There’s a particular maxim that I like to proffer up to clients who email me with reports of a bad day. In the context of CR counseling, this usually means that they ate a little more than they should have, or ate foods they aren’t proud of; or that they’re former eating disorder sufferers who felt tempted to restrict food. No matter who they are or what they tell me, I usually respond to the confession of “today was a bad day” with the same words:
“OK. Let’s not let one bad day turn into two.”
My point is pretty obvious: it’s easy for anyone to overeat, undereat, stress eat, or eat emotionally in response to a particularly lousy 24 hours. We’ve all been there, and of course we know that poor eating habits reinforce the anxiety by loading us up with feelings of guilt. But the worst response to this pattern is to let guilt or stress become so overwhelming that we continue to eat poorly (or undereat); if we do that, we’ll only let one bad day turn into two, and two into three, and so on. The best way to handle any day of food imbalance—whether that was a cocktail party where you went overboard on drinks and hors d’oeuvres, a stressful day at the office that meant 12 trips to your coworker’s candy drawer, or a fight with your spouse that left you in the kitchen at midnight with your hand in a cookie box—is to stop, take a deep breath, and overcome the impulse to panic. This day will ultimately be negligible if you wake up tomorrow and give yourself a fresh start: despite what we all fear, no one ever gained or lost a meaningful amount of weight or compromised his or her health from a single day of eating. It’s what we do every day, not once in a while, that matters.
The personal part of today’s post isn’t actually about poor eating, though I didn’t happen to eat well yesterday. It’s about a day that was stressful. So far, school has been wonderful in many ways: it’s expanding the scope of my knowledge, it’s presenting me with all sorts of intellectual challenges, it’s making me more excited than ever about health care, and it’s already giving me some fantastic new friends. But it’s also incredibly hard. I’m taking a lot of classes, and they’re all tough. Math and science don’t come easily to me the way the humanities always did. As a result, my ego’s taking a beating, and it’s easy to feel demoralized.
That, coupled with too little sleep, too many late night classes, and too little time with friends, led to a fabulous mini-meltdown last night. Arriving home at 11 pm after a three hour lab (which was so long that I didn’t even finish on time), I flopped into bed, had a good cry, called M in a state of woe, and contemplated whether or not I’m cut out for this. I was too hassled to pack dinner last night, and normally, I’d have fixed myself a nice meal when I got home no matter how late it was. But last night I was too tired even to brush my teeth, and went to bed on an empty stomach. Empty, that is, except for the giant coffee I’d inhaled at 7 p.m. (my third of the day).
I believe that’s what we officially call a nutritionist’s FAIL.
But even if I went against all of my own advice yesterday—always be prepared and pack meals, don’t drink coffee after 4 p.m., and never, ever skip a meal—I woke up this morning and took my own most cherished piece of advice to heart: I didn’t let one crappy day turn into two. I did a (very) early morning yoga video, went for a run, ate a nourishing breakfast, and took thirty solid minutes to regain some perspective. Nobody said this would be easy, least of all me: I knew when I signed up for the post-bacc that I was taking on the biggest challenge of my life so far. I haven’t been a student in about six years, and I’m studying subjects that I never had to master in the past. I’m familiarizing myself with a future that’s going to be immensely difficult at every turn. I’m effectively putting my social life on hold for a while, and I’m doing it all as I continue to run a counseling practice, blog, and be in a long distance relationship. And guess what? It isn’t going to get any easier: med school will be even harder, and so will clinical rotations, internship, and residency. This is all just a taste of what’s to come.
The good news is that this is what I want, and—no matter how hard it is—I’m as driven as I was before. The other good news is that I have a loving circle of friends, an amazing, supportive boyfriend, a mother who knows how to handle my hysterics like a champ, and a lot of resilience. After a few early hours on campus in tutoring and office hours, I’m feeling a lot more calm about my classes, my workload, and the rest of the semester. And as M (wisely) noted last night, even if the worst case scenario were to happen, and I was to find that this is all beyond the scope of my ability—which I doubt, but it’s always possible—I’ll find something great to do instead. And I’ll have learned a lot about vectors in the meantime.
For the record, I might have forgotten to pack dinner last night, and I might have thrown back enough coffee to start levitating yesterday afternoon. But I didn’t do what I really wanted to do, which was to buy a pack of smokes. And that’s pretty good
Moral of this long and winding story? Nutritionists are people, too. When I tell my clients not to let a bad day multiply itself into two, I’m using the same advice and logic that I often have to use on myself—even if I don’t always mean it in the context of food. We’re all human, and we all have days that involve picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off and starting all over again.
In the meantime, I happen to think that the best cure for a bad day is to nourish one’s body with wholesome, nutrient-rich food. We can’t always control the forces that make us anxious, but we can definitely improve our responses to stress and pressure by fortifying our bodies and souls with a decent meal. So here’s my breakfast smoothie today, which was filling, nutrient-dense, and delicious.
1 large frozen banana
1/2 (heaping) cup frozen blueberries
1/2 cup almond milk
1 packet Vega Smoothie Infusion in berry flavor (or a vegan protein powder of choice)
1/4 large avocado
4 romaine leaves
1/2 tsp maca
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Blend all ingredients in a high speed blender till smooth, adding more almond milk if you like (I like my smoothies thick and eaten in a bowl).
Sit back and let your body soak up the nourishment.
Wondering about the addition of maca? Yeah, me too. Maca is an Andean root known in health circles for “balancing hormones,” “increasing sex drive,” and “reducing stress.” I’m not actually confident that it does any of these things. But I was in the mood to believe the stress reduction part.
Also, a healthy amount of chocolate. A girl’s gotta live.
Being a nutritionist and counselor may not give me any special defenses against stress or anxiety or caffeine abuse. But it sure does make me conscious of the incredible, curative powers of good food and cooking.
What foods do you rely on to remedy a bad day? And what are your other go-to tricks for not letting one bad day turn into two? I’d love to know!