When I began practicing insurance defense law in Philadelphia after law school at Temple University, I had a few rude awakenings which I suspect most young lawyers experience when beginning their legal career. The long hours at the desk required by any legal job can be pretty taxing on the body—particularly on the waistline. So I began researching and exploring ways to remain alert, energized, in good physical shape, and healthy. Don’t worry—I won’t be advocating for the notorious “Four Hour Energy” fix in this article.
Trying to eat healthy in an office setting can often feel like walking through a minefield of birthday cakes (hello peer pressure!) and holiday office treats.
I’ve found that armed with some discipline and savviness—it can be done! Here are my tips for healthy lawyerly living. (Also, check out my previous article, “Tips for Staying Fit at Work (Lawyer Edition)” discussing staying active while working a sedentary job.)
1) Watch out for Nuts: Nuts are heralded as a great, healthy snack food. They are healthy, but also very high in calories. A couple of handfuls of cashews are probably the calorie equivalent of a small meal. There are about 100 calories in just 13 to 14 cashews. If you’re like me, you can devour these in 25 seconds—and you may just end up eating the whole bag. One cup of almonds contains about 800 calories, which is 40% of the 2,000 calories typically recommended by dietary guidelines.
Only have one handful of nuts; it’s that simple. Do not fall into the lawyer trap of overthinking and convincing yourself otherwise (counterargument: they have antioxidants!)
2) Avoid Snacking (unless it’s vegetables or low-sugar fruit): In college, I studied in France and learned they don’t snack—and think it’s an absolutely bizarre custom. If you have breakfast, why do you need to eat again before lunch? If you have lunch, then—you get the idea.
While a popular myth, filling your stomach doesn’t necessarily give your brain a “boost.” Our brains actually work at their highest level when we are hungry. This was an evolutionary adaptation to increase our odds of tracking down food in the wild. Dr. David Perlmutter’s book, Grain Brain, for example, demonstrates how periodic fasting actually improves cognitive performance.
Or in Ben Franklin’s words: “A full belly makes a dull brain.” If you’re giving an oral argument in an hour, you may want to rethink downing a snack beforehand (especially not nuts! See rule #1).
3) Beware Happy Hour: Lawyers have an array of happy hours as they are important to network, to make friends with your colleagues, and to unwind. These events can be fun and healthy with some limits.
One beer is not a big deal in itself, but think about the consequences: If you have that beer, then you may skip your workout that night (or equally the following morning). One beer can easily turn into two. Two beers can lead to ordering copious appetizers of wings and fries.
A recent study in the U.K. highlighted by Men’s Health magazine, showed that men eat 30% more after drinking a nonalcoholic beer spiked with two servings of alcohol, than after drinking a nonalcoholic beer without any adulterations.
Limit yourself to one drink, and don’t skip that workout.
4) Keep Your Research and Motivation Current: Just as you stay on top of case law and new regulations, find online research resources to give you motivation along with fresh research and ways to stay healthy. In researching the perplexing question of how to best eat at the office, I found the website Mark’s Daily Apple, whose tagline is “Primal Living in the Modern World” to be quite informative.
5) Eat a salad for lunch (without bread): I’ve found that salad is one of the few meals I eat where I actually feel energized afterward. Lawyers must always retain a laser-like focus, even for mundane assignments.
The National Sleep Foundation warns that a large lunch (particularly a high carb one) brings about afternoon enervation, referring to this phenomenon as the “post-lunch dip.”
Filling your stomach with pasta before prior to reviewing sensitive documents is an occupational hazard and never a good combination! To stay on top of your career game, a salad is the perfect lunch for lawyers (just avoid the bread and stick with olive oil and vinegar instead of high-calorie dressings.)
6) Replace Sugar with Stevia – Enjoy your coffee with Stevia instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners. It tastes just as good as sugar, has no calories, and is completely natural. If you are a lawyer, the odds are that you will be drinking a lot of coffee throughout the day. Those packets of sugar really add up after awhile. Famous holistic medical doctor, Andrew Weil, M.D., has championed Stevia as a natural alternative to sugar in Prevention magazine.
Steve Weinberg is an attorney who has significant litigation experience and specializes in Personal Injury defense. For two years, he practiced law in a small insurance defense firm in Philadelphia.