My dad is an orthopedic surgeon. His occupation was a constant presence growing up due to the long hours, conferences and meetings and the way my family ate as a result. Medical school graduates are automatically given juicy nutrition knowledge by virtue of their professions, which made our eating habits decidedly different from my friends.
As a child, I resented the way we ate. We never had any junk food in the house like Skippy peanut butter or Cheetos. I knew the way my family ate was different than others, considering the first time I tasted a Pop-Tart or Toaster Strudel was in high school.
By then, I didn’t care that we didn’t buy sugary cereal or drink soda for a snack, and was starting to realize that my dad’s nutritional advice had some merit. I never appreciated it until I had to make conscious decisions about my own health.
Granted, he can be a little militant about his methods but really he just cares about my health. Here are his top most repeated pieces of health advice, which annoyed me all through high school, but I swear have helped me stay healthy in college.
1. “Don’t even THINK of eating dessert if you haven’t had 5 servings of fruit and vegetables today.”
Yes, I grew up in a family where the American Cancer Society’s research on the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables dictated our daily lives. The ACS recommends 2 1/2 cups of fruit and vegetables per day to reduce your cancer risk. Usually by the time we went through the whole ordeal of eating a handful of carrots before getting our ice cream after dinner, we were full. I feel like that was my dad’s goal, and I’m still a little annoyed… but I’m definitely healthier because of it.
2. “NO CHOLESTEROL!”
We used to have grilled bratwursts for dinner once a week up until I was around 7 years old. Those were the happiest days of my life. Around this time, my dad had to quit running due to an injury and his cholesterol levels skyrocketed. This is where the idea that “runners can eat whatever they want” comes from. They can — until they stop running.
My whole family cut out high cholesterol foods like burgers, brats, eggs and butter and substituted veggie burgers, Egg Beaters, and margarine and olive oil. Egg Beaters are dyed egg whites that taste remarkably like the real thing with no cholesterol. We kept eating ice cream and cheese because according to my dad there really isn’t a low-cholesterol substitute for those that tastes remotely close to the real thing.
Cholesterol is NOT bad — you need it for your body to function normally, but too much can lead to heart disease and other cardiovascular issues. The cholesterol debate is confusing and according to this Spoon article, how you want to monitor your cholesterol intake is UP. TO. YOU.
3. “Everything in moderation.”
Balance is the key to life. You need fruits, vegetables, protein, fats, and even carbs to survive and thrive, as long as you aren’t eating 90 percent carbs and 10 percent fat. You would for SURE get gout and nobody wants that.
My dad occasionally acts like the food police — he once yelled at me for eating “fattening” yogurt, which I still think is ridiculous — but everything in moderation. Eating “healthy” is especially hard today since it basically meanings drinking green juice — healthy eating is a constantly changing trend and it’s hard to keep up. I may eat “fattening” yogurt, but I’ll eat an entire bag of green beans for fun. Everything evens out as long as you’re paying attention to what you’re putting into your body.
4. “No sugary crap.”
Things like sugary cereal, packaged cakes, cookies, and sugary candy are especially pointless from a nutritional standpoint. Chocolate is excluded from this list — chocolate is important. I consider it its own food group, and I try to eat at least one serving a day. You know, to stay healthy. Or sane. Either one.
But honestly, you don’t need sugar to survive and you’re only going to get cavities from eating it.
5. “Milk is EVERYTHING.”
For those that don’t know what an orthopedic surgeon is, he is a bone doctor — orthopedic literally means “straightening children,” which he does a fair amount of with scoliosis surgeries. So bones are pretty much his life.
He is the worlds’ biggest advocate for dairy consumption, and it was not uncommon for my family to go through four gallons of milk per week. Milk has tons of calcium and vitamin D in it which is great for strong bones — 3 glasses a day will get you all the calcium you need to go about your life. Dairy gets a bad rep occasionally, but I too am a firm believer in its healing qualities.
Another good tip is anytime you’re starving and want to eat chips or something, drinking a large glass of milk can offset your hunger and help steer your hangry mind into coming up with a healthier snack. Also chocolate milk is debatably my favorite food.
6. “If you’re sick… or if you’re not, take vitamins.”
I’m from Minnesota, and a lot of the population suffers from a vitamin D deficiency. Winter is our longest season, so us Minnesotans aren’t exposed to the sun enough to get the adequate vitamins safe sun exposure provides. Having a vitamin D deficiency can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD which is basically what it says — not getting enough vitamin D can make you feel depressed.
Every time I go home for breaks the first thing my dad asks me is “have you been taking your vitamin D pills?” To which I usually respond “kinda” and he gives me a triple dose. He also swears by taking zinc supplements when you start to feel the onset of a cold or sore throat, which can shorten your cold by as much as one day.
7. “No snacks after 9 pm.”
Sleeping is incredible for your health — it can stimulate weight loss and is super important for your body’s repair system. But the foods you eat directly before bed can mess with your sleep patterns. Your metabolism slows way down while sleeping, so most of what you just ate will be stored as fat. You still burn calories while sleeping from your body’s repair, but it isn’t enough to make a difference in terms of weight loss if you eat a lot before bed—not that weight loss is the goal, but avoiding unnecessary weight gain should be. Digestion can mess with the repair process as well. Eating before bed isn’t a big deal if you eat a bunch of carrots or a glass of milk, but
You still burn calories while sleeping from your body’s repair, but it isn’t enough to make a difference in terms of weight loss if you eat a lot before bed — not that weight loss is the goal, but avoiding unnecessary weight gain should be. Digestion can mess with the repair process as well. Eating before bed isn’t a big deal if you eat a bunch of carrots or a glass of milk, but high-calorie foods can lead to heartburn and insomnia.
8. “You can’t eat like this forever.”
This may seem a little off-color, but it’s true. Your metabolism will never be as high as it is right now, and even though it’s fun to eat burgers for every meal because you can (figuratively), that doesn’t mean you should. According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolism decreases with age as you lose muscle mass. How much you exercise can increase it, but your resting metabolism tends to be lower as you get older.
My dad’s favorite cautionary message is that you learn your eating habits when you’re young. And eating habits, unlike cardigans — shoutout to Jackie Kennedy — usually don’t improve with age. I hate myself for saying it a little since it bothers me so much when he says stuff like that, but it’s true: good eating habits now will make for a healthy adult life.
9. “Always eat breakfast.”
My dad is breakfast’s biggest advocate, but he usually doesn’t have time to eat a full and balanced one. He has a Costco-size box of Nature Valley granola bars in his car, though, which is probably second best to sitting down to the real thing.
I am very guilty of not doing this. Making breakfast requires that I wake up significantly earlier because I’m a zombie in the morning and it takes me three times longer to do anything.
There are numerous health benefits to eating in the morning — it can keep you from eating more unhealthy foods throughout the rest of the day. I’ve been really trying hard lately because it is impossible to sit through class if you’re hungry. Breakfast is bomb for providing the energy you need to think — everything is so much more worthwhile if you have energy, and according to this WebMD article, your body and brain will thank you via improved concentration.
10. “Know when to indulge.”
Ok, maybe my dad didn’t say this. But he loves a beer, a good glass of wine, and my mom’s pie. According to a study conducted at Yale University, it doesn’t really matter if what we’re eating is actually an “indulgence” or not — all that matters is our perception of it. If we think something is unhealthy, regardless of its nutrition facts, we’ll be more satisfied with our indulgence than if we had indulged more responsibly.
I think indulgence is important to sanity — what’s the point of living if you can’t enjoy eating food? I refuse to not indulge, but there is a spectrum of reasonable indulgences — again, everything in moderation.
Now that I am in college I’m thrilled to be buying my own food. I love planning out everything that I’m going to eat, and I like having a spiritual experience of going to the grocery store and then making something amazing in my dingey off-campus kitchen.
I’ve rebelled a little from my dad’s advice by eating real eggs and going on grocery store trips solely to buy abnormal and excessive amounts of chocolate — but my dad’s voice still pops into my head and tells me to buy skim instead of 1 percent milk at the grocery store.