As a dietitian living in New York City, I think a lot about how challenging it is to make healthy eating a priority. As young people in our 20s, we have so many responsibilities and obligations that we often neglect to fuel our bodies, and subsequently our minds. And our bodies are all we have! So it is so important to nourish and care for ourselves properly.
New York is the city that never sleeps. People are out at all hours on a weeknight and the 24- hour diner has its own speed-dial on your phone. This is New York, people — take it or leave it. Although this sounds like a dream come true, it can be difficult to stay on track while constantly surrounded by so much temptation. From frozen yogurt on food trucks to pop-up pizza stations, food is everywhere, and defines the social scene in New York City. It brings people together, but can also be a source of personal contention and conflict. You shouldn’t have to stay home just because you fear you will succumb to the breadbasket or that pitcher of margaritas. It’s okay — we’ve all done it once or twice. And you shouldn’t feel guilty! You most likely had fun, and that’s what makes life interesting. However, when this becomes a regular occurrence, the pants start to get a little tighter.
I have always felt that the key to staying afloat in this city of great temptation is moderation and preparation. Both in life and in food, these two notions are front and center in my personal New York City survival guide. In the realm of nutrition, I believe that moderation truly stems from preparation and planning. You get what you give.
So essentially, it goes back to what you learned all those years ago from your rigid elementary school teacher — prepare, prepare, prepare. Start with small changes, such as keeping high-protein, portioned-out snacks on hand to keep energy levels up and to help avoid that delivery of Magnolia cupcakes sitting at your office’s reception desk. If you prepare before, you are less likely to give into temptation later.
From a personal and professional standpoint, I’m well aware that this is a ubiquitous challenge for most individuals. If it were so easy to just plan ahead, lose weight and maintain it, the nutrition field would be much smaller (and a lot less lucrative). Integrating a more mindful and cognizant approach to eating does not occur overnight — it takes time and effort, just like anything else. If you enjoy cooking, prepare meals for the week over the weekend when you are relaxed and have time. If you first begin preparing the next day’s lunch after a long and exhausting day at the office, you will become frustrated and lose motivation in making this a priority. For those kitchen-challenged folks, don’t fret; New York serves up a bodega or market on every street corner where the preparation is done for you. It may be pricier, but there is an abundance of waistline-friendly options at every turn. I also highly recommend keeping a food log or journal. Now, this doesn’t mean walking around with a pen and notepad writing down every bite of food you consume. That would be tedious and ineffective. This is 2013, people. There are great, free smartphone apps such as MyFitnessPal and Lose It, which make tracking calories fun and easy. Keeping a dietary record helps you become more aware of the types of foods you are eating at specific times of day, while adhering to an appropriate caloric range. Try tracking for a week and see if it’s beneficial. Maybe seeing that bottle of wine in concrete writing will urge you to stick to one glass next time.
Eventually these small behavioral changes will become habitual and routine. You will stop stressing about menu options and fearing that dining out will sabotage your 6 a.m. spin class regimen. You will stop overeating at meals, begin to recognize when you’ve had enough and actually walk away satisfied — not stuffed, uncomfortable and regretful. My point is, with all of our other daily stressors, food doesn’t have to be one of them. Eating well should make you look and feel good — it should benefit your life instead of hindering it. We often overlook the fact that food is enjoyable, if approached with the right mindset. Begin implementing small changes and see if you feel more confident when it comes to your ability to take control and self-monitor. After all, who wants to miss Margarita Monday with outside seating? Not me!