Grad Student Sets Boundaries to Fit It All In

Candace Nelson is a graduate student and full-time content strategist in Seattle. This is her day of healthy living.

The ironic thing about my life right now is that I’m in my final months in a Master of Science in Nutrition program, but I don’t feel like I have time to put what I’m learning into practice. I eat more processed food than I want to admit and spend too much time sitting. My weakness is baked goods. I don’t usually keep treats at home. My rule is if I’m willing to walk to the store or bakery, I can have it. Since I baked cookies with a friend on Sunday, I have some on the counter today. 

Here’s what a day of healthy living looks like for me:

6:15 I’ve been laying in bed awake for a while, so when the alarm goes off, I get out of bed and take a quick shower. I have heat-sensitive skin, so I don’t linger. When I’m done, my cat is waiting for me outside the bathroom door. He leads me downstairs to his brush. He’s especially affectionate in the mornings, which is a calm way to start the day.

6:30 I’ve been eating more white bread than usual because of Thanksgiving and its assorted leftovers, so I opt for whole grains today. I make oatmeal with a handful of frozen blueberries and a scoop of almond butter. Then I pack some fruit, nuts, and a cookie to bring to work as snacks.

7:20 I remember to pack my gym bag, then give hugs, and leave for work a few minutes earlier than usual. I try not to drive to work alone more than two days per week. Today is one of my solo days. I sip my coffee with oat milk on the way. I gave up dairy in hopes of reducing inflammation, but I cheat occasionally–because pizza exists.

7:55 I am usually my most focused early in the morning, so I get started on my least pleasant tasks for the day. I have a 9 a.m. meeting, so I only have an hour to be productive. I raise my desk up and stand for the first hour to reduce the number of hours I spend sitting.

9:45 Meeting is over and I’m back at my desk. I break out that cookie. It’s always hard for me to break the sugar habit again after holiday indulgences. 

12:30 I’m late for lunch with a friend, but she’s far more understanding than I would have been. We go to a nearby natural foods market, which is a nice treat. I pick soup and a breadstick. So much for cutting back on the refined grains.

4:00 I pack up to leave the office. I take a high intensity interval training class at my gym Tuesday evenings. It’s already dark, and I feel like just going home and reading a book. Instead, I eat an apple for energy and resolve to drive straight to the gym. On the way, I call my parents to check in. I talk to them a couple times a week.

5:00 Before class starts, I ask the teacher about any shoulder work she has planned. I had a shoulder injury, and my doctor always reminds me not to compete too much in these classes. The teacher, who knows all about my shoulder limitations, confirms that we’ll be doing overhead presses, so I grab a set of lighter weights. During class, I mindfully do a combination of push-ups from my toes and some from my knees. I want to build shoulder strength, but slowly and without hurting myself more. I’m happy that we also do a fair amount of balance work, today. What I lack in shoulder strength, I make up for in ability to stand on one leg.

6:15 I make salmon from a kit with perfectly portioned pieces and a lemony topping. I pop it in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. I ask my partner (who doesn’t like his business on the internet, so this is the only mention) to listen for the timer so I can take a shower. Grad school has made me better at asking for help and setting boundaries. I used to try to do everything myself and would get frustrated. OK, I still try, but less than I did before.

6:35 The salmon needs more time, so I toss together a quick spinach salad with pumpkin seeds because I recently read that Americans need to eat more seeds.

7:15 I need to do some laundry, but I don’t want to start it now, so I put it off until tomorrow. I get to work on a class project while the cat vies for attention by sitting on the desk. I spend an hour to an hour and a half on schoolwork most evenings. I try to give myself one weeknight school-free. Today is not that day.

8:30 I have a rule for my own mental health that I won’t work past 8:30. So, with this, I shut down to see what’s going on upstairs and maybe read a book in the cozy new bed.


Submit your day of healthy living

We welcome you to share your health journey with us. We’re not interested in a carefully curated Instagram-perfect day. We want to hear the real stuff like the struggle to avoid the box of doughnuts at the office or what it’s like to be rehabbing an injury and unable to do what you want to. We want to hear about the triumph of going for a run when you would rather stay in bed. We also want to hear your unique story. What are you personally working on? What do you do for your own self-care?

Send your day with at least one horizontal image to We may edit for length.

ANW Team

The latest fitness, food and inspiration posts from the Actively Northwest team.