Keys to maintaining a healthy diet in medicine

Paras Mehta, MS4By Paras Mehta, MS4

Throughout medical school, I have seen physicians discuss with their patients the importance of a healthy diet. Doctors tell patients that diet is an effective way to keep their heart healthy, lose weight, and prevent end organ damage from chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. While some patients heed this advice and change their lifestyle, many do not. Convincing patients to eat healthier can become a frustrating part of many clinic visits or hospital admissions.

While physicians emphasize healthy eating to their patients, many find themselves too busy or too tired to heed this advice themselves. I have noticed that many physicians do not regularly bring their meals from home, and instead may have to obtain their meals from the hospital cafeteria or chain restaurant nearby. There are many healthy options such as Subway and Salata in the medical center, but unfortunately unhealthy options such as McDonald’s, Chick-Fil-A, and Chipotle are also right around the corner.

Here are a few solutions I believe can help fight the battle against unhealthy lifestyles:

  1. Replace traditional fast food from hospitals with healthier, quick options. Though McDonald’s may appear to be cheaper and more recognizable, a deli with fresh wraps, soups, and salads may better serve our patients and staff.
  2. Make healthy choices less expensive and make unhealthy choices more expensive. If a 300 calorie salad costs the same as an 800 calorie burger, at the end of a 14-hour shift, it is hard to say no to that burger. With cheaper healthy options available, it becomes easier to pass on those comfort foods.
  3. Discourage free junk food during conferences and lectures. For example, though pizza may be extremely easy to order and always popular, it fails to provide much nutritional value. And even when I’ve brought my own lunch, I’ve been guilty of grabbing a slice for myself. If this type of food were not in the vicinity, it would be much easier to stay away from it altogether.

After many residents and students have worked 12+ hours a day, it is understandable to not want to come home and worry about cooking for that night, let alone preparing lunch for the next day. It can feel like there is no time or energy to cook, but I’ve found that this can be circumvented by cooking in bulk just 1 or 2 days a week. As an example, I usually try to cook a large batch of whole wheat pasta with vegetables/sauce/spices once a week. I’ll take this pasta, Greek yogurt, and fruit for lunch every day; this takes me a few minutes to put together every morning. By finding a couple of simple recipes and healthy snacks that you like, a few unhealthy meals can be replaced every week and can taste even better than what you find on the run.

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