Hello Premed STAR! I am a practicing Endocrinologist serving a community roughly 50 miles from the University of Texas and 23 miles from Texas State University. Why do I bring this up? Well, I have a number of college students who follow up with me in clinic for a number of reasons but 9 out of 10 times, weight concerns come up or some sort of dietary indiscretions are uncovered. But I know I’m preaching to the choir here. As premeds, I know you all are setting perfect examples for your peers, right!
Let’s be real. Even premeds are susceptible to the cruel “freshman 15”, stress eating, malnutrition, eating on the go, excessive alcohol consumption, and eating disorders. If you are anything like I was during college, a cereal bar sufficed for breakfast, Chick-fil-A sandwich and waffle fries served as lunch, and a small on-campus joint called Rumors provided my midnight pancake, egg and bacon fix while I studied. My saving grace was my active lifestyle and avoidance of harmful drugs and substances. Now I am more than ever aware that poor diet in school can lead to not only weight gain, but a number of issues such as lower grades, higher risk of depression and anxiety, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and a host of illnesses. My hope is that you are more conscious of your dietary intake than I was. Let’s explore a few dietary tips that may lead to a healthier you, now and beyond your premed years. Don’t worry, I’ll try my best not to sound like your mom.
1. Don’t skip breakfast. You’ve heard it said many times, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” However, studies show that about a quarter of the US population regularly miss breakfast. Granted, there is mixed data regarding causation, many studies have shown increased risk for metabolic disease and excess weight gain in those that skip breakfast. It is tough to be on your A game on an empty stomach. Consider a nutritious bowl of oatmeal decorated with fruits for breakfast as I do. This is a filling meal providing fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants.
2. Drink primarily water. Some recommend taking in eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily for all adults while others break it down based on gender, age, pregnancy, breastfeeding status, and physical activity. 80% of your fluid comes from drinking water and other beverages while the other 20% is derived from foods. Water can provide many benefits including assisting the body in removing wastes, regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, and smoothening the skin. I always recommend to my patients that at least 80% of their fluid intake should consist of plain water. Excess sugary and alcoholic beverages can be harmful to the body long term (especially the liver). Furthermore, the great thing about water is that it is FREE!
3. Limit processed foods. An eye-opening moment during my medical school days was when a grocery store clerk smirked as she rang up my groceries and whispered, “you must be a bachelor.” Although this was a true statement at the time, I was puzzled as to how she came to that conclusion. It didn’t take me long before I surveyed my cart and recognized I had 5 frozen boxes of pizza, pop tarts, cereal bars, ramen noodles, ice cream and Powerades. Rarely would you see any of those items in my cart after that day.
As I tell my patients, food is a daily medicine, invest in it. The sooner you recognize that the grocery store is the gatekeeper to your health, the better off you will be. I recommend periphery shopping where you will find much healthier options and less processed foods. Avoid shopping while hungry because an empty stomach is an easy set-up for failure at the grocery store. Consider using tools such as the Fooducate App which allows you to scan foods by their barcode to determine their scores and nutritional values. Alternative choices are provided as well.
4. Eat your Fruits and Veggies. Okay, I may be sounding like your mom now but this one is very important. Many if not most premeds are not consuming the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. This leads to less vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants which can aid in fighting illnesses and chronic diseases. In 2011, the food pyramid was transitioned to the MyPlate model and this really emphasized the importance of fruits and veggies as they make up roughly half the plate. Fruits make for great snacks.
5. Don’t be afraid to seek help. We all know the premed track is hectic and unfortunately, it will only get progressively busier over the next 10 years. Do not neglect your health. I repeat, do not neglect your health. If you experience sudden unexplained weight gain or weight loss, go see a doctor. It very well may be nothing but endocrinopathies such as diabetes, thyroid disease, Cushing syndrome, adrenal insufficiency as well as malignancies can present this way. On the other hand, if you believe you have a substance addiction or eating disorder, seek help through a counselor, doctor or anonymous hotline. More than you may realize, this problem haunts a number of physicians. Many of these habits begin in college. In fact, I still remember my intern year rounding on the wards with an attending reeking of alcohol. A few weeks later, he was on life support after crashing his sports car. Thank goodness he survived, but he was charged with another DWI and I can only guess this took a toll on his right to practice medicine. There are many people who are willing to help you and others out there you yourself may be able to provide guidance to.
So, how are your eating habits? What can you improve on? What other tips do you have? Please share!
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