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Wellness for Working Parents

4 Wellness Tips for Working Parents

How do you become a better, healthier version of yourself when you have a career and a family to raise?

As a working mom, dietitian and athlete, Michele Fumagalli, RD, an oncology dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Cancer Center Warrenville, knows what it takes to have the strength and energy to maintain her many roles.

Fumagalli is passionate about helping working moms find balance by making lifestyle changes that stick, which is often the toughest part. “If you’re not taking care of yourself, then it becomes challenging to become a better version of yourself,” she says.

“Working moms try to do everything, but they need to do things for themselves, too,” says Fumagalli. “Lean on your partner and support system more often. Make your everyday choices come from a place of self-love and self-respect.”

Knowing why you want to lead a healthier life can help motivate you to actually live it. “Find your why to connect to your goals,” she says.

Fumagalli recommends building your wellness around four key areas:

  1. Nutrition: Eat more real food. “Every time we eat something, we are making the choice to eat that. Emphasize quality, and you’ll decrease quantity,” says Fumagalli. “Choose foods that nourish your body, such as veggies, fruits and healthy fats, including nuts and olive oil.”

    Make healthy dinners fast by simplifying meals. Purchase bags of veggies you can quickly steam, instant brown rice and a rotisserie chicken, and you have a fast, complete meal for the whole family — a vegetable, a starch and a protein source.

  2. Movement: For many working parents, life is centered on sitting — in an office chair, at your child’s practice and in the car. Beyond the importance of exercising regularly, your body was meant to move. Take the stairs, use a stand-up desk, park farther away from the grocery store entrance and limit going through the drive-through.
  3. Sleep: The six (OK, maybe five) hours of sleep you may be getting every night as a parent just doesn’t cut it. Just as your children need sleep, you also need sleep to reenergize and process the day’s events.

    “Many people are so sleep deprived, they don’t even realize it,” says Fumagalli. “Sleep needs to be a priority. It impacts hormones, your nutrition, food choices, and weight gain and loss.”

    The quality of your sleep is just as important as the number of hours of sleep you get, so create a sleep routine. Instead of watching TV before bed, journal or read a book. Set screen time limits before bed to help reduce exposure to blue light from TVs, computers and other electronics. Set your phone to airplane mode or turn off the sound so you aren’t tempted to check it every time something new pops up. Also, invest in a good mattress.

    If you’re on call or work an overnight shift, schedule 20-minute naps, and/or be sure to maintain the same sleep schedule every day, even on the days you don’t work.

  4. Mood: Your overall mood is a barometer of your lifestyle. If you need a mood boost, check in to see how you’re doing with the first three lifestyle tips. Find a support group in your community or friends to help you stay on track. Make space in your life for laughter and friendship.

Target one new behavior a week. For example, if you decide to focus on movement this week, pay more attention to it. If you can’t exercise on a particular day, eat healthy and find ways to move more.

“Imagine how much better you will feel when you do something every day that allows you to become a better version of yourself as a working parent,” says Fumagalli.