On January 1st of this past year, like millions of others around the country, I made the cliché New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and trim a few pounds. Sounds familiar, right? But this time, things were a bit different. I had just finished my first quarter of dental school, and the dreaded freshman 15 that I had so successfully avoided in college hit me like a dormant ton of bricks out for retribution. All those free slices of pizza from lunch-and-learns definitely didn’t help my cause.
As if school isn’t enough of a challenge already, how can dental students strike the right balance between work, nutrition and exercise to lead healthy lifestyles while maintaining good grades? As I worked through my resolution, I found that these two goals, living healthy and doing well in school, go hand-in-hand in a surprising way.
So let’s start from square one: nutrition. I found that the most crucial step to a healthier lifestyle began with my eating habits. I personally found it much easier to begin by modifying my diet before incorporating any exercise into my daily routine. So what exactly is in a healthy diet? Well, there are many different answers to this question, and the internet is chock full of varying ideas and opinions. With a little bit of research, I came up with this core diet that helped me get on the right track, and it only consisted of five basic items: fruits, frozen vegetables, eggs, whole grain bread, and chicken. You’d be surprised at how many different combinations of these simple ingredients can be made for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But the point here is simple and one that you’ve likely heard before – consuming unnecessary carbohydrates, especially simple sugars, is not only bad for your teeth, but it also makes it much harder for you to stay in shape through school. I’m no stranger to craving snack foods during those long study nights, but instead of loading up on chips or cookies, think ahead and buy some apples or carrots instead. It all starts from the decision to purchase those healthier items at the grocery store which ultimately sets you up to make healthier choices down the road.
Now I know what you’re thinking – “Apples and carrots, are you crazy? Those aren’t going to fulfill my cravings for junk food while cramming all night for midterms!” And you have a legitimate point. How do you make eating healthy more preferable to eating junk? Some might suggest making fancy dressings or tasty smoothies, but unfortunately I wasn’t gifted with my mother’s creativity in the kitchen. For me, the answer came neatly packaged in the form of a health and fitness app that allowed me to track the foods I ate with my phone.
At first, tracking every calorie can be somewhat of a burden. But over time, these apps allow you to see your progress by giving you a daily breakdown of the major food categories you are consuming. I was delighted to see my proportion of carbohydrates dwindle while my proteins rose. The carbohydrates I did consume consisted more of healthier choices like fruits and vegetables. Soon, I was setting goals for daily calorie consumption and researching how different foods and supplements impacted my health in different ways. What started off as a stereotypical New Year’s resolution snowballed into a greater appreciation for the importance of healthy eating. In only a matter of weeks I noticed myself become leaner and lighter with my diet; and in the three months I had set out to lose weight, I dropped from 195lbs to 165lbs. These were tangible results I could point to and be proud of all thanks to a simple technology that can be easily tucked away into my pocket. These apps, including MapMyFitness, Fitbit, MyFitnessPal, and many others, are easily accessible and outrageously intuitive. What a privilege it is to have such robust tools ready to help us achieve our goals at a moment’s notice.
Ultimately, creating healthy eating habits does far more than simply improving the quality of food you eat. It forces you to be more thoughtful about your sleep, exercise, and study habits as well. It gives you the energy you need to stay focused in class or motivated for an early morning workout. When I reflect on the outcome of my resolution, I’m far happier about how nutrition has increased my desire to live with more intention than the extra pounds I ended up losing. That kind of renewed energy allows you to set your goals a bit higher and then chase them down with more focus. So why not give it a shot? Take advantage of what this century’s technology has to offer and let it facilitate your journey to a healthier lifestyle.
~Hakan Gem, Washington ’18, chapter vice president
About Hakan Gem
Hakan Gem is a second year student at the University of Washington School of Dentistry. He serves as the vice president for UW's ASDA chapter and as the membership chair for District 10.