Confession 6: The Dietitious Empty Nester

Over the last weeks, a lot of attention in the news has been given to parents like me: new empty-nesters. It seems like a recent trend, this recognition of how children leaving home can deeply affect parents. It’s a moment which gives the greatest-ever meaning to the conjoined adjectives, “bitter-sweet.”

I was especially touched by a segment on the Today Show with guest author, Kelly Corrigan. Kelly wrote an essay to her grown daughter, Advice to My College Freshman. Kelly gives light to much of why we may lament; we question our lifetime work as parents, and wonder if we taught them enough to thrive in this world without us.

Kelly’s essay immediately inspired my own version. Today is the first day of our empty nest. Our youngest moved into the college dorm yesterday, my tears pouring at every private moment I get. I am grateful that our kids are strong, healthy and clever, and will succeed in their own ways. Their own accomplishments afford me the luxury of letting the dietitian in me dominate my petty worries. Did I teach them enough about the importance of eating well? I felt the need yesterday, almost a panic, really, to pathetically pelt my daughter with a summary of the healthy habits I’ve tried to encourage over the years, even as I was hugging her goodbye. 

But it still wasn’t enough for me. I’m going to pretend that both of my kids may actually read this post to their health. Maybe it will make me feel better.

Drink water. If you’re not drinking enough water, your mind won’t work its best and you won’t feel energized. You may even feel depressed if you’re dehydrated. Bring your water bottle with you everywhere. If you know you aren’t drinking enough, use a hydration reminder app.

Use that neglected dorm kitchenette and make healthy meals for yourself and others. You’re a good cook and new friends will love you for sharing. You’re going to feel too busy, but try. And ask for help with those dishes. I was never good at that.

Choose the salad bar at the cafeteria. I know there is a pizza counter, a soda machine, and all-you-can-eat soft-serve ice cream, but do remember that you like vegetables too.

A healthy gut is so important to your overall health. Eat your prebiotic foods and keep your gut microbiome happy. You enjoy eating jicama, artichokes, onion, garlic, tomatoes, apples, berries, beans, peas, and almonds.

Oh please remember your omega-3’s. Trading out saturated fats for healthy fats like o’mega-3’s is so good for your heart and brain, and may even help you study for that final. Salmon, flax seed, and walnuts, are all good choices. Spending a little extra on the eggs of those well-fed chickens that advertise higher o’mega-3 content is worth the dollar extra.

Speaking of salmon, when it comes to eating things because they’re good for you, I hope you’ll keep trying even if you think you don’t like them. It’s almost always about the way it’s prepared. You’re repulsed by my broiled salmon, but remember when you enjoyed Aunt Sarah’s grilled salmon recipe? Or when you were surprised by Nonna’s cooked broccoli?

Make sure you’re mindful of the food allergies of those around you. Ask new friends and classmates if they have allergies before eating near them. 

If you know you’re not eating your best, take your multi-vitamin. They’re in the basket with the first aid kit.

Exercise. Exercise is so important for a healthy mind. Treat exercise like it’s a class in your daily schedule and go do it with friends. You’re a great swimmer; keep it up! Remember you’re going to start that pickleball club. I can’t believe they don’t already have a pickleball club!

The freshman-15 is a very exaggerated phenomenon, but it is easy to slip into unhealthy habits while trying to balance the stress of adulting. Remember it’s SO much easier and healthier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose it later. It’s not about looking good. It’s about lifelong health so that you can achieve all of the amazing things you have planned.  I know how annoying this post would be for you if you were actually reading it because you know all of this. I just love you.

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