Staying Healthy for Residency (And Life)
“The only insurance of your health are the choices you make every day.” – Leonard Morneau, MD
Residency is arguably one of the most grueling times of a physician’s career/life. You’re working long hours (80 hour weeks can be the norm), usually don’t get enough sleep, and barely have time for yourself. At times residents can get so focused on the health of their patients that they forget about their own health and well-being. This is a very sad turn of events. Physicians are supposed to be leaders in healthcare and it’s my personal belief that the only way to lead is by example. Now you may be saying, but I don’t have time to be healthy! I barely get enough sleep, there’s no time for exercise! But the fact is that you can still be healthy even while working such strenuous hours. This is especially important for Radiologists that spend most of the day sitting in a chair. A previous post does a great job explaining the importance of exercise and the different types you can do to stay active, even with minimal time. The main focus of this post will be on other healthy lifestyle choices to make.
The MOST important thing, by far, is the choice of what food you put into your body. I’ll be honest; the cards are stacked against you here. It’s one of the main reasons we have the obesity epidemic and millions upon millions of people who suffer from completely preventable diseases. Our bodies have been engineered to desire sugar, fats and other bad food choices. Why? Thousands of years ago when food was scarce it was good to have fats to store energy for later use in case of famine or not being able to find food. So the human brain was trained to crave those sorts of foods. Fast forward a few thousand years and those impulses are still here, but food is plentiful (in most places).
In my personal opinion, most of the food choices we have today are very unhealthy. They’re packed with sugar, preservatives and other things that are simply not good for the human body. Yet this is the majority of food that’s produced, is heavily advertised and can be as addictive as a drug. Multiple studies have shown these addictive properties and that sugar specifically activates the same receptors in the brain as cocaine and heroin… 1, 2, 3 This is why “dieting” is so hard; it’s like trying to tell someone addicted to drugs that they need to stop. Easier said than done.
INSTEAD, what must be done is not to think of things in terms of this diet or that diet, but living a healthy LIFESTYLE. There is no magic pill. It is the choices you make every day. Now, here’s a list of some things you can do to start living healthier:
I recommend only drinking water (preferably hydrogen enriched water). Nearly all beverages are loaded with sugar, so ALWAYS check the nutrition facts. I’ve seen a “green juice” marketed to be healthy with “no sugar added” that contained almost 40g of sugar… And sugar is immediately converted to fat if it’s not utilized by the body (which is most of the time, unless you just finished a tough workout). This is one of the easiest things you can do that will drastically improve your health. A good starting point is ½ your body weight in ounces of water daily.
2) Eat More Greens
No one ever got obese by eating too many vegetables. Vegetables are nutrient dense foods (high in nutrients and low in calories) and they fill you up faster. For those of you complaining about them not tasting good enough for you, there’s a ton of different ways to prepare veggies that taste amazing. I do it every week in my meal prep. Also, growing more plants for food consumption would be better for the environment and help slow the pace of global warming as well.
3) Avoid The Aisles
When you go to the grocery store, the majority of your food should be purchased from the periphery of the store. Most of the food in the aisles of a typical grocery store is all processed, full of sugar and bad for you. Always check the nutrition facts before you buy something, you’ll be amazed at what you’re actually eating.
4) Prep For Success
Take one day a week to prepare most of your meals, at least lunch. This way you’ll have healthy meal choices ready during the week. I’ve been doing it for years and it is definitely one of the main reasons I’ve been able to stay so healthy.
5) Avoid Fast Food
Restaurants like McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc… should be avoided like the plague. Compare eating fast food to using drugs like cocaine and heroin in your mind (after all they have a similar effect) and you’ll be less likely to eat them. (I haven’t been to one in nearly 4 years, so yes, it’s possible).
6) Have A Cheat Day
With all the new changes to your diet, you’re likely to crave those old foods that you love. Try and save them for one day of the week only. This will make it easier to eat healthier during the week when you know you have a reward coming at the end of the week. The less you consume these food choices, the less you will crave them.
7) Track It
Many people find that they’re not aware of how much they’re eating until they make a note of it and calculate out how many calories they take in. Try using an app just one day a week to see how much you consume in a typical day. It may be the eye-opener you need to kick-start a new lifestyle.
8) Snack Healthy
Instead of going for that cookie or other sweet in the mid-morning or afternoon, try having a healthier option like a handful of almonds or nuts.
9) Keep A Balance
Think of health as a bank account. Every good health decision you make, like eating vegetables and exercising, is a deposit. Every time you eat unhealthy or make such decisions you are making a withdrawal. Keep a tally of your deposits and withdrawals like you would your bank account. Just like it takes time to build wealth, good health is only obtained from making these deposits every day. If you withdraw more than you deposit, you’ll go into debt and suffer the consequences. How does your account balance look?
It may seem difficult at first, but the habits you form today determine who you will be tomorrow. Keep the end goal in mind and you’ll be able to do more than you ever though imaginable.
Just as in airplane safety videos they always tell you to put your oxygen mask on before your children’s mask; why? Because you’re no good to that child if you’re dead. Similarly, we must make our own health our first priority because without it, we won’t be able to take care of others; which is the whole reason we got into this profession in the first place.
1. Spangler, Rudolph, Knut Wittkowski, and Noel Goddard. Opiate-like Effects of Sugar on Gene Expression in Reward Areas of the Rat Brain. N.p., 19 May 2004. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
2. Colantuoni, C., J. Chwenker, and J. McCarthy. “Excessive Sugar Intake Alters Binding to Dopamine and Mu-opiod receptors in the brain : NeuroReport.” LWW. N.p., 16 Nov. 2001. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.
3. Avena, Nicole, Pedro Rada, and Bartley Hoebel. Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent, Excessive Sugar Intake. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 2008. Web. 14 Nov. 2016.