February 11, 2015
In Pursuit of Healthiness: A Day in the Life of a Dietitian (and Spin Instructor!)
As a dietitian, nutritionist, and indoor cycling instructor in Boston, Massachusetts, Lena Rakijian, MS, RD, LDN, believes that the key to staying energized is planning, planning, and more planning. Some days, she’ll work as many as 10 hours at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center before hustling to the studio to teach back-to-back classes. We sat down with Lena to talk about her disciplined daily regimen, mindful eating practices, and inspiringly positive outlook on both the body and mind.
Lena’s iPhone alarm goes off. By 5:13 a.m., she’s out of bed, and by 5:20 a.m., she's out the door. She pops in her headphones, grabs a coffee on her walk to the train station, and heads to The Handle Bar, where she's going to be teaching a double class -- one at 6 a.m. and one an hour later at 7 a.m. Before riding, she drinks 16 ounces of water and has a banana.
Her secret to getting outside before most people have even woken up: a nightly do-ahead routine. “I prep most of my meals the night before, as well as my exercise clothes for the day: two pairs of leggings, two tank tops, two sports bras, and a hoodie.”
In between classes, Lena snacks on two homemade date-chia-coconut bites (“I always have a stash in my fridge for quick energy,” she divulges) and after she's done teaching for the morning, she drinks another 16 to 24 ounces of water.
Time for breakfast! Lena refuels with complex carbohydrates, lean protein, and heart-healthy fats. Her go-to meal is what she likes to call a “power bowl,” which regularly includes rolled oats with banana, blueberries, and two tablespoons of peanut butter.
Coffee break. Lena will usually brew her own at home, adding a touch of unsweetened vanilla almond milk, or she’ll pop over to her favorite local coffee shop on the corner for a creamy soy latte. After that? “I plop on the couch, sip on my coffee, and start creating some epic Handle Bar playlists,” she laughs.
Hungry for a snack, Lena grabs a cup of 2% plain Greek yogurt, throws a handful of blackberries on top, and sprinkles on some sliced almonds. “This is an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamin B12, and gut-healthy bacteria, known as probiotics,” she explains. “Plus, it’s pretty filling. And delicious!”
“I’m a huge fan of any meal that can be made and eaten in one bowl. I call it ‘kitchen-sink eating,’ and it makes everything so much easier.” Lena’s kitchen-sink meal of choice incorporates leftovers and lean proteins. “You throw in all the veggies in your fridge, add a protein of your choosing, add 1/2 cup of whole grains like quinoa, couscous, or brown rice, and lightly dress with a heart-healthy oil-based dressing. I also usually have roasted vegetables in containers in my fridge, so I throw those on as well.”
Namaste! Lena hits the mat to restore, lengthen, and stretch her muscles both to increase her flexibility and improve her balance, noting that yoga class is the perfect complement to indoor cycling. “It’s definitely helped me stay present and create moments of peace even within a stressful or hectic day.”
In fact, Lena recommends planning one activity for your mind and one for your body every day. Whether that mental activity is journaling, meditation, yoga, a puzzle, a book, a new CD, or simply an at-home face mask, “you deserve time to yourself, for reflection, healing, and energizing,” she says. “Create positive energy that comes from you and no one else. Give yourself that gift.”
Time to whip up a smoothie snack. “I usually blend juice with some fruit, greens, citrus, herbs, and filtered water. I’ll drink that and munch on a handful of raw cashews or almonds." Like the Green Machine Smoothie from Martha Stewart's latest cookbook, Clean Slate, which combines the subtle sweetness of mango with nutrient-rich leafy greens, Lena believes that "eating clean" doesn't have to be a struggle. Rather, it's a creative -- and delicious! -- challenge. "I think that most of the time, when we think of being 'healthy,' we begin by making a long list of foods we cannot eat. But that only creates more of a negative relationship with food,” she says. Instead, Lena focuses on the foods she can eat, finding ways to prepare them that are at once nourishing and enjoyable. After all, she’s quick to point out that it’s not the food we eat, but our relationship with that food that needs to change. “Cooking, tasting, eating, dining … these are all part of life’s adventures. We should cherish our food and the experiences that surround it.”
Lena teaches another 45-minute class at The Handle Bar. Whew!
The way Lena sees it, dinner for two is just more fun. “Try cooking with a roommate, friend, or family member, and split up the meal preparation,” recommends Lena. “And be sure to make double what you need so that you have leftovers for the next day (or week). My go-to meal is a honey-Dijon baked salmon with roasted vegetables like eggplant, cauliflower, yellow squash, zucchini, and beets, plus anything seasonal and delicious.”
After dinner, Lena indulges in a warm cup of chocolate chai tea and a few dark-chocolate squares. Occasionally, if she's been baking and has it on hand, she'll enjoy a small portion of a health-ified bakery treat -- like the gluten-free chocolate-walnut brownies, above. (Almond flour and dark chocolate make this version so delicious, you'll never go back to your old recipe.) And if it's been a particularly wonderful day, she’ll head out on the town for a small scoop of her favorite ice cream from J.P. Licks in Boston. Her flavor of choice: “Coffee ice cream forever and always,” she declares. Or, as J.P. Licks calls it, Cappuccino Crunch.
“Life is too short and wonderful to eliminate or restrict foods that we love. And besides, sometimes you just need something sweet to top off a beautiful day. So, of course you should eat dessert,” she says. “But eat it slowly, and savor every bite. Better yet, split it with a friend.”
Read the full article on Martha Stewart!