Over the course of our Nutrition, Growth & Development block, I thought it might be a good idea to start looking into what I’ve been putting into my body on a daily basis during medical school. As a result, I settled on using the My Fitness Pal app as a diet tracker (this is by no means a product endorsement — I have not received funding nor do I have any conflicts of interests, aside from the age old dilemma of chocolate versus vanilla ice cream).
If you don’t want to read this whole article, the two principal “Learning Objectives” that I picked up were: 1) calorie counters can have significant impact on the psychology behind one’s eating and 2) keep an eye out for any free lunches or “Food Fridays,” as they are known at the University of British Columbia.
With a BMI of 21.3, I seem to be fairly average as far as the calculators are concerned, and over the course of the five weeks my net calories didn’t make much of an alteration either way on my body habitus.
Each day I had an average of 1970 calories to work with; height, weight and gender were taken into account to come up with an estimate of my basal metabolic rate. My sedentary lifestyle as a student locked in the library was factored in, but after inputting my commuting time (approximately 40 min of moderate cycling), I was given another 350 cal to work with.
I did my best to maintain my regular eating patterns, but I soon found out that this would be easier said than done. After a few days, I realized that I pretty much had no vitamin A in my diet. I, of course, assumed that I would be imminently blind, and as a result immediately ate a few carrots. After inputting the data, however, I found out that 1 cup of carrots gives you roughly 300 percent of your daily requirement. Now I was starting to worry about an overdose…
For the most part (other than the carrots) I was fairly consistent. While some items like my standard homemade avocado, tomato and cheese sandwich weren’t 100 percent accurately entered, I managed to find near equivalents to use for data points. There were even options for the whisky and softshell crab poorboys I had during a weekend in New Orleans. On the whole, I was primarily veggy (most breakfasts/lunches, and maybe 60 percent of dinners), and I tired to stick to my normal diet (okay, okay, I had a donut or two on Food Fridays).
The worst part about the whole experience was the red. As med students, we all hate when we get things back and there is all this red everywhere indicating that one’s performance was very, very poor (like a complete clinical skills bedside examination early in second year!). At the end of the day or week, it was certainly demoralizing seeing that red pop up, but it did help to solve that predicament of chocolate versus vanilla ice cream (answer = neither!). Venturing into the negative numbers kicked in a reflex reexamination of whether or not what I was eating was necessary. While potentially helpful if trying to limit calories (and lose weight), it is critical not to lose sight of one’s daily nutritional needs, especially if there was a transient increase in demand due to exercise, or a stressful exam.
While healthy eating and diet during medical school can sometimes take a back seat, it is important to take care of your health before chaining one’s self to the books. I often fell victim to the “quicker is better” mentality, but it helps to remember that a carrot is just as quick and easy as chocolate bar. As we all know, everyone (nearly everyone) needs to eat more fruits and veggies (good answer on the test).
All and all it was a fun five weeks that helped with some dietary insight, but mostly I’m just really excited to eat a cheeseburger (apologies to any vegans).