The UNC Eating Disorders Program stresses the importance of maintaining a healthy balanced diet comprised of exchanges including starches, proteins, vegetables, fruits, milk, and fats. Interestingly, when we were asked to write a blog about our experiences as summer interns, we realized that, in a way, exchanges represent our day-to-day activities. Even more importantly, we realized that to be a productive summer intern, we needed a balanced “diet” or schedule of various “exchanges” or activities.
One of the most important macronutrients is starches. Starches provide a rich source of carbohydrates; in fact, they are the only nutrients the brain can use for fuel. Serving as a kind of “brain food,” we completed many thought provoking tasks that we found both challenging and exciting. We spent a good portion of each day planning projects, writing papers, collecting laboratory data, completing diagnostic assessments, and discussing relevant research studies and findings. With each of these activities, we found ourselves feeding our minds as we delved into the world of eating disorder research.
In addition to starches, it’s also important to get ample protein, which helps us build and tone muscle. Similarly, certain tasks helped us “build” or acquire important skills. For instance, as we planned projects, we found ourselves conducting literature reviews, which fine-tuned our ability to analyze, critique, and incorporate previous research into current projects. We were even able to learn new skills; Amelia completed a course in phlebotomy and now knows proper venipuncture procedure and Kendra learned how to conceptualize, not simply translate, Spanish! Like protein, such activities helped build our research skills.
Vegetables and fruits provide various vitamins and nutrients that facilitate immune function and health. As we know, the immune system involves the upkeep of the entire body; likewise, it is necessary to connect research theory/findings with clinical practice. Augmenting our research activities, we were able to shadow psychiatrists, psychologists, dieticians, and social workers in the care of patients. In turn, shadowing helped us understand and appreciate both the impetus for eating disorder research and the restraints of clinical work.
Milk helps maintain healthy bones, which gives the body structure. Similarly, we performed tasks that shaped research and structured projects. For instance, we completed transcript analyses and patient interviews. These tasks formed the framework for new projects and studies. For instance, Amelia was able to summarize patient interviews with the intent to develop an iPhone app and Kendra reviewed patient interviews to inform the development of a family-enhanced treatment for eating disorders in diverse populations.
And finally, fats. Fats are an important facet to every diet: they make up hormones and cell membranes, keep skin moist and hair shiny, and help store and break down certain vitamins. For us, we meet our “fat” exchanges through coffee breaks, laughing over PhD comics (see link below), and having tangential debates over theoretical issues in clinical psychology. Like chocolate or the sweetest dessert you could possibly imagine, these activities (in moderation) allowed us to pause, giving us down time to look at the big picture and just enjoy other’s company.
So at the end of the day, we’re tired, but we’re also mentally fulfilled. In a way, all these activities and projects come together to make the perfectly satisfying diet. We both feel that this summer has been a great experience, giving us the opportunity to develop, both as individuals and as novice researchers. To all who have mentored us during this time, we thank you whole-heartedly!
Kendra Davis and Amelia Abbott-Frey