Keeping Healthy Habits in our New Normal

Let’s face it – we are all trying to navigate our way in this new normal and it is not easy. Our lives have all been disrupted and we’ve been thrown off our daily schedules. One of the few things we do have control over though is our self-care, and amidst this uncertainty, we should all try to take good care of ourselves so when we come out of this (and we will!) we are better than ever.

Enter one of our favorite registered dietitians, Amy Shapiro of Real Nutrition NYC, who always has excellent, practical advice on how to eat balanced and healthy meals. We sat down with Amy (virtually, of course!) to ask her about her journey into nutrition and sought her advice on some of the tenets she swears by.

Food + Mood NYC: You are a registered dietitian with a private practice. How did you get here?

Amy Shapiro: This is a second career for me.  I worked in corporate for 8 years and treated nutrition like a hobby.  I grew up in a health food household (before it was cool), with my Dad in the vitamin and supplement industry so basically nutrition is in my blood, and believe me I tried to ignore it as much as I could.  Eventually, I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to become part of this community full-time so I left my well paying and stable job for lots of schooling and completed my Masters in Clinical Nutrition at NYU.   I spent a few years honing my skills in the clinical setting (Montefiore Medical Center) but knew I wanted to work for myself as I started my own family.  This led me into private practice where I teach my clients how to live their best life through my realistic approach to healthful living.

F+M NYC: What are three quick tips you encourage your clients to do each day?

AS: Hydrate (at least half your weight in ounces), eat plants (mostly veggies) at every meal, and limit cheese to once a day (people don’t realize how much cheese they eat!).

F+M NYC: We are knee-deep in this pandemic trying to navigate our new normal. What advice can you give regarding food and drink choices now that we are spending all our days at home?

AS: Healthy eating has gotten tricky on a few levels during this time.  First, we didn’t have access to all the food we were used to having.  That seems to have normalized a bit more now however I was and still am recommending you stock your fridge with fresh produce but also your freezer with frozen fruit and vegetables which are often healthier than fresh and serve as a great back up plan.  Since we now have 24-hour access to our kitchens and pantries I also encourage my clients to create an eating schedule.  Ideally three meals and one snack a day, otherwise keep your hands out of the kitchen.  Meals should generally look like:  1/2 of your plate filled with veggies and the other half split into 1/4 clean protein and 1/4 complex carbs with about two teaspoons of healthy fat use as a dressing or to cook with.  This allows for satiety and hormonal balance.  Finally, if you have kids, don’t eat off of your kid’s plates, their leftovers are not your snack.  And in terms of drinking, remember to drink water!!! So many of us forget now that we aren’t walking around with reusable water bottles every day.  And last but not least, when it comes to alcohol I recommend sugar-free mixers (club soda, La Croix) and clear liquor over wine (fewer carbs and sugar means less of a hangover!), and if you choose to drink then skip dessert, calories are calories!

F+M NYC: Are there foods you recommend to boost our mood? Are there foods that trigger stress that we should avoid?

AS: To boost our mood I always point to balanced blood sugar levels.  So pair your carbs (fruit, veggies, breads, grains, etc) with a protein or a fat to slow the digestion and to prevent blood sugar crashes.  Avoid candy, sugary beverages such as coffee drinks and soda, and processed snacks like pretzels and chips all of these will spike your blood sugar which will quickly plummet causing you to feel anxious, angry and hungry all over again.  Mood-boosting foods include chocolate (my favorite, the darker the better), blueberries, vitamin C rich foods which help promote endorphins (kiwi, strawberry, citrus) and Omega 3s which decrease inflammation and therefore depression. Foods we want to avoid would be too much caffeine which can leave us feeling anxious and jittery, sugar which can play with our mood and blood sugar swings, processed foods.  Finally back to hydration, we want to prevent dehydration which can make us feel tired, grumpy, achy, etc.

F+M NYC: Besides nourishing yourself with healthy food and drink, how do you take care of yourself off the plate?

AS: I have always been a big believer in daily movement and have managed to keep that up during quarantine.  My early morning workouts are non-negotiable with my favorite being weight lifting sessions with my trainer via Zoom.  Yes, I ordered kettlebells as soon as I heard gyms were closing :).  I call my Mom every morning and make time to take a walk every day … alone (even just for 5 minutes) ideally while listening to a podcast.

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