How to Eat Right while Studying for the Bar Exam

Everyone has heard of the "Freshman Fifteen," which is supposedly the amount of weight that people pack on during their freshman year of college because they drink too much beer and eat too much pizza.  Well, if you are not careful, you can quickly gain weight during bar exam studies.  The stress and long hours can lead to bad eating habits and poor food choices, with the result that you not only gain weight, but lose energy and lack mental focus.

I will admit that both times I took the bar exam, I did not eat in the manner I am about to describe, but I wish I had.  (Instead, I relied far too much on coffee and green tea to keep me awake, if not alert.)  I discovered the following method of eating about five months ago.  Even though I was exercising, I was still flabby and low energy.  Then, I discovered this eating strategy.  After changing my diet but making no other changes to my routine or my exercise regimen, I lost 15 pounds and three inches off my waist in less than two months and I felt great and continue to feel great.  All this while working as a litigation attorney and trying to have a life.

The trick is that you eliminate all "fast carbs" from your diet.  "Fast carbs" really means any high glycemic index carbohydrates that metabolize quickly, leaving hundreds of calories unused and that turn into fat.  This is why even if you are eating healthy food (e.g., whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, etc) you can still pack on weight because of the high carbohydrate value.

Unfortunately, we all need carbohydrates to live.  So, change your diet to include "slow carbs."  These carbs are low glycemic index and take much longer for the body to metabolize.  Therefore, their energy lasts longer and you don't suffer from a "carb crash" an hour after lunch.  Slow carbs include beans and legumes, such as lentils.

Now, you need more than just beans to live.  So, you need to have protein and vitamins.  Therefore, you need to eat some sort of lean protein at each meal.  Examples include:  egg whites, lean chicken or beef, and fish.  You also need to get vitamins from vegetables.  But chose wisely, as some vegetables are high in sugar and therefore contain those fast carbs you are trying to avoid.  Good choices include:  broccoli, asparagus, chard (or any leafy green other than lettuce), brussels sprouts, peas, and mixed vegetables.

Okay, I know what you are thinking:  this sounds a bit boring.  Well, it can be.  What you need to do is mix it up with some spices and various bean and lentil varieties so that you have different flavors and textures.  Have an egg white omelet (you can include one egg for flavor) on a Wednesday instead of saving it as a treat for the weekend.

The key to this diet is that you need to eat at least five times per day to keep your energy up.  I realize this can be an inconvenience while studying for the bar exam.  So, let me suggest the following schedule:

Breakfast:  Eat a meal from the above-listed foods, combining a protein, a legume, and vegetables.
Snack during morning lecture:  Cold meat (chicken/beef/pork) salad with peas/broccoli and lentils.
Lunch:   Re-heat something in a microwave from a couple of days before.  If you want to go out to eat, make good choices.  If you have an El Pollo Loco near you, that is a good choice.  You can even order a hamburger without a bun -- weird, but effective.  Generally, on this diet, it is important to make most of your own meals.
Afternoon Snack:  (You can cheat a little here.  Maybe you aren't hungry, so skip the meal.  If you are only slightly hungry, maybe have a 120 calorie CLIF ZBaR -- super yummy and not exactly "slow carb," but close enough.)
Dinner:  Mix and match a protein, a bean/legume, and a vegetable.

Repeat the next day.

Finally, just like you should take at least one day off each week from studying for the bar exam, you should take one day off per week on this diet.  You will crave bread or rice or pasta, so have waffles for breakfast, Subway for lunch, and spaghetti with cream sauce for dinner.  Furthermore, those foods taste so much better when you only have them once a week.

Some favorite meals of mine:

--1/3 cup egg whites and one egg scrambled with herbes de provence; 1/2 cup of red beans; asparagus
--re-heated chicken; 1/2 cup black beans; mixed vegetables
--re-heated steak (cubed); lentils and broccoli mix
--put Trader Joe's Jalapeno sauce or other hot sauce/salsa on eggs and beans (no ketchup as it contains corn syrup)
(Also, note that I use egg whites, which you can buy in a carton . . . very convenient.  Trader Joe's has great prices if there is one near you.  And these are 100% egg whites, not artificial, low-cholesterol egg product that you can buy at supermarkets.)
--drink coffee/tea/water (no juice; don't drink calories)

--chicken salad (cubed chicken, lentils, and broccoli) (this can be warm or cold)
--carne asada (meat only, no tortilla) with beans and mixed vegetables (and lots of hot sauce or salsa)
--fish with red beans and asparagus
--omelet with beans and spinach/collards/chard/kale
--chicken/beef/pork with lentil and mixed vegetables

--Re-heat leftovers
--carrot sticks (lots of sugars, but still a vegetable)

Drinks:  (avoid drinking calories as much as possible)
--Coffee/Tea/Yerba Mate (if you must, diet soda)
--Kefir (small glass of protein packed dairy drink.  Super tasty, and the high protein makes up for the calories.) 

[Disclaimer:  I am not a nutritionist or a doctor.  All I know is that what I have just described works for me.  If you have any underlying health issues, you may want to check with your doctor or with a nutritionist or dietitian before you implement any of the suggestions above.]

[Photo:  matthewf01]


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