How to Fuel, Nourish and Power Motherhood: The real-life struggle—from a mom dietitian

Being a mother is truly one of the greatest gifts on Earth … it also happens to be the most exhausting job in the galaxy. Moms must be strong, gentle, kind, firm, supportive, patient, inspirational, active, witty, empathetic, calming, loving, nurturing, vigilant … and extremely energetic.

It´s really less like a job, and more like an endurance sport.

I know for me, the biggest challenge in keeping up with the many tasks of motherhood is just that—keeping up. I have to feel as sharp as a tack, strong as an ox and young as a teenager to keep my mom-life/work-life ebbin´and flowin´.

What matters most to me each day is having enough power (a.k.a. energy) to enjoy precious moments with my family, and having the clear mental focus required to be productive in my work. I do this by emphasizing my food and prioritizing my health. I don´t overthink my diet or get bogged down with the minutia of dieting mantras, labels, or rigid rules. I do eat real food—and lots of plants—without striving for perfection.

What keeps me motivated each day is—when I eat well ... I feel better … I have more pep ... I am happier ... and I get more things done.

That is more than enough to keep me on track—most days.

Everyone thinks we nutritionists eat the perfectly composed organic, locally-sourced, whole foods, carbon-zero diet 365 days of the year, and grow superfoods on our kitchen windowsills. Not so much. We also have dietary slumps and get overwhelmed by modern life.

Before having children, I thought I understood fatigue—balancing my long work hours, late-night classes and my taxing NYC social circuit. However, after having children, I have a deeper understanding of the physical and mental stamina required to nurture and protect the life of a tiny human.

The heightened vigilance required to guard their lives, the culinary savoir-faire needed to feed their growth, the loving care beneficial to inspire their creativity, and the superpower skills required to function well (despite the unusually high number of interrupted sleep cycles) foster an all-out assault on a mother´s energy levels.

I learned this first hand when becoming a mother shortly after moving from New York City to Barcelona seven years ago. As my focus shifted from feeding myself well to prioritizing my children's nutrition, I was left feeling exhausted, unmotivated to exercise, overwhelmed by the workload and desperately craving sugar, chocolates and caffeine, to keep me functioning at a baseline human level.

One of my chocolate croissant and coffee breaks in front of the Sagrada Familia

One of my chocolate croissant and coffee breaks in front of the Sagrada Familia

While I fed my children quinoa, lentils and organic broccoli, I ate Spanish jamón, quesos, chocolate croissants, artisanal potato chips, baguettes, grilled ham and cheese “bikini” sandwiches, cream-filled pastries, those dried hanging meats from the market, and whatever else I could prepare and eat in under 10 minutes, flat.

I also started incorporating more chicken, beef, fish and pork than I previously ate during my vegetarian and pescatarian years before kids.  As time went on, I continued to increase my dependence on packaged foods and processed meat, and less on whole foods, since it was the quick and easy way out. Yet, what I saved in meal prep, I more than made up for in feeling fatigued, cranky and unmotivated overall.

I was still sorting out the motherhood health-balancing act—even as a registered dietitian.

When mom doesn´t eat well ...
Mom doesn´t feel well ...
and when Mom doesn´t feel well ...
nobody´s happy.

 

It was when I returned to my career—teaching nutrition—that I changed my eating habits with the sole purpose of boosting my energy and mental clarity.

And.

It.

Worked!

These days, I have muchísima more energy, far more patience with my children, more laughs with my husband, more family meals around the table, heightened focus in my work, and a greater sense of security in the health and well-being of my family.

The most amazing part is that I only changed one thing—which changed everything else.

I eat waaaay more plants—what I refer to as Rooted & Rustic foods—without giving up all the foods I love.

 

Not wanting to get bogged down in the rules, regulations, deprivation or guilt trips if I ate something off-book, I just kept it simple.

I pumped up my plant foods, which, by default, decreased the processed foods and animal products without much effort. It also helped that I learned lots from the Mediterraneans—the original plant-based gurus.

Just to be clear … when I say plants, I'm not talking about having a side salad for dinner. I eat tons of energizing foods like whole grains, leafy greens, fruits, vegetables, berries, beans, lentils, soy, mushrooms, olives, nuts, seeds and herbs. Then I add smaller portions of cheese, yogurt, eggs or fish varied through the meals.

My son investigating the produce delivery

My son investigating the produce delivery

Unless you've been living under a rock, I'm sure you have seen the headlines connecting plant-foods with health. I'm not going to bore you by detailing the standard list of reasons for eating your plants based on science. You know the basics—lowered risk of diabetes, heart disease, alzheimer's ... and so on.

I´ll admit, we, nutritionists get a bit wrapped up in the disease-prevention data. However, when moms (and dads) are whipping up dinner for the family, those numbers are not motivational in getting real food to the table after a stressful day of work.

Yet, feeling strong, powerful, and energized is motivational.

Chickpeas

I know many of you mothers are prioritizing the health of your little ones over your own. It's instinctual. I get that. Yet, to best support and love your children, you have to feel your best.


mothers—You have to prioritize your health
so that you have the power to prioritize
your
children´s health.  

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Don't underestimate the power you mothers (and fathers) wield in promoting lifelong health for children by simply modeling healthy eating, out of habit. It starts by eating more Rooted (plants) and Rustic (whole) foods—one day at a time—without striving for perfection.

The more opportunities children have to eat wholesome food... the more they eat it.

The more opportunities children have to eat wholesome food... the more they eat it.

As it turns out, good nutrition is not an all-or-nothing effect. Eating more plants (yes, even without giving up the meat and dairy) benefits health. The goal is to flip the proportions of your plate from the meat-focused Standard American Diet (S.A.D.) to healthier plant-focused one. Using a strong foundation of plant-based foods boosts energy and health. This allows you the flexibility to garnish the meal with fish, meat, dairy or eggs, according to your personal preference.

For me, I started with these simple changes which got me back on track:

  • Automating my grocery shopping online to avoid impulse purchases in the supermarket.
  • Adding at least one vegetable to my mornings (green smoothies).
  • Carrying raw nuts, seeds and raisins in my purse for snacks on-the-go.
  • Swapping lentils for beef in my recipes at dinner.
  • Trading whole grain cereals for my baguettes.
  • Replacing cow's milk with ground almonds or soy milk in recipes.
  • And of course, enjoying a piece of dark chocolate is easy peasy!

If you would like to learn more about the Rooted, Rustic and Realistic philosophy of health and nutrition—which combines my professional expertise as a dietitian, my real-life lessons as a mom and my personal experience living in the Mediterranean— check out my Rooted, Rustic and Realistic Manifesto

If you want to dive straight in, download the Power Pantry Checklist with the best foods for powering life.


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