The Born Freelancer’s guide to healthy eating — Pt 1

This series of posts by the Born Freelancer shares personal experiences and thoughts on issues relevant to freelancers. Have something to add to the conversation? Your input is welcome in the comments.


Without a doubt the single most important asset we freelancers possess is our good health. 9 to 5ers can take sick days off and still get paid. If we don’t work we don’t get paid. Therefore it is necessary for the working freelancer to take responsibility for their health in order to maximize their earning potential.

It also makes sense personally. There’s no reason to work yourself into an early grave if you can minimize your work’s negative impacts. Unfortunately, taken to its logical extremes, the freelance lifestyle can be detrimental to good health. The long hours, insane deadlines, irregular schedules, and enormous stress – to name but a few of its darker attributes – can all take their toll.

So how can the thinking freelancer maximize the potential for good health? Previously I have written about the need to consider supplementary health care coverage as well as the numerous benefits of walking. Over the next couple weeks I will share what I have recently discovered about how the very food we eat can impact our health and earning potential. It’s the old computer dictum “garbage in, garbage out” applied to our own bodies.

Heather Douglas is a Registered Dietitian employed in-house at Loblaws. I met with her to discuss the pitfalls of the freelance lifestyle in detail and asked for dietary advice to overcome its most egregious aspects.


THE BORN FREELANCER: The average working freelancer typically has little or no time to think about diet. Is eating prepared or fast foods really a problem?

HEATHER DOUGLAS: You should focus on buying less processed and convenience foods as much as possible because they tend to be very high in sodium, sugars, saturated fat – things that we should have less of in our diet. A homemade diet is the way to go as much as possible. If you are picking convenience foods pay attention to sodium levels, sugar levels, etc. Focus on nutrient-density – trying to get the most bang for your buck on nutrition quality – whole grain brown rather than white rice, whole grain breads versus white breads, less refined products and more fruit and vegetables as a snack instead of potato chips or candy

TBF: So what kind of health impact are we talking about?

HD: If you’re relying on convenience food, in terms of negative health impact, sodium tends to go up and fiber tends to go down which can impact your heart health… so big picture, you’re looking at risk of chronic disease. It’s increased by lifestyle. We know there’s a relationship between nutrition – what we’re putting into our bodies – and what can happen down the road. It’s not just freelancers but a lot of careers in Canada going this way. We’re busy people, we don’t have time to cook so we’re relying on convenience foods or we’re eating the wrong types of foods during the day or at the wrong time of day.



TBF: One major aspect of the freelancing lifestyle is also endemic among so many other office-bound career choices today. We lead such sedentary lifestyles. What are your thoughts from a dietary point of view?

HD: There’s lots of research on the impact of inactivity on our health.  Some studies are showing that physical activity doesn’t necessarily offset the inactivity.

TBF: OMG! So you mean going for a walk doesn’t necessarily compensate for the previous eight hours I spent toiling in front of my computer?

HD: That’s what a lot of new research is suggesting. Which is a concern for people stuck in an office in front of a computer all day. From a nutritional point of view you’re looking at calories in, calories out often resulting in weight gain. It’s a numbers game. If you have a sedentary lifestyle you have to be careful not to over-consume. You need to carefully look at what you’re putting into your body and are you eating too much.

TBF: So how many calories should we take in every day?

HD: That’s a good question but hard to answer without knowing more about a person – their lifestyle, their height, their weight, how active are they, everyone will be different. Food labels base their numbers on a daily caloric intake of 2000 calories. So when you look at any nutritional packaging and it says a certain percentage of the recommended daily diet, that’s based on that 2000 calorie diet. But inactive people could need less, active people could need more, there’s a huge spectrum.



TBF: Other than what we eat I am guessing how we eat is also important in maintaining a healthy freelance lifestyle. What advice can you give us?

HD: You want to find a routine that is realistic for you that you will stick to. There’s no point having an unreachable goal. Then we feel bad about ourselves for not sticking to our goal which makes it harder to go at it again. So when it comes to healthy eating in a busy lifestyle you want to make sure that you have some kind of a schedule about your food – which comes down to making sure the right foods are available to you and making the right choices on a daily basis. It’s important to have a regular meal pattern and to make sure your meals are balanced. That will give you stable long lasting energy.

TBF: What is this magical “balance” of which you speak?

HD: Imagine a dinner plate. One half of it are your vegetables. One quarter would be protein – your lean meat or fish or beans. And the final quarter would be your whole grain starch, pasta or potato or something like that. So that gives you the vegetables you need because they are often the first thing to slip from people’s diets. Make a point – two handfuls of vegetables at lunch and two more at dinner, get those in there. The protein helps slow down digestion, it gives you longer lasting energy until your next meal. Carbs are your body’s main energy source. Your brain needs it to function. It’s your preferred energy source throughout the day, the get up and go.

TBF: Freelancers often get so distracted by work that regular meals get missed. Can’t you just eat a big meal to make up for that?

HD: If you’re really busy and you get to the point you are starving you are not going to eat properly, you are not going to be doing anything properly. You want to avoid that so you need a schedule – breakfast, lunch, dinner. If there’s going to be a big gap between any of those meals – more than five or six hours, put in a snack. More smaller meals frequently throughout the day means you are never going too long without eating.

TBF:  Mmmmmm… snacks.

HD: Your snacks should have carbohydrates and protein such as a whole grain cracker with a little peanut or almond butter on it as a protein source. Or yogurt with berries or fruit mixed in. An apple and a handful of almonds would be easier. Cheese is good. But it’s easy to overeat cheese so you have to be careful. If you know you’re going to be up late on a deadline, stressed out, plan ahead. Make the tough decisions ahead of time. Don’t buy food that’s bad for you – leave it at the store. Once it’s home you know you’re going to eat it.


Next time, the Born Freelancer gets some advice for freelancers on eating on the go and managing stress through diet. Read the next part of this series right here.

Posted on October 17, 2012 at 9:40 am by editor · · Tagged with: , ,

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