Back to School for Grown-ups
Think back to the Septembers of your youth for a moment: Sure, you were sad to see lazy summer days come to an end, but the thrill of a new school year ahead took the sting away. Back-to-school shopping, new teachers, new friends—all of it was a welcome fresh start. And though you’re all grown up, experts say it’s common to still feel excited during back-to-school season. “The weather, certain smells, certain tastes—all of these things can trigger memories of earlier experiences,” says Julie Hanks, LCSW, a psychotherapist in Salt Lake City. “Come fall, some women feel the same type of anticipation they did as kids and might even unconsciously find ways to relive or improve upon the experience.” Even traditional Chinese medicine suggests we spend this transitional time of year preparing our minds and bodies for the months ahead. So to help you use this season to your advantage, we’ve taken everything you most enjoyed as a school-bound kid and updated it with healthy, adult twists. Here’s to an A-plus term.
If you loved: GOBBLING MOM’S BROWN BAG LUNCHES
Now try: PACKING YOUR OWN LUNCH
Even before celebrity chef Jamie Oliver had a say in school meals, our parents knew how to make us eager for lunch. “Lunches were made with TLC, included new foods, were fun to share and kept us full,” says Sue Moores, R.D., a St. Paul, Minn.-based dietitian. “Stick with those same tenets, and they’ll keep you from ditching your lunch in the office fridge and heading to your favorite fast-food place on your lunch break.”
When packing your midday meal, include an interesting mix of shapes, textures, flavors and temperatures—and introduce at least one new food, like a seasonal fruit, dried wasabi peas or even a dark chocolate truffle. “The goal is to hit high flavor points that stimulate the tongue and brain, so you won’t need to eat as much to feel satisfied,” says Moores, citing crunchy, whole-wheat bread topped with smooth spicy hummus as an example. Also, get your brain and belly anxious for lunch by curbing your midmorning snack. “If you need a nosh, have something at least two hours before lunch and limit what you eat to two food groups,” Moores says, suggesting dairy and fruit (like Greek yogurt with strawberries), or a fiber-rich carb and vegetable (like whole-grain crackers dipped in guacamole).
To make a meal, Moores recommends filling your plate with 50 percent vegetables (or a mix of vegetables and fruits), 25 percent protein and 25 percent whole grains. Traditional Chinese medicine practitioners recommend warming soups loaded with lean, nourishing meats to help your body adjust to the dip in temperature and also help bolster your immune system, preventing colds and flu. It turns out lunch is also ideal for a coffee kick: A new Brazilian study shows that women who drank at least one cup with lunch were a third less likely to develop type II diabetes over several years than noncoffee drinkers. Just be sure to sip before 1 p.m. for a good night’s sleep, as caffeine stays in your body for up to 12 hours.
Since the American Dietetic Association says 70 percent of us brown bag it at our desks two to three days a week—and a 2011 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that eating at your computer makes you prone to overconsumption—make time to have your lunch with a few work pals every now and then. Storing lunch in the latest BPA-free stainless steel tiffins, wood or stainless steel bento boxes and reusable insulated lunch bags keeps food fresh. If you don’t have a fridge at work, freeze your drink, fruit and bread the night before and add an ice pack. Never let perishables sit out for more than two hours at room temperature, and after two days in the fridge, toss any leftovers—they’ll be full of bacteria and a potential source for food-borne illnesses.
If you loved: MAKING NEW PALS
Now try: BROADENING YOUR CIRCLE OF FRIENDS
It was always exciting to meet new classmates, and school made it easy to grow those relationships in school plays, sports teams and recess. “As kids, we’re always growing and socializing, but as adults, that evolution can stall if we don’t purposely support it,” says Amy Johnson, Ph.D., a social psychologist in Chicago. Bringing people into our lives exposes us to new ideas. Friends also stave off loneliness and offer support and advice (and new friends often offer a fresh take on stuff you’ve been analyzing with your old pals for years). No wonder studies show that having friends helps fight the blues, inhibit chronic disease and increase longevity and late-life mental acuity.
Research suggests we “catch” the moods of others, so bolstering our social circle with new faces also directly affects our happiness, generosity and kindness, says Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP, author of Creating Your Best Life (Sterling). She notes that the best time to meet new pals is when you’re feeling upbeat, optimistic and inspired. To that end, Miller suggests figuring out when you shine, and then finding groups and settings that let you do this. “You’ll naturally attract like-minded people to you when you’re at your happiest and most authentic,” says Miller. Concerts, yoga retreats and knitting stores all tap specific interests and offer a chance to connect.
To build a bond, Johnson says you should first get over preconceived notions of how friends should act, and replace them with stuff known to make relationships strong—things like listening and talking. A 2010 University of Michigan study found that talking to other people, the way you do when making friends, can also improve memory, self-monitoring and the ability to suppress external and internal distractions—all of which are essential in solving common life problems.
If you loved: BACK-TO-SCHOOL SHOPPING FOR THE LATEST LOOKS
Now try: SPRUCING UP YOUR WARDROBE WITH KEY ORGANIC PIECES
The annual September trip to the mall to buy a few special outfits— including a cool look for the first day of school—is a childhood memory most of us share. Now, we tend to buy clothes as we need (or want!) them. But style experts agree that no matter how often or infrequently you go shopping, fall is a great time to take stock—and do a little revamp if necessary. This season, multifunctional designs (think: drawstrings and reversibility), transitional looks and easycare sustainable garments that help reduce excess energy and water consumption and eliminate toxic dry cleaning are popular trends.
When shopping organic, it’s more essential for some fabrics to boast the eco-friendly label than others. “Organic cotton is most important, because cotton crops are normally cultivated with harmful herbicides, pesticides and toxic petro-chemical fertilizers,” says Howard Brown, co-founder of Stewart + Brown, a sustainable fashion line. Hemp or linen, however, is not a certified organic fiber because it’s naturally resilient and grown without the aid of herbicides and pesticides. Because few of us choose to stock our entire wardrobe with organic clothes, opt for organic fabrics for items that will be worn close to the skin (such as camisoles, T-shirts and jeans). Another health-friendly detail: Look for brands that pre-wash their clothes to eliminate harmful contaminants and allergens, such as chlorine and formaldehyde, which may be used in the dyeing process.
Finally, opt for eco-conscious brands if you want to know that farmers, workers and the environment aren’t exposed to toxic chemicals during the creation of your clothing and that the companies are part of the solution in creating a healthy world for children and future generations. “It feels good to know nothing was harmed or exploited to produce your clothing,” says Brown.