One of the biggest challenges that medical professional face is staying healthy in our ever changing fast paced lives. While we work in a field that promotes health and wellness for our patients, given the demands and responsibilities in our own lives, it is often difficult to focus on our own health. In our increasingly busy lives, the demand of balancing social, academic and work obligations takes away from the time invested into ourselves. I have learned through my journey through medical school, my constantly changing schedule, my all day study sessions, night shifts, and endless commuting that the foundation of living a healthy and balanced life is prioritizing your time and creating non-negotiable habits that shape the framework of your day.
For as long as I can remember, I have made my own health one of my top priorities. I believe that in order to adequately take care of my patients, I have to be healthy myself. My patients, my family and my colleagues deserve this from me. Wellness has become part of my everyday life, part of every decision I make, and something that is non-negotiable regardless of my schedule and lack of time. I have learned that instead of creating excuses for myself, I started to build healthy habits into my daily routine.
Through all the chaos, the stress and severe lack of time, I have been able to maintain daily exercise and eat in a way that both nourishes and satisfies me. I have included a list of tips that I use on a daily basis in order to structure and prioritize my health and wellness.
Here are some tips that you can use to make your health non-negotiable.
Make your mornings peaceful.
I find that creating a morning routine helps to set the intention for the day. If my mornings are hurried and rushed, I often feel more stressed throughout the day. During my clinical rotations, there have some months that I have had to get up at 4:00am on a daily basis in order to make it to the hospital at 5:30am. While waking up this early was never easy, I established habits to make my early mornings much more peaceful. I did this by creating things to look forward to every morning, such as my morning almond milk latte and reading my favorite blog posts. I also do a lot of preparation the night before, such as packing my lunch, packing my stethoscope and other belongings, picking my outfit, and reviewing notes so that I don’t have to spend time doing these tedious things in the morning. The less rushed you feel in the morning, the more mindful and relaxed you will feel the rest of the day!
Change one thing a day until it becomes a habit. Once it does, choose a new thing.
Living a healthy lifestyle is all about forming healthy habits. One of the most difficult things about committing to a healthy lifestyle is trying to change too many things at once. While the idea behind changing everything at once seems like the quickest pathway to health, it is often extremely overwhelming and unsustainable. Something I recommend to my peers and patients is to choose one thing about your day that you can commit to change, and do this one thing until it becomes routine. For example, if someone is trying to incorporate more vegetables into their diet, I suggest that they eat at least one salad a day with a meal of their choosing, and continue to do this until eating vegetables becomes habitual. It can be as small as eating a pack of baby carrots with lunch, or adding a side salad to a meal. Become a creature of healthy habits!
Eat vegetables at every meal
I am the hidden veggie guru! I have managed to sneak vegetables in unimaginable places without anyone ever knowing. One of the habits I have developed is to eat vegetables at every single meal, no excuses. While vegetables at breakfast may seem difficult to some, there are ways to incorporate vegetables as a natural ingredient to almost every dish. I have done this every day, without fail for many years and my secret is to use “hidden veggies.” For example, I cook my daily oatmeal with riced cauliflower or grated zucchini, both of which you cannot taste. I make every smoothie I drink with some type of vegetable, and I always eat a salad for lunch. If I want a pasta dish, I incorporate spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles into the recipe for an added nutritional and fiber boost. I recommend buying a food processor, veggie chopper and spiralizer to make easy to use vegetables that can be incorporated in every recipe.
Invest in your health
During my first two years of medical school, I often studied up to 16 hours a day, and each day would leave me completely mentally and physically exhausted. It would have been easy for me to throw my hands up, and simply use the excuse of being too tired to not exercise or prepare a healthy meal. I think that it is common to have the all or nothing mentality. We either want to go all out or do nothing at all. However, even during finals week I developed the mentality that “something is better than nothing” meaning that even 10 minutes of an at home exercise circuit is better than nothing at all. Whether you take ten minutes to stretch, or to do a quick bodyweight workout in your apartment, fully committing to the 10 minutes you have away from your work and focusing on your health creates the mindset of wellness. The hardest part of forming these types of habits is getting started, so I say, just start. Everyone takes some type of break during the day. While some choose to watch TV, or browse social media, use some of those minutes and invest in your health. Everyone has 10 extra minutes a day.
Always keep healthy high protein stacks on hand (Or in your scrub pockets).
It is easy to eat anything in sight when you are hungry, and trust me, I have been ravenous on rotations, often going the entire day without the opportunity to eat. To prevent this I plan ahead, always have easy to eat high protein snacks on hand (in your scrub pockets). My favorite go to snacks are natural high protein bars, my favorite are quest or Rx Bars. These keep me full for hours. I also recommend keeping a bag of nuts, such as cashews or almonds in your pocket, for easy on the go snacking. The healthy fats and protein will keep you satiated. Other easy to eat snacks I recommend are dried fruit or jerky. All of these snacks do not need to be refrigerated, and are easy to stash in a drawer, locker or a pocket.
I hope these tips will offer support and help you take your next step towards living a healthier life. For recipe and food prep ideas, please visit my Instagram page @the.physicians.kitchen.
About the author:
Alexa Gozali, DO is a family medicine physician and Medelita HIP Ambassador living and working in Irvine, California. She is deeply passionate about preventative and functional medicine, and is a firm believer that lifestyle and balanced living are necessary components of overall health and wellness.