Professional Nurses: Tips for maintaining diet goals while on the job

Let’s face it: Nursing is a stressful job.  Dealing with a large, ever-changing population of ill people will always be very demanding, just as seeing the successful outcomes of the care that was provided will always be rewarding to caregivers.  Given the environment is going to be stressful, nurse staff can prepare themselves and tackle the challenge of eating healthy while on the job by implementing a few ideas to stave-off the binge-snacking that’s common in the field.

Daily visual health-eating reminder at home before leaving for work

It can be a simple as a note on the mirror; the main thing is to see it at home, before leaving.  This is a simple Eating Gameplan for the day, 1-3 sentences in length.  Our brains are actually ‘hardwired’  to be receptive to written plans, and it sets in motion the thought process about healthy-eating before you start your commute to work and begin to experience appetite triggers that lead to impulse snacking.

Bring snack items with you in a plastic container

This is one of the best, most effective new behaviors you can do for yourself to reinforce a healthy diet.  Use (or go out and purchase) small, flat containers that are easy to carry or fit in your shoulder purse to make it convenient.  What to eat?  The usual suspects of course: yummy veggies like bite-size carrots, celery, baby tomatoes, broccoli, ect, ideally mixed with slices of fresh fruit, just like Mom said.  Why this works:  You already know you’re going to snack when you get the chance; this satisfies the behavior, and also gives your stomach something to work on between meals.  Your tastebuds will gradually become more familiar with real-food snack items after about 3 weeks or so (habituation), and you will experience a decrease in cravings for the sugars and carbohydrates of processed snacks and the calories they carry.

Exercise is still king

Well, it at least shares the title with “Diet” and both are at their best when together – two sides of the same coin.  We all know exercise burns calories, but I want to mention two other important aspects that should be emphysized more often: muscle gain and stress relief. 

By adding muscle, even small amounts, you activate a literal calorie-burning engine in each of those muscle groups you work on at the gym or at home.  After exercise, muscle tissue goes through a cellular re-building process as it recovers from work expenditure.  It takes a lot of calories to re-build muscle tissue, so after the workout and for many hours thereafter, your body is utilizing calories during this restorative process.  Bottom line – cardio is great of course, but adding weight resistance training to your routine will directly impact your caloric burn in a big way, so optimally try to integrate both in your workouts. 

Exercise produces the release of endorphins in the body, and this goes a long way to counteract the effects of stress, especially physiological, which is the vast majority of the type of stress associated with work.  An example of endorphic release would be the “runners high” that runners experience, but the benefit can also be had by those who regularly exerecise at home or gym, even using comparatively moderate routines.  The key is consistency, such as 5 or 6 workouts per week.

So, visual reminders, new kinds of snack foods and exercise, all taken together, will lay a great foundation of behaviors to assist in achieving larger diet goals that will of course include the major meals of the day.

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