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Advice from Registered Dietician, Toni Ann Apadula



This week’s blog post is a special one. Toni Ann Apadula, a registered dietitian and eating disorder specialist at Duke University, graciously gave up her time to speak over Zoom. For Duke students, you may know Toni as one of the nutritionists on campus and a great resource. In addition to meeting with both old and new students, Toni works to change the dining experience at Duke into a positive one. Below are a few questions I asked Toni and her insightful responses. She also made sure to point out some helpful resources everyone can use.


To begin, do you have any general advice that you would like to share for finding the right food balance during social distancing?


“Yes — that’s a really good question. Eating just seems weird for everyone right now, and we’re in a transition phase, so give yourself time to adjust. The best thing that I’ve been telling people is to keep a regular eating schedule. Make sure you’re having a breakfast within an hour of two of getting up and eating full meals. I have been hearing from a lot of people that they’re concerned they are doing some snacking… maybe more than they intend. This is normal, but I recommend creating some intention behind it. There’s an old saying ‘If you’re gonna eat in front of the refrigerator, then pull up a chair.’ Snacking is fine and a part of regular eating, but make sure to create mindfulness behind it to avoid unintended snacking turning into a pattern or a way to procrastinate. The mindset that ‘Yes, I’m going to eat my cookie, but I’m going to actually sit down, taste it and enjoy it. And then I will move on and do something else’ is one to practice.

“The other piece of advice I think is really important is that we are living in confined spaces – whether it’s your home with lots of rooms, an apartment, or a dorm room. Create different spaces for work, food, relaxing, and sleep, and try to keep those spaces separate. Avoid eating while you’re working and feeling stressed, or taking food to eat in your bed where you’re sleeping. Even if your space is small, dedicate it to whatever activity you are doing so these areas do not blend and mesh.”


What are some healthy snacks you recommend?


“When we think of the word snacking, people automatically go to chips, candy, cakes… but I think of it almost as a ‘mini-meal.’ Combine some form of protein and carbohydrate together so that it slows down the emptying time of your stomach and keeps you fuller for longer. Start with what you feel like eating –- if you want something savory, then go for something protein-based, but combine it with some type of carbohydrate. Some good ideas are fruit and cheese, peanut butter and apple/banana, cheese and crackers, or hummus and veggies. Make sure to get that decent quality carbohydrate plus a protein, which will feel more satisfying and keep intention around your snacking.”


How might food affect our mental health, now more than ever during our quarantine?


“That is an interesting question and I feel like I could go in 100 different directions.

“To continue on the snacking front, I will say that if something happens where you have eaten an entire bag of potato chips/a whole sleeve of cookies, that type of eating is typically not about food and is really a food craving. Food cravings are more head-based, whereas physical hunger is a sensation in your body. And while food cravings are both intense and specific, hunger is usually satisfied by whatever you’ve got available. But if you find yourself in this position, instead of looking at this in terms of a failure or through the eye of guilt, just take it for the experience that it was. Take a step back and look at it with curiosity because once you impose guilt, you close the door and don’t get any information. If you can look at it as ‘I wonder what was going on there — was I feeling not connected? Was I bored? Anxious? What did I actually need in that moment? How can I learn from this?’ Over-eating is rarely about food and is typically about the emotion behind it. It takes time and practice, but once you can look with curiosity, you can create a new scenario.

“On another note, this morning I read an article about how during these times of uncertainty and anxiety, that middle part of our brains that cause fear and reaction (known as the amygdala) is very active. What happens is that our brain’s prefrontal cortex — where executive functioning mainly takes place — tends to slow down. But actually doing things that are very mindfulness based, such as baking, cleaning, or organizing, allows your brain to relax and instead focus on what you are doing. This is particularly true for baking because it is a little more exact, and helps you engage your prefrontal cortex, thus circumventing those feelings of anxiety and stress. This is why quarantine baking is so popular. However, anything mindfulness-based helps — even just getting outside and being intentional about walking around, doing a craft, or taking a break from what you are doing. It doesn’t always have to be super productive either; it can just be something that is fun and creative. Anything mindfulness-based where you are not having to over-process or you are using a different part of your brain helps –- yoga, meditation or anything similar.”


I am curious if you have any easy, go-to meals that get a healthy combination protein, carbs, and fats.


“Yes — I actually do! On Duke’s nutrition website, there is a Cook’s Corner page with some really nice recipes. There is even a section dedicated to recipes that you can cook in your dorm room with some videos. This is a great resource I encourage everyone to take advantage of.”

Duke Cook’s Corner page: https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/studenthealth/nutrition/cooks-corner


My final question is if you were on CNN tomorrow, what advice would want to give to the general public?


“One thing I can say is I have been really following the CDC regulations. We should not be afraid of eating – there is no evidence that the virus is transmitted in the food supply or the water supply. Adequacy is more important than anything right now, so keep a regular routine with eating. And finally, try to step outside (practicing good social distancing) and get some vitamin D. When you step outside and see everything blooming, it makes you feel like ‘Yes the world is going on and things are still happening, spring is here, and it’s hopeful.’ There is no doubt that this can be especially beneficial.”

Other resources Toni recommends: http://www.foodsafety.gov, World Health Organization, and the CDC. If you are concerned about your eating or are looking for support, please call Duke Student Health Nutrition to be referred to a nutritionist or Duke Counseling and Psychological Services.


Thank you for your time and insightful responses, Toni! See everyone next week.


Betsy Blitch, 4/6/2020

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