should probably be going to bed and waking up earlier on the weekends, especially if you aren’t getting enough sleep during the week.

My first reaction when I read this was…hell no. This is such an unattainable standard. I can’t not sleep binge and I can’t magic my way to not having 3 hour sleep nights. How dare these doctors suggest that I give up sleep binges.

But then I thought about my health. I’m trying to get myself together health-wise as a part of this blog, and sleep is one of the most important things in the world. So I decided I was going to actually try to shake my sleep bulimia problem. I have the day off tomorrow, but I’m going to bed early and setting an alarm to wake up at 9 am. My usual motto, “sleep is for the weak”, just isn’t going to help me in my journey of self-betterment. Getting more than 8 hours of sleep isn’t always necessary, but setting up a regular sleep schedule is.

It may seem like it sucks to get up early on the weekends for the sake of your sleep schedule, but if you want to avoid sleep deprivation issues, this is your best option to rectify your mistakes. And hey, at least you can have more time on your day off to do productive or enjoyable things!

So give this a try with me and let me know if you come out feeling more rested!