And just like that, another chapter of my life has come to a close.
On May 16, a handful of classmates and I walked across the stage at SUNY Buffalo State to receive our degrees in Nutrition and Dietetics after what seemed like the longest four years of my life.
Going back to school as an adult – with all the “adult” responsibilities – was much harder than I anticipated. Organic chemistry? Piece of cake! Balancing a commute from the Southtowns, buying and moving into a house, marriage – all while trying to get good grades, stay in shape and maintain my sanity – not so easy.
It’s that last part – the staying in shape – that proved hardest of all. The struggle to eat well and find time to hit the gym when you’re super busy and stressed is real, people. The numbers on the scale slowly creeping up was especially hard to swallow, in light of the fact that I was studying to be, essentially, an expert in the field of nutrition. And so my stress grew. I slept fewer and fewer hours trying to get it all done. Before I knew it, I’d packed on 15 pounds in three years.
Thankfully, my last rotation at Buffalo General had me walking up to the 14th floor a couple times a day, and my predictable schedule helped me fit the gym back in more regularly. With some extra discipline, meal prepping and the benefits of being too darn busy to snack, the scale is – finally – reversing its course.
Without even realizing it, this difficult season of life taught me more valuable lessons for my future as a nutrition counselor than any classroom ever could.
Before school, I never had an appreciation for the daily challenge so many moms and dads face as they try to get it all done while juggling kids, jobs, their marriages, workout routines, all while trying to eat fresh, healthy food. I’d never had to rely on bags of frozen vegetables or the $5 rotisserie chicken from the grocery store. “Normal” meals for my husband and me were probably downright gourmet by any busy persons’ standards: homemade bread, mustard-coated pork chops with sautéed apples and some exotic couscous recipe, greens with dried fruit and nuts. You mean you don’t serve something like that every night?
It took a couple years of trying to “do it all,” including schoolwork, painting every inch of our house, making those from-scratch meals … until I realized I just could not meet my own expectations. I would spend every minute from the time I got in the door after school until bedtime cooking dinner and doing dishes, with no time left to study or spend quality time with my husband. Not a recipe for success.
However, I wasn’t about to succumb to boxed meals, take out or drive-thru food. There had to be a better way.
So, I did what many of my single classmate friends did for meals: frozen veggies and a protein option. I began spending a few hours each Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, packing five breakfasts, five lunches and a few snacks so that I’d have healthy options ready to go without spending an hour each night packing food for the next day. I also planned simpler dinners for myself and the hubby: salads, more frozen veggies and protein, homemade soups and chili I had stashed in the freezer, and those $5 rotisserie chickens. Our January Paleo challenge helped by inspiring us to keep choosing healthier options, and I constantly reminded myself to keep it simple.
My staples this past semester were the giant bags of mixed veggies (a total 1950s throwback) and the individually wrapped pieces of fish – mixed with a little sauce of choice it’s flavorful enough. It’s far from “gourmet,” but it’s easy, healthy and economical.
Being forced to change my approach to meals this past semester really opened my eyes to the struggles busy parents face every day. The added stress of school and a busy schedule really did a number on my waistline and taught me that even when we try SO HARD to shed the pounds, it’s not always as simple as “calories in, calories out.” It is possible to eat healthy food – and NOT spend the entire night in the kitchen – with a little planning and preparation.
Holly R. Layer has a bachelor’s in journalism from Penn State and a bachelor’s in nutrition and dietetics from SUNY Buffalo State. She served four years in the U. S. Air Force before deciding to go back to school to become a registered dietician. She loves running, reading, fine stationery, colorful kitchen gadgets and all things food-related. An avid cook and baker, you can find her in the kitchen most days whipping up something yummy. Too bad her husband, Andrew (an East Aurora native) is the pickiest man alive! In addition to writing for the Refresh Buffalo Blog, you can find her at www.thefrozenpineapple.com.