3 Steps to a Productive and Healthier Morning

At the beginning of the pandemic, there was a small perceived benefit of the work-from-home situation – mornings would be less hectic. You didn’t have to worry about commuting, traffic, or getting the kids to the bus on time. You may even have envisioned a healthier morning routine where you got up at the same time but could now squeeze in a workout, followed by a balanced healthy breakfast for you and the family.

Did it happen? Or did you take advantage of the extra moments and decide to sleep in?

If you were like me, the stress and fear of COVID may have disrupted your sleep, causing insomnia and groggy mornings. Remote learning in the spring and no summer camps meant the kids were also off-schedule. Now it’s September, school has returned with virtual learning and hybrid situations that have you constantly trying to remember who belongs where and when.

Once again, mornings feel chaotic and disjointed. It is difficult to shift from ‘home-mode’ to ‘work-mode’ because there is no expected pattern to signal the switch from personal YOU to professional YOU. It is no wonder that many of you are noticing a negative shift in your diets, subsequent weight gain, and increased anxiety since the pandemic started.

How do you get out of the slump? You take back your mornings!

  1. Plan your ideal morning routine. Snoozing the alarm 4 times, then rushing to get the kids to school or the computer while checking emails on your phone and dressing the top half of you for your first Zoom meeting, does not sound like a pleasant start to the day. Instead, choose a wake-up time and stick to it. This may differ slightly each day but should be consistent. For example, 3 days a week you may get up earlier to fit in a workout and the remaining 2 days you allow yourself to sleep an additional 30 mins. Be specific with the order of tasks. When will you shower, eat, assist kids etc.?

Once the alarm goes off, give yourself a few moments to reflect on the day ahead before you tackle it. What will the general layout of your day look like (morning routine, school drop-off, workday, after-work/school activities etc.) and set an intention. One positive thought in the morning can make for a great day!

  1. Execute 1 piece of the plan every day for 1 week. Big changes can be overwhelming if you try and make them all at once. Start with either the most important change or the easiest task. Consider what may need to happen for you to succeed. If you are going to make breakfast for the family, it helps to have healthy food options in the house.
  2. Reevaluate, readjust, repeat. Once you have successfully incorporated one change add another. Your ideal morning will develop as you live it. What you thought might work nicely, may not. Or you may need to adjust timing and order. It’s OK! Your morning routine is meant to prepare you for a productive day, not stress you out.

As a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, I highly recommend a quality breakfast as part of your plan. Not only can it improve mental function and concentration, but it will also ‘set the tone’ for how you will eat going forward.  Many studies support the importance of eating breakfast for weight management, blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity, heart health and optimal nutrient balance.  A recent survey by consumer insight firm, Hotspex showed that 37% of Americans have experienced weight gain and 32% see a decline in their diets since the pandemic. The American Heart Association states there is,

“… strong evidence of a relation between breakfast skipping and cardiometabolic risk including greater risk of overweight, obesity, metabolic risk profile, diabetes mellitus, CVD (cardiovascular disease) and HTN (hypertension).”

What makes breakfast ‘breakfast’?

There is no formal definition of breakfast, making it difficult for food-rule-followers to follow. Some studies suggest that eating within an hour of waking will provide the greatest metabolic benefit.  Most dietitians and researchers who support breakfast consumption would agree that there is a significant benefit to consuming breakfast within the first 3 hours of waking.  That leaves a large window for you to schedule it into your new morning routine.

What should breakfast look like?

The Standard American Diet (SAD) has breakfast looking like bagels & cream cheese or pancakes and syrup.  High carbohydrate, low protein sugar spikes that lead us to overeat and then crash. With hours ahead of you, crashing is not ideal! Plus, these breakfasts increase your cravings throughout the day as your brain searches for that sugar high again. Other traditional breakfasts, like cereal with milk, may have better balance of nutrients but only if you drink the milk with the cereal.  Plus, with the tempting sweet versions out there, this can be another sugar trap, especially for your kids. Cereal breakfasts also don’t keep you full long, unless you eat multiple portions.  For this reason, I usually wouldn’t recommend cereal as your first meal of the day unless you are opting for a higher protein, higher fiber, lower sugar version.

Breakfast should be balanced like any other meal.  Ideally, it would contain 15-20 grams of protein and be between 200-500 calories (or 15-25% of total daily calories needs). It would also contain fiber, something most people do not get enough of.  As I am not much of a calorie counter, I look at it from a balance and satisfaction perspective.  What is your goal with breakfast and what foods would best get you there, while still tasting good?

Food containing protein will keep you fuller longer, provide muscle-maintaining amino acids and slow down the digestion of the sugar in the carbohydrates.  Think eggs, Greek yogurt, nut butters, nut powders or quality protein powder.

Whole grain carbs will provide fuel for your brain and muscles.  A higher fiber content (5+grams) will aid in satiety and keep your bowel movements regular.  It also helps manage cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

Fruits and vegetables will provide the much-needed vitamins and minerals. Plus, they contribute to your fiber intake.

Finally, be mindful of your water and coffee intake. Many of us love to start the day with a cup of coffee but it can suppress your hunger signals, making you think your body isn’t ready for food. Instead, include 8-16 oz of water into your ideal morning plan before you grab your coffee.

You have a lot on your plate these days. You are asking a lot of your body and your brain. Give it the best chance to succeed by fueling it from the start!  Busy mornings will always be a part of life, but you CAN gain control of them.

Want a little help regaining that control? Not sure where to begin or looking for a little accountability?

Kim Arnold, RDN, CSOWM is a Nutrition & Wellbeing Coach motivating, inspiring and guiding busy professionals toward their healthiest, most successful self. She believes balance, not perfection, is the key to a healthy and happy lifestyle. There are no crash diets when working with Kim, just a personalized, adaptable and achievable plan for lasting health, energy and confidence. As an ex-Wall St. professional, Kim recognizes the need for flexible, virtual sessions that fit into your schedule and lifestyle. She’ll guide you over every obstacle blocking your way and have you achieving your goals in no time!

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