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Nutrition Tips for the Generally Sedentary Attorney: It’s All(Most) in Your Mind

February 8, 2012

Seen here is the Reading Terminal Market, where they sell more food than you can eat. But how much food should you be eating? The answer may be not in your stomach, but in your mind.

By Mike Murphy and Carlynn Fitzgerald

Let’s face it – not every attorney has the time and opportunity to have an active side job like Ed Hochuli (the litigator and NFL referee) or any of these guys.

Many attorneys spend a full day (and then some) sitting in a chair staring at a screen and then go home and, depending on what’s on the DVR, spend more time sitting out a couch… staring at a screen.  When possible, the early-morning or after-work visits to the gym or the occasional extra effort at a softball game help, but it’s hard to stay healthy with such a sedentary lifestyle.

Lawyers may not be able to control how much time they have to be active, but they can control what they eat, how much, and when.  And staying smart with food will make staying healthy much easier.  After the jump, we’ll focus on mindful eating – a good first step.

You always hear people say “eat until you’re full”, but this seems easier said than done.  What can the generally sedentary attorney do to make that happen?

Mindful eating is one of the keys to success of a healthy diet.  It is also, according to the New York Times, very zen.

In theory, weight balance is easy.  If you eat more calories than you use in a day, you gain weight.  If you eat fewer calories than you use in a day, you lose weight.  So eating excess calories of anything will cause weight gain.  How do you combat that?  You listen to your body.  Infants have an amazing innate ability to consume the number of calories they need, no more, no less.  We can’t regulate our caloric intake nearly as accurately once we being to eat food for pleasure, but we can still do a pretty good job of it.  All you have to do is listen to your hunger signals.  Think about it.  You can probably describe what it feels like to be really hungry or really full.  Can you describe what it feels like to just be satisfied?  Probably not.

First of all, I would suggest not eating until you’re full.  Eat until you are satisfied.  Most of us really don’t know what that means.  Eating is an on/off activity for a lot of people.  You eat until your stomach is screaming at you to stop and you have to loosen your pants.  This may be an exaggeration, but not by much.  There are varying degrees of non-hunger and most of us need to re-learn what those degrees feel like.

So what can you do?

Stop and think.  Stop half way through a meal and again at ¾ of the way through and ask yourself, “Am I still hungry”  If not, stop eating.  If you’re not sure, stop eating.  Stop eating when you are no longer hungry, not when you’re full.  Chances are, you won’t go hungry, so there’s no need to eat like it’s your last meal.

Slow down. Just because you are on a deadline, doesn’t mean that your stomach is.  Give your stomach some time to catch up with your mouth and to tell you it’s satisfied. Studies have shown that focusing and savoring food works to increase satiation and reduce hunger.

Focus on serving sizes.  Don’t sit the Chinese take-out containers in front of you and eat until they are empty.  Take out a single serving, or better yet, less than a serving and put the rest away.  Even with this, check your satisfaction level throughout your meal.  You’d be surprised at what you volume of food will satisfy you compared to what you think you need.

Also, anybody who tells you it's easy to avoid overeating has obviously never stared this bad boy down on a cold, dark night.

Also, keep your snacks simple.  Studies have shown that when you eat foods with a lot of different flavors (like a meal with side dishes), it takes longer for you to be satisfied.

On the other side of fullness is hunger.  Most of us need to re-learn the difference between being hungry and being bored or needing an activity to help us focus.  Much of the snacking we do throughout the day is not a result of hunger.  It’s because we’re bored or because it helps us focus on the task at hand.  The fatigue of long days at work can bring about bad eating decisions because, as discussed herein preivously, we only have so much capacity to make the best decisions through the course of the day, and this capacity diminishes over time.  So, planning late-day snacks in advance early in the day instead of on-the-fly is a good tactic.

Also, I would guess with lawyers, as with many desk-jobs, you are eating to help focus.  It’s hard to sit and look at a computer screen or sift through briefs or read law reviews for hours on end.  Having something else to do that doesn’t take thought helps keep your mind from wandering.

So what else can you do?

Stop and think.  Just like when determining your level of non-hunger, when you reach for a snack ask yourself, “Am I hungry?”  If the answer is no, then take a 5 minute break.  Get up and walk around the office building, stretch, do some jumping jacks.  Do anything to give your brain a break and get your blood moving.

Focus on portion size.  If the answer to that question is yes, reach for a healthy pre-portioned snack.  Give yourself the opportunity to squelch your hunger without over-indulging.
Mike Murphy is a Philadelphia-based attorney who most recently blogged about Lawyers Playing Poker.

Guest Contributor Carlynn Fitzgerald, MS, RD is a Denver based Registered Dietitian.  She is the Study Coordinator on a collaborative child nutrition and physical activity study at Colorado State University and the University of Colorado Denver.  She can be reached for questions,  comments, or counseling at Carlynn.Fitz@gmail.com.

Here are some references for more information:

Eating Mindfully: How to End Mindless Eating & Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food, by Susan Albers, Psy.D.

ChooseMyPlate.gov, especially the Healthy Eating Tips pagehttp://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips.html

Colorado State University Extension fact sheets. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/pubs.html#nutrition

Anderson J, Young L (2010). Weight management: Its all about you. Colorado State University Extension Fact Sheet no. 9.368. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/foodnut/09368.html

The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Caloriesby Barbra Rolls, Ph.D.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2012 7:46 pm

    Nutrition is important. Lawyers have a tendency to focus on the intellect and forget the other components: body and spirit. Being an excellent rainmakers requires lawyers to be in peak condition and that does mean monitoring your work/nutritional habits.

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