Gratitude, Culture, and Food

Thanksgiving can be a time that brings up a lot of feelings for people. Be kind to yourself and the people around you!


Thanksgiving often brings up thoughts about gratitude. While just noticing your gratitude makes a difference, you can add benefit to the people around you by expressing gratitude to them. Encourage people around the dinner table to share a story of when they were grateful for someone at the meal. 

You can also write about gratitude, and jot down the little moments of your day that make you feel grateful. If you want to bring this idea to Thanksgiving, create a gratitude tree or jar for everyone to use, or write gratitude postcards to people who are far away. You could also make a collage, Reel, or TikTok to visually express gratitude

However you notice and/or share – take time this holiday to experience gratitude. 


Your family may have traditions that you invoke for Thanksgiving. Cherish the ones that bring you joy, and don’t be afraid to suggest new ways of doing things this holiday to move away from activities that no longer serve you.

Remember that the history around Thanksgiving is complex. Thanksgiving can be a reminder of the genocide and violence that Native communities experienced and continue to experience. Decolonize your Thanksgiving by learning about, listening to, and celebrating Native people.


For many of us, food is central to our holiday. Try to make food a positive experience for everyone this holiday. If you talk about food, focus on the wonderful flavors of the season and gratitude for the land, workers, and chef who helped bring the food to the table. Use mindful eating strategies: 

  • Stick to normal eating habits, eating consistently and mindfully throughout the day. 
  • Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full.
  • Be present during meals. Slow down and notice how the food tastes. Feel the pleasure and satisfaction in the eating experience.
  • Add foods, don’t subtract. All foods fit into healthy eating! Consider how to add nutrient-filled and diverse foods into your body.

May your Thanksgiving be full of experiences for which to be grateful. 

Nutrition Philosophy

Here at Healthy Heels, we view food as fuel, nourishment, and something to be enjoyed. We encourage Tar Heels to eat a wide array of foods that are both nourishing and delicious. There are no bad or forbidden foods – it’s all about paying attention to your body’s needs.

Eat When You’re Hungry

Keep your body biologically fed with enough nourishment. This helps avoid the natural response to over-consume food in moments of excessive hunger. Learning to honor your initial biological signal of hunger sets the stage for building trust in yourself and in food.

  • Help yourself by bringing yummy, nutrient-dense snacks with you so that when you notice hunger, you have food available.

Enjoy Your Food

Feel the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in the eating experience. Some studies indicate that when you look forward to the food that you’re about to eat, your body absorbs more of its nutrients. Plus, eating food you enjoy in a pleasurable environment helps you feel satisfied and content. 

Stop Eating When You’re Full

Trust yourself with eating and listen to your body. Your body will tell you what foods you need and when it needs them no longer. Observe the signs that show that you’re comfortably full. Pause in the middle of eating and ask yourself how the food tastes, and check in on your current level of hunger.

Use Gentle Nutrition Strategies

  • Zoom out. Focus on the big picture when it comes to nutrition. Individual food choices make very little difference when it comes to health. You will not suddenly get a nutrient deficiency or become unhealthy from one snack, one meal, or one day of eating. It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters. Consider overall patterns in your food intake.
  • Add foods, don’t subtract. Remember that all foods can be a part of a healthy life and no foods are off-limits. Instead, consider how to add nutrient-filled and diverse foods into your eating patterns.
  • Focus on variety. Different foods contain different nutrients, which means that eating a diversity of foods helps to ensure that we are getting adequate nutrients.
  • Pay attention to food that feels good. Make food choices that honor your health and taste buds while making your body feel good.
  • Try to include at least 2 food groups at each snack. This will help keep you nourished.
  • Create an environment that makes health easier. Your environment is the biggest predictor of your health choices, so consider how you can make shifts to your space to set yourself up for the health behaviors you want.

What’s in a Name? Considering Name Brand Vs. Generics When Purchasing Food

This blog post was originally published on April 7, 2015.

Picture this:

You’ve made your grocery list, or you swing by the store to get some staples for the week ahead. Like many of us, you’re on a budget, so you’ve got an eye for deals and saving money. As you scan your food options, you notice that in addition to the many eye-catching (and slogan-worthy) brands offered for your favorite foods, there are also those more plain, but much cheaper options. And you ask yourself: Is saving the money worth it? Is that food going to be as good?

I’ve often wondered this myself, and took some time to learn about the differences between generic and name brand foods. Continue reading

“What Happens If I Skip Breakfast?”

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of


We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Leslie Knope and Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation understood it (possibly just for its deliciousness)!  But how many of us actually eat it on a daily basis? And unfortunately, that cup of coffee doesn’t really count as breakfast.

A 2005 study found that 35% of college students do not eat any kind of meal in the morning. This is a bit more common with men than women.

Many students skip this  meal due to lack of time or because it has become a habit to rush to class on an empty stomach.

“I know it’s probably not a good idea, but I’ve gotten used to it,” explains a second-year UNC student. “I usually study late and I would rather sleep an extra 20 minutes than wake up to make breakfast.”

While college students may lack time, it is still very important to eat in the morning. What kind of impact does this have if you decide to skip breakfast?

  1. Your grades will take a hit! Your brain needs food to function, specifically glucose. Things like toast, cereal, and fruit are good sources of this. A number of studies found a link between academic performance and breakfast. Those that ate breakfast scored noticeably higher on tests than those that did not eat breakfast. Other studies have found that when you’re hungry, you tend to be more forgetful. If you want those A’s, you should start with breakfast.
  1. You’ll be cranky. When your body is running on empty, your blood sugar drops and your cortisol (the stress hormone) levels spike. Your mood will suffer, and it’ll make it hard to sit through an entire lecture. Being hangry is a real thing!
  1. Your metabolism slows down. Breakfast helps to rev up your metabolism. Without food in your system, especially at the beginning of your day, your body goes into protection mode and works to conserve calories, rather than burning it. In prolonged cases, it causes wasting of your muscles.
  1. You’ll be more at risk for certain diseases. A number of studies found links between missing breakfast and increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, and diabetes. Yes, skipping breakfast can cause weight gain.

 An ideal breakfast is balanced. The Clinical Nutrition Specialist at Campus Health, Antonia Hartley, often recommends using the MyPlate for just that reason.

 Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

“I tell my clients to choose a starch (like toast, a tortilla, or granola), choose a protein (like peanut butter, eggs, or yogurt), and choose a fruit or veggie (like a banana, spinach or berries),” Hartley advises. “Putting together any three of these takes two minutes tops, especially since you can scramble an egg in the microwave.”

If you’re short on time in the morning, there many other quick breakfast recipes. There’s really no excuse to skip breakfast in the morning.


Justin Chu is the Information and Communication Program Assistant at UNC Student Wellness and a Master of Public Health graduate student with a focus in Health Behavior at UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. He previously worked as a nutritionist in the clinical, community, and commercial settings after earning his bachelor’s in Clinical Nutrition at the University of California at Davis.

Health Through Heritage

It’s February, and already you’re tired of the dining hall (mostly just walking through the cold to get there). Luckily, the first week of February provides some foodspiration in the form of African Heritage and Health Week.

Image courtesy of
Image courtesy of

African Heritage and Health Week (Feb. 1 – 7) celebrates the foods, flavors, and healthy cooking techniques that were key to the wellbeing of ancestors from African diaspora cultures in Africa, South America, the Caribbean, and the American South, each with distinct local foods and cooking styles.

Food and nutrition nonprofit, Oldways created the celebration, with its overall mission to guide people to good health through heritage, using practical and positive programs grounded in science and tradition. The basic premise of African Heritage and Health Week is to bring people together to support one another in healthy eating practices. A fringe benefit: developing multicultural sensitivity and experience.

African Heritage and Health Week also purposely coincides with the beginning of Black History Month. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, are more prevalent in African American communities.With traditional diets waning in popularity, this week is a way to link African American heritage to historically healthy eating and lifestyle practices.

So what makes these diets so healthy? The African Heritage Diet Pyramid shows a framework for these traditional ingredients.

The diet is based on fresh, natural plant foods: fruits and vegetables, especially leafy greens (chard, collards, kale, spinach, turnip, greens), tubers (yams, sweet potatoes, plantains), beans and nuts, rice and whole grains, healthy oils, and homemade sauces of herbs and spices. These are the core group to shop for. There is minimal consumption of eggs, poultry, other meats, and sweets. (Hey, saving some money!)

There is a great variety of high-nutrient foods, and those naturally low in processed sugar and unhealthy fats.

So, here’s how you celebrate African Heritage and Health Week: 

COOK: Plates of Expression dishes and foods from all four distinct regions of African heritage (click on the food for the recipe!)


Image courtesy of

Image courtesy of

LEARN: Taste of Heritage Cooking Classeshands-on experience showing people how to eat and cook with traditional ingredients, reconnecting participants with the way of eating and living that promoted the health of African American ancestors everywhere.


DINE: African Heritage Dine Around Townchallenge yourself to experience something new (or old!) – alphabetical index, by state, of cultural restaurants near you that offer widest variety of nutritious, plant-based dishes, preparing all the traditional ingredients and dishes in delicious new ways.

For a quick guide, check out this African Heritage Diet 101 brochure and dive deeper into African Heritage and Health Week.CALLING ALL PANTHERS FANS! ITS SUPER BOWL WEEK. , “It wasn’t going to be instant grits. It was going to be like long, slow-cooked collard greens. I think those collard greens are brewing right now. You can smell them from 100 miles away.” Imagine Cam throwing this Collard Greens recipe to you. Eat them at your Super Bowl party, or save them for your Monday lunch – clearly a win-win situation.

Angelica Arnold is the Program Assistant for Health and Wellness at Student Wellness. She is a first year Master of Public Administration candidate at the UNC School of Government. Her focus is on state, local, and nonprofit programs for nutrition education and walkable communities. She also a volunteer instructor for UNC Fitness Breaks and a youth basketball coach.

Crunching for Exams: The Foods to Eat When Studying

by: Justin Chu

About this time of the school year, an intense feeling of stress, anxiety, and panic begins to fill the air in the UNC libraries. The first round of midterms is on its way. Here we see a hundred or so desperate students cramming for their exams with their eyes glued to textbooks and laptops. But next to the stack of lecture slide printouts and notebooks on the table is often a pile of chips, candy, cups of Starbucks, and cans of Red Bull. But did you know that what you eat can have an impact on how well you perform on exams?

PHOTO: “Finals Week Madness,” by Caryn. Flickr Creative Commons.

“I usually eat healthy, but it gets difficult around midterms and finals time,” explains Autymn Harris, a second year English major. “I plan my meals ahead when I can, but sometimes find myself munching on a lot of empty-calorie foods like cookies and fast food because I’m stressed and don’t have a lot of time.”

Even though students are inclined to neglect their diet for the sake of studying, research shows it’s not a good idea — especially when studying. What you eat can play a large role in how well you study and perform on your exams.

According to Elizabeth Somers, R.D., in her book, Food and Mood, the things we eat affect chemicals in the brain that controls all cognitive functions. When you don’t eat the right mix of foods, your brain just doesn’t work as it should. It can impair functions, such as memory, ability to think clearly and quickly, reaction times, concentration, and the ability to learn.

One study conducted at the University of New Mexico found a link between previous and current diet and test scores. By having a healthy diet for longer period time, you will score better on tests.

There is no doubt that what we eat affects how we study and perform on tests. So if you’re looking for a brain boost, here are some foods you should consider:


Whole Grains

Food sources: oats, brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa

What it does for you: Your brain runs solely on carbs (more specifically, glucose). Now, we’re not saying you should start binging on candies and cupcakes — these kinds of carbs gets absorbed in your body too quickly and can lead to a crash. Instead, you should opt for whole grains, which are carbs that your body uses slowly and for a longer period of time.



Food sources: fruits, vegetables

What it does for you: For many of us, around this time we are more stressed and sleeping less. This causes your immune system to take a hit, making you less likely to be at your best. Antioxidants, such as vitamin E, help protect your body and brain from the typical exam battle wounds.



Food sources: coffee, tea, dark chocolate

What it does for you: Some studies show caffeine can raise your brain function and reaction times. However, too much of this stuff will cancel out the benefits and may make you feel too anxious to think clearly. It may also make you more restless when you sleep and cause your body stress. Moderation is key when it comes to caffeine and studying.



Food sources: eggs, wheat germ, peanuts

What it does for you: Your body makes this nutrient itself, but adding some to your diet may improve your studying. Research from Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that choline has a big impact on your memory. In fact, those diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, a condition associated with memory loss, have a significant drop in choline production, indicating its importance to memory.



Food sources: tuna, salmon, bass

What it does for you: There are many reasons that people call fish “brain food.” For one, it contains omega-3s, which affects how well nutrients from the foods you eat get into your brain. It ultimately helps to improve brain activity and reduce memory loss as we age.



Food sources: Gum

What it does for you: You may not exactly consider this food. However, chewing gum has been found to improve memory and attention span, according to UK psychologists. Those who chewed gum during tests did much better than non-chewers.



Food sources:  water, juice, tea

What it does for you: It’s important to down some water before you start scribbling on your scantron. According to a study from the University of Bristol, participants that drank water around the time of a test scored 10% better than their thirsty classmates.


The typical foods we eat when we cram for exams may react badly with our bodies. You may not have a lot of time on your hands, but it’s still possible to make better choices. You can make a quick turkey sandwich at home in under five minutes, while making your midnight Wendy’s run would probably take longer and may even harm your studying. If you want the best chances of surviving your exams, eat consciously and aim for a balanced diet.

Good luck on midterms!


As promised in my last blog, I will be blogging today about embracing your inner DIY.  Today, we will explore the wonderful world of leftovers!

Have you ever been out to eat and you’ve eaten more than half of your meal to the point where neither finishing your meal nor taking it home with you make any sense?  When I’m in that situation, I just can’t waste the food, so I normally end up eating the rest and feeling post-Thanksgiving dinner-esque.  But here’s a better idea:  take home the leftovers and integrate them into a whole new food creation.

The other day, a friend and I went to a great Mexican restaurant for lunch and I got a chicken fajita salad.  Leftover salads are pretty pointless for me because I despise soggy lettuce, but I took it home anyway.  The next morning, I got to have a late breakfast, and I put the leftovers to good use.  First, I separated the good stuff (chicken, peppers, onions, etc.) from the soggy lettuce.  Then, I reheated it in a small skillet while I cracked a few eggs into a bowl and whisked them together with some milk.  A few minutes later, I topped my chicken fajita omelet with some homemade salsa.  What a delicious breakfast!

If I had wanted to make more of a lunch themed leftover creation, I would have ditched the soggy lettuce and remade the salad with some fresh additions.  If you find yourself in this same situation, put a cup of chopped romaine lettuce into a large salad bowl.  Mix together a can of corn and a can of black beans (drained and rinsed) and put a half cup of the mixture on top of the lettuce.  At this point, I would also throw some banana pepper rings in before I added the reheated leftovers to the top.  You can dress the salad with some salsa or some ranch dressing.  I normally use a little of both.

Had the leftovers made it to dinner that night, there are a few ways I could have completed the meal.  I probably would have started with putting the leftover fajita stuffing onto a tortilla, topping with some cheese, and heating in either the microwave or toaster oven.  For the sides, I would have mixed the corn and black beans together (from my lunch suggestion above) and served it with some brown rice.

The possibilities are really endless.  What’s the most creative way you have used your leftovers the next day?

What’s in a Name? Considering Name Brand Vs. Generics When Purchasing Food

Picture this:

You’ve made your grocery list, or you swing by the store to get some staples for the week ahead. Like many of us, you’re on a budget, so you’ve got an eye for deals and saving money. As you scan your food options, you notice that in addition to the many eye-catching (and slogan-worthy) brands offered for your favorite foods, there are also those more plain, but much cheaper options. And you ask yourself: Is saving the money worth it? Is that food going to be as good?

I’ve often wondered this myself, and took some time to learn about the differences between generic and name brand foods. Continue reading

Spring is Here! Get Outside and Visit Some Farms

The last two winters here in Chapel Hill have been a little rough for all you non-winter, non-cold weather people. But fear not, spring is here (no really I swear)!

Photo: "Blossom Time, Fuquay-Varina" by Universal Pops, flickr creative commons
Photo: “Blossom Time, Fuquay-Varina” by Universal Pops, flickr creative commons

The Azaleas, Dogwoods, and fruit trees are beginning to bloom and the forests are taking on a faint green hue as buds begin to turn to leaves. I love this time of year, and if the trees and bushes are awakening and growing, you know what else is…? Vegetables!

Though Orange County may be best known for Chapel Hill and UNC, farming is a large part of the culture and economy. It has over 604 farms and almost one quarter of the land is agricultural. Crops grown in Orange County include: corn, soybeans, tobacco, and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. It also has a number of dairy farms and farms that produce beef, pork, chicken, and other types of meat.

So, how does this apply to me or health, you might ask? Great question. Many people believe that eating local is good for your health as well as the environment, and this month Student Wellness is focusing on environmental wellness. The major benefit to the environment is that if you eat local, your food has to travel a much shorter distance from field to plate, which means a lot less fossil fuels burned in the process. Did you know that the average distance food travels is over 1800 miles!

Photo: "Baby Cows!" by Jason Adams, flickr creative commons
Photo: “Baby Cows!” by Jason Adams, flickr creative commons

One of the main reasons I am bringing all this up is that the Annual Piedmont Farm Tour is happening at the end of April (April 25th and 26th), and if you want to take improving your health and the environment one step further, you could ride your bike to one of these farms—Transplanting Traditions Community Farm and Chapel Hill Creamery are both less than seven miles from Chapel Hill.

But even if you don’t do the farm tour, you should try and get out on a bicycle in Orange County. What better way to get exercise than rolling past one picturesque farm after another, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze keeping you cool?

So before you leave Chapel Hill for the summer, visit a farm, go to the farmers market, or ride your bike to Maple View Farm to get some ice cream. You will be helping yourself, getting to know the people who produce your food, and helping the environment all at the same time.

Compete to WIN a $1,000 GRAND Prize at LDOC HeelFest–Auditions start this Week…

That’s RIGHT–your or your student group could win $1,000 at the very first LDOC HeelFest!!!

LDOC HeelFest will be an end-of-year talent show extravaganza. This is the first year UNC is doing this event and it is a collaboration among multiple campus departments and student groups. It will be held at Ehringhaus Field from 4-8pm on LDOC, which is Friday April 24th. The talent show will feature a showcase of UNC student talent, and the students at the event will get to vote on the winning performer/group. The Grand Prize will be a cash amount, TBD.

Come to auditions this week and next…Let’s see what you got!

LDOC HeelFest audition schedule
LDOC HeelFest audition schedule