Fall-ing into place

October was such a crazy month, that I didn’t get a chance to write a blog post, so consider this post an extended update.  In addition to starting another rotation of the dietetic internship (DI), I moved into a new apartment in October.  Needless to say, I’ve been a very busy girl these past few months!

I’ll start by sharing some updates about my latest rotations.  I’ve been interning in a long term care facility for the past two months.  My experience at this facility has been divided into two parts:  institutional food service management and clinical long term care.  The food service management rotation was surprisingly fun.  It takes a lot of work and organization to oversee the management of a food service department, especially in a residential/long term care facility.  I learned about forecasting, budgeting, purchasing, and how food is stored and prepared in this facility.  I also got to know the food service staff and presented an inservice on food sanitation and teamwork, which are essential in a food service kitchen.

My second rotation at this same facility has been in the clinical area.  I’ve been working on nutrition assessments of residents in long term care (LTC) while getting to know the residents, their health conditions, and and how to address health problems using evidence-based nutrition interventions.  I’ve found the clinical aspect of this rotation to be a little more challenging than food service, mostly because assessments need to be written in a very particular way and I’m still finding my voice when it comes to making recommendations and writing evaluations.  My advice to anyone else going into a clinical rotation of the DI is to learn from each preceptor and try to see everything as a learning experience, especially if you don’t have much clinical experience prior to starting the internship.

Like I mentioned above, October was super busy due to transitioning from one rotation to the next, all while moving my life into a U-Haul and changing homes.  I absolutely love my new apartment– it’s so roomy, light, and has such a great energy about it.  Growing up, I wanted to be an architect or an interior designer, so I’m having a lot of fun trying to make the best use of space and decorating (on a budget!).

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My new room 🙂

In addition to moving, October brought a lot of personal realizations and change for me.  During the summer, I ramped up my exercise and started to restrict my food a little bit (or, a lot based on my actual energy needs).  I think I was just stressed from this past year being such an intense year of change (writing my master’s thesis, applying to and getting into the DI, leaving my job as a WIC nutritionist, getting ready to move, etc.) that exercise and diet became a welcome distraction.  I lost weight pretty quickly (even though I really didn’t need to), but I also became really moody, on-edge, and exhausted at times.  As someone who is well aware of disordered eating and eating disorders, it didn’t take me long to realize I might be heading down a dangerous, unhealthy path.  The past few weeks have been spent reflecting on how to manage stress better, increase my calorie intake, and not do so much intense exercise.  I feel so much better now that I’m fueling my body correctly and taking it easy.  I’ve realized the importance of taking a break when needed.  Sometimes we’re so busy and wired to achieve that we forget to take care of ourselves, or resort to unhealthy habits as a means of escaping overwhelming feelings.  I feel it’s important to share all of what I’ve written because food is fuel and life becomes a lot less fun and a lot harder when you’re under-fueled and hungry!

I’m hoping the rest of November will be a little more calm now that I’m settled into my new home and in December, I’ll get a short break from the internship (which is definitely welcomed, because every intern needs a break now and then!).  I’m looking forward to sharing more updates and info when I start my next rotation 🙂

-Jess

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Diary of a Dietetic Intern

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My life right now summed up in a picture- Dietetics Manuals, case studies, and healthy brain fuel!

Hello again readers!  I’m so excited to write this post/update as an RD-to-be/Dietetic Intern!  My Dietetic Internship (DI) officially started a few weeks ago with a two-week orientation that was jam-packed with projects, assignments, and learning all about what’s to come during the internship.  In case you’re reading my blog for the first time, I’m currently a Dietetic Intern and on my way to becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN).  The process of getting accepted into an internship was extremely competitive (my internship has an 11.8% acceptance rate!).  Not only was the application process competitive, but it was also stress-inducing, and time-consuming because I was working on my master’s thesis and working full time as I applied, so I’m elated that I even get to call myself a Dietetic Intern.  Still confused as to what the DI entails?  The DI is a commitment of supervised practice in a variety of rotations, such as clinical/hospital settings, long-term care, community nutrition organizations, renal/dialysis centers, and specific areas of nutrition/dietetics in order to train graduates to enter the field as health professionals (Registered Dietitians/Registered Dietitian-Nutritionists).

I started my first rotation this week at a Long Term Care facility gaining experience in institutional food service management.  It’s been so interesting to learn about food service management and how much work goes into budgeting a menu, planning, overseeing a kitchen, and keeping guests happy.

While I’m not going to share too much details about the specifics about what I’ve been doing while in the internship, I will share how I’ve been managing my time/stress levels and trying to remain sane outside of the DI.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I love running and yoga, so I’ve been making it a point to continue doing these things to manage stress and keep fit during this crazy process.  I’ve also been sticking to a food budget and meal planning for myself (…or trying to) because the DI is an unpaid program and a girl’s gotta eat, but also watch her wallet (and waist!).

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Trail running is my go-to stress relieving activity (and how cool are my tie-dye socks?!)

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A typical lunch on the go during this crazy time- Wasa bread sandwiches, raw veggies + hummus, and a fresh, crunchy apple

One thing that really stood out to me during orientation before the rotations actually started was some advice from the DI director– she advised us all to practice self-care in order to help us de-stress.  I really believe self-care and relaxation are so vital to health.  I also think it’s important to make time for friends, relationships, and family, especially because life is so much more than just school + professional commitments.  A few weeks ago my boyfriend and I went apple picking and it was such a a nice way to spend the day while enjoying the outdoors and getting some delicious, locally-grown fruit.  How do you stay sane during busy/stressful times?  I hope whatever  you’re working towards also brings you happiness and (some) time to relax.  I’ll be sure to keep this blog updated throughout the internship, so stop by soon for another post 🙂

 

-Jess

 

 

Balanced on a budget

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My balanced food haul on a budget using the tips below

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about how to budget and plan a healthy, plant-based diet.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll know that I work as a nutritionist for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, which helps low-income women and children get access to healthy food.  I really love educating and helping my clients make the best food choices, especially because many people think eating healthy is expensive.  Although it can be pricier if you shop at exclusively organic health food markets, healthy eating does not have to cost you your entire paycheck.  Today I’m sharing some tips on how to get the most bang for your buck when it comes to food.  Feel free to share any of your tips or advice by leaving a comment on this post or via facebook or instagram.

1.  Plan your meals

Before you do any food shopping, have a plan of what you’ll be preparing and eating for the next week or weeks to come.  This is super helpful because you don’t want to buy a ton of food but have zero recipe ideas or inspiration.  For inspiration, I like looking at vegan food prep ideas by searching the hashtags #veganmealprep, #veganmealplanning, or similar phrases.  Be realistic with how much time you want to put into preparing your meals and whether you want to prepare your meals for the week ahead of time or on an as-you-go basis.  Keep in mind that some food (especially fresh fruits and veggies) will only stay fresh for several days.

2. Stick to the basics

If you’re on a budget, now is not the time to buy several different varieties of truffle oil and exotic $30 tropical fruits.  Stick with produce that’s in season, and stock up on items that you use on a daily basis (for me, my staples are whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat pasta, whole grain cereal).  If you feel like treating yourself, choose one specialty item that you’ll use sparingly.  For my “treat”, I like to buy a pint of chocolate coconutmilk vegan icecream, which is about $5-6/pint and treat myself to a serving once a week or less, which really does make it feel like a special occasion treat.

3.  Canned + Frozen are your friends

Fresh produce can be more expensive in the winter months, which is why canned and frozen produce can be more economical depending on the season.  You’ll typically find the prices of canned and frozen peas, broccoli, spinach, peppers, and berries are less expensive than the fresh varieties when it’s cold out.  If you’re buying canned goods, you can cut down on the sodium by rinsing your veggies before you use them.

4.  Befriend your local farmer (or become a regular at the Farmers Market)

During the warmer months, you’ll often find that locally grown, fresh produce is a lot cheaper than going to the supermarket (although it depends where you live).  Locally grown fruits and veggies have so many benefits to both you and your community.  Not only can it be the more economical choice, locally grown produce is typically higher in vitamins, minerals, and taste due to less time in transit from the farm to where it’s being sold.  If you have space and a green thumb, you might also want to try your hand at growing your own fruits and veggies (but be patient, all good things take time and skill!)

5.  All hail dry beans

I used to be intimidated by dry beans because I heard they were really labor intensive to prepare.  While it’s true that dried beans require soaking (usually overnight), the actual cooking process is pretty simple (just bring water to a boil, add soaked beans, lower the heat, and in 2 hours you’ll have a big batch of delicious plant protein!).  Dried beans tend to be cheaper per pound than the canned variety.  Another benefit to dried beans is that they don’t contain added salt or preservatives and you can control the amount of seasonings you add as you cook them.

6.  Shop around

Become a master at shopping on the cheap.  Compare prices at several stores.  Some stores may have inexpensive produce, but other items may be more costly, which is why it’s totally ok to do your food shopping at a few different stores (hopefully they’re close in location though).  If you don’t have a car, you may want to do your shopping in one location, so feel free to skip this tip.  In my experience, items like peanut butter, cereal, grains, and (some) produce like bagged spinach and baby carrots are less expensive at my local Trader Joe’s, but for other items, such as apples, cucumbers, dried beans, I’ve found them cheaper at my local non-specialty store.  I also like to visit local farms whenever I can and this tends to result in the least-expensive produce finds.

 

These are just come of my tips that I’ve found the most useful from my experience.  I try to practice what I preach and I know I’ll be using this advice throughout the next year as I do my (unpaid!) Dietetic Internship.  Happy shopping, eating, and occasional treat-ing to you!

-Jess

Relaxing and Running

Greetings readers!  It’s been a little while since I last wrote a blog post.  May was a pretty busy month for me because I graduated with two degrees!  I officially have a second bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in nutrition!  Graduating was such a huge accomplishment and a proud moment.  School has been a big part of my life for the past several years, so it feels a little weird to not be in class right now.  In September, I start the dietetic internship in order to become a Registered Dietitian, and I’ll have to take classes as a component of the program, so I should feel like my normal “academic” self in the fall.

Lately I’ve been relaxing as well getting back to some of my favorite activities that I didn’t have as much time to do this past year.  One of these activities is running.  I started running for fun and fitness in high school and it became a major stress reliever, until I got injured when I was 17.  I took a break from running and then started up again in my early 20’s, but this past year, doing cardio wasn’t my first priority.  Now that I have more free time, I’ve been running outside a bunch and going for trail runs, which I love because trail runs are challenging and I get to be surrounded by the beauty of nature.

A few weekends ago I even did a 5k race in a nature preserve with some friends, but it was definitely not my best race time!  The weather that day was 90+ heat and the humidity was high but it was fun, and that’s all that counts.

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Before the race started 

In addition to relaxing and running, I’ve also been cooking a ton and taking advantage of the farmers market season by using locally grown fruits and veggies in as many meals and snacks as possible.  If you want to see more details on my running hobby or my food creations, follow my instagram account @vitaminvalentine or keep checking my blog, as I intend to share a delicious recipe or two in the coming weeks.  Thanks for stopping by and reading my update!

-Jess

Busy yet balanced

February has been a busy month for me, but one of my goals is to write more on Vitamin Valentine.  This month has been filled with school assignments (I’m working on my master’s thesis) and some very exciting (yet nerve-racking) professional developments.  I submitted my dietetic internship applications this month and I’m hoping to get accepted into an internship.  If you’re new to my blog, I’ve been working on a B.S./M.S. in Nutrition for the past four years in order to become a Registered Dietitian (RD).  It’s extremely competitive to get into a dietetic internship (DI) and completing the DI is a requirement of the education and training to become an RD, so I’m hoping I match.  Nutrition is my passion and I hope to get into an internship in order to gain the knowledge necessary to help people.  Registered Dietitians are truly the experts in the nutrition field because of the training and education they receive.  I’ve dreamt of becoming an RD for so long, so wish me luck!

Because I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve been finding ways to save time when it comes to preparing healthy food.  Sometimes I make a big batch of food and eat the same thing for lunch for a few days during the week, and other times I try to mix it up.  Either way, I try to stick with the same formula for making my meals as balanced and colorful as possible.  I try to include at least two veggies, a source of protein, and a healthy fat.  Sometimes I’ll also add some whole grains, but today I skipped that component.  For a “side dish” or snack, I usually stick to fruit or a protein bar.  Lunch today was so colorful and delicious.  It consisted of a purple potato on top of collard greens, 1/2 a medium avocado, some cherry tomatoes, and a serving of hummus.  For my snacks, I had a fruit salad (sliced papaya, kiwi, and pineapple) and a gomacro bar (a vegan protein bar).  I also took an apple with me but I decided to save it for another time.

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Delicious, colorful, and easy!

It took me about 10 minutes in total to prepare this.  Instead of baking the potato, I put it in the microwave, which saves a lot of time.  I love preparing my meals ahead of time like this, especially because when I’m hungry at work it’s so tempting to go out and buy something.  Do you have any ways to save time or money while staying healthy?  Feel free to share below, or connect with me via facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine

-Jess

Authenticity, Compassion, and Omega 3’s

Have you ever felt morally conflicted?  I have, and today I’m sharing why.  If you’ve been following my blog or instagram page for a while, you may have noticed that I try to follow a plant-based/vegan lifestyle.  I say “try” because I’m human and I’m not perfect.  As you’ll read below, I’ve had moments when I’m not 100% vegan.  I still wear my old leather shoes and belts, but I no longer buy these items.  I do this because I personally do not want to contribute to violence and pain in this world, but I understand people may have other beliefs when it comes to what they do.

A few months ago, I started having intense cravings for meat, poultry, and fish.  This is not a new occurrence for me.  I became a vegan at age 15, and honestly, I’ve taken a few short breaks in the 12 years since then due to health issues and intense cravings that were related to anemia and B-vitamin deficiencies (pro-tip: take your vitamins).  The most recent series of cravings motivated me to pay closer attention to my diet.  Even as someone who (almost) has their Master’s in Nutrition, I still have to remind myself what balanced eating looks like.

I tried adding more protein to each meal, but the cravings persisted.  I tried going outside more too, because I tend to get low in vitamin D during the winter, but I still craved salmon constantly.  Every time I really wanted a piece of chicken or fish, I reminded myself of the torture animals face, so instead I would buy beans, tofu, veggies, and some form of carb…followed by another carb because I wasn’t really satisfied and I found myself overeating on desserts (vegan muffins, vegan cookies, etc.).

Finally, sometime in the past two weeks, I decided to just eat a piece of chicken.  It tasted delicious, I felt satisfied, but I did not sit right with my morals.  I brushed it off, and tried to convince myself to listen to my body.  This worked, and a few days later, I ate a wrap containing meat and cheese at Whole Foods Market.  However, this time something felt so different.  In all my years of being a vegan, it was really mostly for my own health.  I felt it was easier to not overeat on a vegan diet, especially because all my “trigger foods” used to be dairy-based (ice cream, froyo, cheese, and baked goods, the latter of which you can find all sorts of vegan versions).  Over the past year or so, I’ve become more aware of how eating affects the environment and the animals I love.

This most recent fall-off-the-wagon made me realize some important things.  First of all, it’s important to eat a balanced diet.  If something feels off, it probably is.  If you’re constantly craving something, it may be a sign that you’re deficient in a nutrient.  I realized I’m really lacking in omega 3’s (an essential fatty acid found in fish, but also found in plant sources such as flax oil and chia seeds).  I’m also sensitive to some of the proteins I was eating, especially large amounts of legumes eaten in one sitting.  I realized that it’s important not to judge yourself, and to not judge others.  I felt an immense sense of guilt when I was eating chicken, and I felt equally guilty after I overate on vegan junk-food when I couldn’t seem to satisfy my hunger and cravings.  No one is perfect.  We do enough self-criticizing that I would hope I don’t face criticism from vegans and animal-rights activists.  I learned from this recent experience what is important to me and that is my health, the planet, and living in accordance with my values. Because of this, I’m making it my mission to plan out my meals more carefully, supplement my diet with a vitamin/mineral supplement, take an omega-3 supplement, and try to eliminate foods that don’t agree with me.  I don’t plan on ending my veganism, in contrast, I’m really interested and excited to develop a more nutrient-dense, plant-based way of eating using the knowledge I’ve gained from my nutrition classes.

I hope to help people who have struggled with similar issues.  I also hope to spread a message that even adding more plant-based foods and eating less meat is great and something to be proud of.  Have you gone through a similar experience when it comes to veganism or any issue related to how you eat and how you feel?  Feel free to comment, email me, or connect on facebook or instagram @vitaminvalentine.

-Jess

Bye to 2016 and the winter blues

Happy 2017!  I hope everyone had a healthy and happy new years celebration.  I was going to write a post about making new years resolutions, but this year I decided to not make any new years resolutions. I decided not to try to make any specific goals for the next year for two reasons: 1.  I think it’s easier to work on short-term goals, without using the calendar year as motivation 2.  Northeastern winters don’t exactly scream “LET’S GET MOTIVATED!” to me.  Instead, today I’m sharing some tips about improving your mood during these cold months.  I decided to share some things that have helped me stay happy and sane during winter because I’ve noticed that every year I start to feel less like my usual upbeat self as soon as November/December rolls around.  While I don’t personally suffer from full-blown seasonal affective disorder (SAD, so aptly abbreviated), it’s always a good idea to consult a mental health professional if you feel your mood going seriously sour during any time of the year.  If you feel like you just need an extra happiness boost during the winter, here are some things that have helped me.

My Winter Mood-Improving Habits

  1. Get outside!

Unless you live close to the equator, your skin gets less exposure to sunlight during the winter (in the northern hemisphere).  Sunlight is important because it’s a major source of vitamin D.  Vitamin D has effects on the hypothalamus which regulates sleep, hunger, and other factors that influence mood.

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These ducks have the right idea, although I didn’t take a dip into the frigid water, I did take this photo on a chilly winter walk

Another reason to get outside is just to enjoy the outdoors.  Although being outside during the winter requires some extra layers, being amongst nature has so many benefits, both for the mind and body.  Try going for a walk outside a few times a week (for the most benefits, aim for mid-day, especially when it’s sunny out).  If you’re feeling more adventurous, go ice-skating, skiing, or snow-shoeing if you live in a snowy climate.

2.  Eat (healthy) carbs!

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a toasted whole-grain bagel with a healthy fat, such as melted natural peanut butter makes for a deliciously warming winter breakfast

Complex carbs can health boost serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that influences mood.  I feel best when I stick to minimally processed whole grains and avoid white flour. Examples of complex carbs include sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grains and 100% whole grain breads.  Paying attention to portion size is important.  It’s easy to over-do pasta, bread, and rice, especially because these foods can be so comforting.

3. Exercise

I love moving all year round!  Exercise always puts me in a good mood. If you can’t exercise outside, indoors is just as good.  I try to exercise daily for 30-60 minutes, or at least most days.  New to exercise?  Try to find something that you enjoy and that you’re willing to commit to.  Walking, running, yoga, weightlifting all count.

4. Sleep, but not too much

It’s so tempting to sleep more during the winter and go into “hibernation mode”, but I’ve found that (for me) this makes me feel lazy which then affects my mood.  Instead of staying in bed all day, try to get moving and accomplish one productive thing a day.  Oversleeping can be a symptom of depression, so if you find yourself preferring to stay in bed for an excessive amount of time and you also feel symptoms of hopelessness and apathy, it’s important to talk to someone.

5.  Participate in life

Sometimes during winter, I feel like hibernating and going into my shell, but I’ve noticed that this makes me feel down and withdrawn.  Find an engaging hobby that will keep your mind active.  Social support is also vitally important, so make some time for friends and family.

These are just some simple things that have helped me.  I hope you feel amazing today and every day of this winter season 🙂