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Part VII: The Vital Role of Healthy Eating Habits

It is impossible to outrun a garbage diet regardless of our activity level. We can exercise until the cows come home, but if we’re consuming large quantities of hyper palatable, ultra processed, calorie dense “foods” which are also nutritionally void, we are setting ourselves up for frustration and failure. We have to create and maintain healthy eating habits to thrive and then help others flourish.

Whole foods are the foundation of a healthy diet. We'll benefit from the practice of prioritizing protein at every meal and then filling our plates with vegetables. Proteins are the necessary building blocks for muscle repair and sustained energy. They best complement our physical activity allowing us to heal and get stronger. Paring them with a variety of colorful vegetables ensures the intake of essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

A strategic approach to grocery shopping is key. It doesn’t happen by accident. The majority of whole foods are found at the perimeter of the store. Out here we can gravitate towards fresh produce, lean proteins, and steer clear of heavily processed foods that lurk in the inner aisles. We’ll opt for foods with fewer ingredients and shorter shelf lives minimizing exposure to additives and preservatives.

Food prep can play a central role in maintaining our healthy eating routine as well. Cooking in batches allows for the creation of multiple meals at once, reducing the temptation to opt for gas station or other fast food during hectic workdays. This practice not only saves time but ensures that nutritious meals are readily available. We don’t have to be body builder type meal preppers filling 21 different pieces of Tupperware every Sunday for 4 hours. It’s more simple than that. Instead of cooking 2 steaks or 2 chicken, cook 4. You can use the rest through the week to put on a salad or with left over vegetable. You’re already cooking anyway, might as well take care of your future self.

Eliminating or reducing sugar intake is a powerful thing. Replace sugary snacks with real fruit. It'll satisfying a sweet craving while also nourishing your body with fiber. Prioritize water; staying hydrated aids in digestion, cognition, appetite suppression, energy levels, skin health and overall vitality. Having to pee more often is a feature not a bug, it keeps your daily steps up.

Moderating or eliminating alcohol consumption will significantly improve overall health as well. Alcohol can interfere with sleep quality, energy levels, and mental clarity, aspects vital to our worker performance and well-being. Alcohol tends to lead to poor food choices as well. When inebriated we are more likely to make poor food choices. These poor choices often spill over into the next day too when we’ve got the long neck flu.

Fasting is not a bad word. It can be a valuable tool in maintaining optimal health. When practiced mindfully, it allows the body time to rest and rejuvenate, potentially improving metabolic health and supporting weight management. Fasting can also teach us what actual hunger feels like and create self discipline. I recognize fasting can be a dicey subject. Just be mindful.

Creating healthy eating habits empowers us as social workers to better serve our communities. We can commit to fueling ourselves with whole, nutrient-dense foods and steering clear of processed ones. We can embrace mindful eating practices to equip ourselves with the energy and resilience needed to navigate the challenges of our profession. To thrive in our roles, we must see self-care as an integral part of our commitment to serving others. Our health is not bolt on extra credit.

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