Law school does not prepare you for what it takes to be a junior associate. As a junior associate, you are experiencing a brand new kind of stress (the really bad kind!), which on its own can cause weight gain. Stress can also increase your blood pressure, prevent you from sleeping, give you unpleasant digestive symptoms (yuck), and wreak havoc on even the healthiest relationships.
Because you might be in a bit over your head, with very little time to take care of yourself, it is really easy to make choices that are bad for your health when you start your legal career.
Here are seven easy tips to help you make the first couple of years just a little bit healthier:
1. Eating dinner at the office sucks. Don’t let it make you fat.
When you work late, you might start feeling sorry for yourself and order whatever takeout food will comfort you (i.e., really unhealthy crap), from whatever restaurant will deliver it the fastest, and you will likely eat too much of it. Two strategies to prevent this type of behavior: first, order your dinner before you’re hungry, so you don’t let your growling stomach make the decision. Second, make a list of healthy “go-to” takeout options for you to use in times like these. Once you have your list of healthier options, stick to it, even when your “I’ve been working 18 nights straight” pity party starts.
2. Make a workout schedule, and do your best to stick to it.
You might be under the silly impression that you can make time for running/the gym/yoga after work, but when is “after work”? Some nights it’s 7:00pm, and other nights it’s 3:00am. So how do you find time for your workouts? Each week, map out a time in your schedule that works for you—maybe it’s in the morning before work, during lunchtime, or during the afternoon “lull”—and make a schedule that you can stick to. Schedule your minimum number of workouts PLUS two extra workouts, so you have leeway to cancel a session or two.
3. Leave your desk for lunch.
In the lawyer world, most firms lure us in with summer associate lunches (two to three hour affairs where the firm picks up the tab, you eat many, many courses, and then you come back and surf the internet for the rest of the afternoon). When you become an associate, an unpleasant reality starts to take shape: you can barely find time to eat, let alone go out for lunch. When you’re not stapled to that brief or memo that you’re writing, and you don’t have back-to-back lunchtime calls, step away from your desk. Take a walk outside, grab a bite to eat, socialize with friends, and do anything you can to avoid eating lunch at your desk. Many days, you will not be able to do this, so take advantage on the days you can: savor the moments—and the meals—away from your desk.
4. Add a little green (juice?) to your life.
If you don’t already drink green juice (i.e., fresh pressed juices that are green in color and made with things like kale, celery, and parsley), you don’t know what you’re missing. Green juices are a quick and easy way to get a lot of nutrients (including calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamins A, C, E, and K, and plenty of fiber), especially when you’re crunched for time. If green juice is not your thing, try having a salad for lunch or adding leafy greens to your sandwich.
5. Look at your watch before you caffeinate.
Plenty of lawyers have problems sleeping, and they blame it on stress. Stress is certainly a big disruptor of sleep, but so is caffeine! Even on the nights when you’re working late, your body is pumping enough cortisol and adrenaline to keep you awake and alert without caffeine. A good rule of thumb is that you should try to avoid caffeine after 3pm. Caffeine includes not just coffee, but most sodas, teas (green, black, and white), and chocolate. When you finally get to go home? Relax and get enough zzzzzs to get you through the next day!
6. Late Arrival at Home—HALT.
When you get home late at night from work, you’re probably Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired (or all of the above). Add in the fact that you’re cranky, you’re stressed, and you have to be up in three hours, and it’s a recipe for unhealthy behavior. Stop and think (HALT!) before you have that glass of wine (or several), that leftover plate of pasta, or the ice cream that is calling your name from your freezer.
When you’re having a stressful day, a stressful week, or a stressful year, remember to breathe mindfully. I’m not talking about quick, shallow breaths. I’m talking about deep, Darth Vader-like breaths: inhaling and exhaling through your throat to a count of six, until you calm yourself down. As much as you might want to, you cannot control everything, but you can control your breath. By controlling your breath, you can control how your body physically reacts—you can slow your heart rate, increase your circulation, and calm down just a little bit in stressful situations. So just breathe.
Megan Grandinetti is a New York city-based attorney, health coach, and yoga teacher. Megan’s work as a health coach focuses on improving the health and wellness of busy professionals. Find out more about Megan (a.k.a. “Health Coach Meg”) by visiting www.healthcoachmegnyc.com or her Facebook page.