8 tips for better nutrition and hydration


Former veterinary practice owner and practice management consultant Steve Noonan, DVM, continues his quest to share the mindfulness, happiness and self-care tips that turned his life around with veterinarians and veterinary team members. This first column explores sleep. Join us next month for tips on how to fit exercise into your busy life. And to see Dr. Noonan live on video and in person, check the related links below.

Photo: Getty ImagesAfter my own personal experiences with severe anxiety and depression, I have been fortunate to develop a personal system of self-care based on a combination of scientific evidence and what I have found works for me. It is my hope you will find something here that either works for you or prompts a desire for further investigation and action on your part. It is you and only you who is responsible for your happiness.

‘Hunger pangs' are a sign of dehydration

Lack of adequate hydration is subtle. We can perform fairly well while we are unknowingly underhydrated. Some of the symptoms of inadequate hydration are headaches, fatigue, muscle and joint soreness and lack of mental clarity. There are many times that “hunger pangs” are actually a sign of dehydration and can be quelled with a good drink of water.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Drink eight cups of fluid per day or a minimum of half a cup per hour. If you exercise you'll need roughly one more cup for each 20 minutes of exercise. Water is better than most other choices. Fruit juices are acidic and too high in carbs for routine hydration and should be limited to early in the day. Soda is not your friend for the same reason.

Plan my meals?! You're crazy

Optimum nutrition is also critical for all metabolic processes. Cells work best when provided a slow constant source of energy. Hypoglycemia can manifest as hunger pains, weakness, irritability or mental fogginess. Over the years I can recall the many times I pushed myself on, without eating, when really with some easy planning I could have saved myself from lots of physical and mental grief.

The primary fuel for neurons is glucose and they function best with a constant, low-level supply. When possible, avoid simple sugars like table sugar. They are available instantly and cause large insulin spikes, and are only ideal for rapid recovery after exercise. For day-to-day optimal nutrition, glucose derived from a complex carbohydrate or glycogenolysis is a healthier, more dependable form of energy that maintains neuronal function with less variability.

Neurons are composed of 70 percent lipids, which maintain cell and organelle membranes. Organic olive oil and coconut oil are medium-chain triglycerides that are not only delicious but are taken into cells without any extra metabolic effort.

The daily calorie requirements for a person will vary based on their gender, size, age and activity level, ranging from 1,800 calories for a small, older, sedentary woman to 2,800 calories for a large, young, active male. There's plenty of information available to determine your ideal caloric intake. Once this is done, it'll be much easier to plan your meals. (Plan my meals?! You're crazy.) As a professional coach I know the very process of planning self-care yields many dividends. Once a person has decided to take better care of themselves, good things start to happen. We all know there is an epidemic of obesity in America. Well-planned, small meals eaten often help you and your brain to function better and can help regulate your weight as well.

Here are some evidence-based eating and drinking strategies for your busy life. Try one or two, build up a new habit, and then try another one.


Walk tall and carry a big water bottle

A good-sized bottle with a functional spout should be your constant companion. Slightly-cooler-than-room temperature reduces the chance of stomach cramping. Half a cup or more every hour will ensure lots of trips to the bathroom initially, however this will normalize in a couple of days as your body rehydrates. As you drink you'll find yourself longing for more. When you come out of surgery or after an appointment, be sure to take a sip.

The creation of a self-care mantra may work for you. As you take that swig think, “I love and care for my body,” “I enjoy providing myself with adequate hydration,” “It's fun to take charge of my health and happiness' or anything else that resonates with you.

Do the math

I know it's a pain, but you only have to do this once. Get a clear idea of how many calories you should eat along with the number of grams of carbs, protein and fat. On a good day of self-care, it can be kind of fun to plan how best to take care of your body and brain.

Eat breakfast

If you can't make time in the morning, prepare a balanced protein shake or smoothie in advance ready to go out the door with you and your water bottle in the morning. Breakfast should be balanced to include carbs, fat and protein. It should contain at least 25 percent of your day's calories.

In the past I'm certain much of my mental fogginess and midday irritability stemmed from skipping breakfast and power-chugging coffee until suppertime. I'm smarter now. My wife's and my breakfast is usually eggs with green vegetables sautéed in coconut oil. I drink coffee with almond milk. Gone are the quick breakfasts of toast and whatever, followed by extreme hunger and lethargy 90 minutes later.

Eat often

Nutritious snacks in small bags can sit in your lab coat pocket or desk and be ready to eat to prime your metabolic pump. Think nuts, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, cheese wedges, nutritious crackers, dates, figs or hard-boiled eggs (maybe those won't work for the lab coat pocket). These are all whole foods that can be neatly eaten with your fingers.

Eat fresh and colorful

I'm not a fan of processed food. Fresh produce thoroughly washed is better than anything out of a can. Whole foods that have not been processed have all the nutrients available to provide a steady dependable stream of glucose to your neurons. Think of all the beautiful colors of veggies you can put on your plate and just do it. Your brain will thank you.

Eat smart

Remember that everything you put in your mouth has the potential to help you or hinder you as far as mental function is concerned. More alcohol, chips or soda along with other processed food mean less effective fuel for your hard-working brain.

Eat less sugar

As much as I love them, I limit fruits to breakfast, after workouts and as the occasional dessert. To your body, fruit is sugar-orange juice causes an insulin spike just as fast as sucrose. Low glycemic-index fruits such as apples, berries, peaches and melons are preferred. Also, think about lessening your grain consumption. I've given up cereal grains as I found that my body metabolized them too quickly. I get my vitamins and minerals in ample supply from all the green veggies I eat.

Eat more antioxidants

Enhance your neural function by minimizing oxidative damage. Dark vegetables and fish oils are high in antioxidants. Fish oil capsules high in DHA along with large doses of Vitamins C and E also combat oxidation. I take 1000mg of DHA, 1000mg of Vitamin C and 400IU of Vitamin E BID.

Look, we all know that veterinarians sometimes work long hours and experience high levels of stress. As a result, we often don't take the time to nourish or hydrate ourselves properly. The cumulative effects of poor nutrition and hydration practices will continue to take their toll on your until you do something different.

Make a commitment today to take a little better care of yourself than you did the day before. You'll feel better as your health improves, and you'll experience a sense of accomplishment. The Indian philosopher Pantanjali stated more than 2,000 years ago that once you make an intention, “dormant forces, faculties and talents come alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.”

Dr. Steve Noonan, CPCC, is a veterinarian, management consultant, counselor, mindfulness instructor and professional life coach living in Guelph, Ontario, Canada.

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