Nurses and doctors who work long shifts usually don’t find time to eat easily. It’s hard to focus on nutrition when you’re constantly being called on by patients or the hospital when there’s suddenly five new admissions. Some doctors and nurses even work 12-hour shifts back to back and barely have time to sleep, let alone plan their meals.
These schedules not only disrupt personal lives and circadian rhythms (sleeping and waking patterns), but also make it harder to eat in a routine manner. In this post, we’ll be discussing some nutrition tips for doctors and nurses who have limited mealtimes.
Always Be Ready for Long Shifts
According to health marketing experts from Logic Inbound,“In the health profession, no two days are alike.” There might be some days when you only get a five-hour break between shifts, and it pays to be prepared for these occurrences. Have a high-fiber protein bar (with at least 5g of fiber and 7g of protein) or meal-replacement drink on hand for those times.
Meal planning isn’t as complex as you might think and it carries great health benefits. When you think of what you’re going to eat the next day, or even during the next week, you’re less likely to make snap decisions to eat unhealthy food.
If getting healthy meals at work isn’t an option, take your own food with you. For snacks, keep fresh vegetables and fruits, whole-grain crackers and peanut butter.
Healthy Eating Isn’t Time Consuming
There are many healthy meals that take less than 30 seconds to prepare, and including these in your routine can be greatly beneficial to your health. Many time-starved nurses and doctors can fall into the habit of grabbing unhealthy snacks in a bid to get maximum calories. But this carries a penalty on your weight management and can even negatively affect work performance.
Take Advantage of Technology
With modern facilities and digitization being implemented in the healthcare industry, you can take advantage of such technology. You can easily perform a quick blood pressure test to monitor your heart health or get an advanced fitness tracker that enables you to monitor your water and food intake. Through this, you’ll be aware of what you lack and what your body needs.
Avoid Skipping Meals
If you’re in the habit of skipping meals, DON’T. Your body goes into fasting mode when you skip a meal and uses less efficient energy sources such as protein. Protein is required for maintaining muscle mass, so you’re effectively losing precious muscle when you skip meals routinely.
Fasting can also cause your blood glucose levels to drop, directly affecting your concentration and fatigue levels. It can also make you irritable.
Skipping meals can also lead to cravings and sudden blood glucose spikes, which in turn may trigger increase triglyceride production. Triglycerides are stored as body fat, so you might actually gain weight by skipping meals. Unless you are intentionally doing this or are a pro on doing this, it’s best to just avoid it.
It might be a tired old saying, but a good breakfast really does get the day started right. If you work a long day shift, having a fulfilling breakfast can give you energy that lasts. Don’t rely on caffeine as breakfast, as its effects are short-lived and you might find yourself reaching for a cup throughout the day.
This tip isn’t just for hard workers; it’s for everyone. Sugar rewards you with an instant high, but its effects are short-lived. But it’s the side effects that are worrying. After the short-lived sugar rush, you immediately feel its effects in the form of cravings for more food. Processed or white flour comes with the same set of problems – it satisfies you for a little while, but then this effect wears off.
Choose whole grains and foods sweetened with fruit juice or honey instead. Whole grains take longer for your body to process and rich with nutrients, so your body is fed with energy slowly yet consistently.
We’ve talked about how skipping meals can lead to cravings, which in turn may cause you to binge on a single big meal. Binge eating is detrimental to your health as it can overwhelm your body with calories it doesn’t need. Try dividing your food intake over the course of the day.
Staying well hydrated has a number of benefits such as promotion of proper bowel function, circulation and body temperature regulation. Water also carries nutrients through the body and removes waste. By not drinking enough water, you’re opening yourself up to increased heart stress, body temperature and fatigue.
The good thing is, staying hydrated isn’t hard. Just bring a large water bottle to work every day and keep it filled throughout your shift.
Don’t Drink Too Much Coffee
You might be a fan of drinking coffee, but try and limit your caffeine intake. While it may increase alertness and “help you stay awake”, consuming caffeine in large quantities or 4 hours before bedtime can cause insomnia and act as a cardiac stimulant. Too much coffee can also lead to dehydration, which comes with its own complexities.
Bring Your Own Meals to Work
Don’t rely on the hospital cafeteria; instead, buy an insulated cooler and keep it stocked with your favorite healthy foods and snacks. Be in control of what you eat and you’ll be better off.
Relaxed, Mindful Eating
Stress has been cited as a major reason by nurses for skipping meals. Stress hormones can actually curb hunger, making you skip meals and not even think about eating. So the next time you eat, take a moment to relax. Take a few deep breaths and your body will have more time to properly digest food.
Eating at the Cafeteria
If you have no option but to eat at your work’s cafeteria, take some time to go through their menu in advance. Decide which foods are unhealthy and take a mental note of not ordering them. Plan in advance on what you’re going to eat throughout the week. This can help fight against impulse buying and eating unhealthy foods and snacks.
Vending Machine Snacks
Sometimes you just have to resort to the vending machine for a sudden food craving. Vending machines are hardly healthy sources of food, but you can choose “more nutritious” snacks here. Instead of candy, opt for a granola bar the next time you go to a vending machine for a quick snack.