On Nutrition

How Bad Is My Diet, Really?

DEAR DR. BLONZ: For the three years since leaving graduate school, I have been attempting to start my own business, and my job has become more intense. In college, I visited the gym, worked out and ate well, but now I have no time to exercise, except a bit of walking.

I am most concerned about my diet. I’m constantly eating fast food or convenience food, as there is no time to cook. I usually rush out in the morning with very little to eat, then I literally don’t eat again until I come home eight or nine hours later, unless I am lucky enough to pass a fast-food store. At home, I make phone calls and then eat my dinner at 11 p.m. or later. I am still young, so I am hoping that my body will be forgiving during this phase of my career. My girlfriend is quite concerned, and it is affecting our relationship, so I wanted to ask: How dangerous is what I am doing? -- R.T., St. Louis, Missouri

DEAR R.T.: I understand these concerns, and it is good you are looking for answers. It must be difficult for one who knows better ways to find himself immersed in a lifestyle that has wandered far afield from previously healthful habits.

How dangerous are your current habits, you ask? That’s a difficult question to answer with certainty, because much depends on elements such as your age, weight, genetics and any pre-existing risk factors.

It is not uncommon to find ourselves in an “investment phase” at work, where intense dedication is needed to open doors and even create new ones. But you’ve been at it for three years, and I am hoping there is an end -- or at least a gearshift -- in sight. I apologize for all this lecturing, and I have no idea what you do for a living, but I would imagine -- or should I say, hope -- that the payoff will be sufficient to justify these current travails.

The good news is that there are obvious remedies at your disposal, and “nudges” you can make to your torrid lifestyle. All you need is the wherewithal to make the changes.

As regards your diet, most markets now offer a wide variety of fresh, whole foods, as well as a host of other culinary delights beyond quickie restaurants. You can keep dried fruits, nuts and seeds in your desk, and you might see if there is room for a refrigerator in your workspace. If so, you can stock it with healthy snacks such as fruits, cut-up vegetables, yogurt and juices. This would make you less of a slave to vending machines and fast-food fixes.

For food outside work, I suggest sprucing up your breakfast. Get a higher-fiber cereal or some yogurt, and try to have fresh fruit with your meal. If strapped for time, consider taking advantage of the new crop of food delivery services that can bring healthful prepared meals to your location. On an off day, you might even consider a cooking class. This would help you learn to cook in less time, using healthier ingredients, and you could even take the leftovers to work the next day!

Other important points: Devote more time to physical activities and to getting the sleep your body needs. Start making slow-but-sure changes today. Consider setting up a series of rewards for goals set and achieved. Keep in mind that a lifestyle full of unhealthful habits has a way of setting itself on autopilot.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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