From Night shift Nurse To WBFF Pro & Fitness Model
As the weeks rolled on and I got closer to my fitness competitions, my coach put me on lower carb diets. I had never experienced the symptoms associated with this: weakness, fatigue, forgetfulness, confusion, and getting strong cravings. These symptoms were only experienced temporarily to achieve my competition body goals, but it would usually last about 2 weeks and I still decided to stay on track despite the ongoing temptations to give in to sweets or tastier meals at work.
What I quickly noticed was how the general nursing environment did not encourage coworkers to want to eat healthily or even stay on track when people tried. I watched several others try “new healthy diets” and saw how quickly the stress of the job or the pressure to enjoy fatty/sweet foods became a stress relief. Nurses were not encouraging one another to be healthy and avoid some of the very same long term chronic health disorders that we care for on a daily basis. I couldn’t believe I was the only one who discovered how to make time for my health and fitness goals, and it was “weird” and “impossible” to others. Don’t get me wrong, I had a full blow cheat meal once a week, so I still got to indulge, but I was achieving my goals at the same time.
I experienced a variety of other obstacles to my success of dieting during my nursing job. If I had an overly busy shift or a patient that needed constant care and attention, I would have to skip my meals and eat them all during report (2-3 meal portions at a time). In addition, if I was having a particularly stressful shift or portion of a shift, I felt much more prone to cheating or eating bad food between my prepped meals. I also had to watch both my patients and coworkers eat things I could not have on a daily basis. Most of the time, as long as I ate every three hours, I would not be hungry and my cravings would subside. After awhile, however, I developed food boredom because I was essentially eating the same foods week after week with only a slight variation. I decided to learn how to count my macros in order to substitute more tasty foods and treats into my diet so I wouldn’t have to be so strict and still maintain the proper food intake daily.
At first, I struggled with my new schedule to try and train before work. I didn’t know if getting up an extra 2 hours earlier would help my energy levels. Normally, when I got home from night shift, I could fall asleep by 8:30-9am, sleep until 5pm, and then get ready for work. Now that I was getting up at 3pm to workout, initially I thought my energy would suffer or that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this type of schedule, especially 3 nights in a row. I was surprised to find that this routine lead to immediate weight loss, increased energy levels, and my training was an excellent release of stress prior to starting my shift. I felt control, a renewed sense of pride, and energized having accomplished personal goals before going into a stressful job.
Typically, throughout my nursing career, after working three long exhausting back to back shifts, which usually involved nothing other than sleeping in between, I would “do nothing” on my days off. In other words, my previous routine was to just “rest and recover” on my 3-4 days off of nursing. Now that I changed my routine to working out prior to my shifts, the idea of putting in a 1 hr workout on my day off became a lot less overwhelming. In fact, I felt less strained, more accomplished, and higher energy levels when I trained even an hour a day on my “days off.” This new found routine demonstrated that nursing did not need to be a barrier to my personal fitness and health goals.
I have gone through the fitness prep (diet and training) six times while working as a full-time nurse, and even working a second per diem night shift nursing job to cover my competition bills. It is possible, and in fact, this brief period of change has propelled my lifestyle into one where health and fitness is no longer something I have to try and squeeze into my schedule. It’s a natural inclination and desire of mine to eat healthy 80% of the time and enjoy treats 20% of the other. I train because I feel strong, healthy, fit and physically more attractive at age 30 than I was at age 24. In addition, I feel more confident, energetic, less moody and in control of my life and my priorities.
It takes small changes at first, going through some trials and errors to find the right solution for each problem that arises but it IS possible, you are NOT alone and you never know how much better you’ll enjoy your life, your career or who you will inspire by making health and fitness work with your life.
Most of my clients, especially the nurses, tell me their biggest struggles are getting their meals prepped and in (on breaks) but that once they spoke with their managers, made it a priority, and never let it disrupt their work ethic, they all have been able to accomplish their goals and not feel overwhelmed with nursing so that they can’t reach their health aspirations.
One of the most important ways I was able to establish and maintain this healthy routine was through daily support. My husband helped prep my meals daily (spent about 30 minutes in the kitchen cooking three meals for my night). My coach kept me on track with weekly picture check-ins, nutrition guidance, macros goals and developing my fitness workouts. I noticed that my co-workers kindly adapted to my frequent eating schedule and my close friends accommodated my diet needs by always understanding if I came with my food or had to choose healthy meals while eating out. Surrounding yourself with supportive people is extremely important. I did notice several co-workers and units would try to start weight loss challenges but they were very hard to sustain given the struggles I mentioned before in the nursing culture and environment. Therefore, it is extremely important that we start to look out for one another and support the notion to get healthy and be positive influences rather than tempting one another so often at work.
Why should we as nurses put more emphasis on taking better care of ourselves? Most of you might not be interested in fitness competitions or some of the same goals I had. However, I am sure many of you are interested in a healthier lifestyle, to feel more energetic, to feel more in control of your life and body, maybe shed a few stubborn pounds and do it all while feeling less isolated when you attempt to make healthy decisions while at work. We are the future and we are some of the most educated people when it comes to what a poor diet or bad habits can lead to. Why not start now? Why not set an example to our patients, fellow nurses, friends and family and even our children that a healthy balance is attainable even while working an extremely stressful job? I’m not saying one has to avoid all sweets, social events, cravings or temptations. I’m suggesting we increase the frequency of healthy food choices and we make health a priority.
My hope is that those of you who haven’t started your health and fitness journey will now be inspired to start, those of you who have put it on the backburner will return with passion to your previous fit life and those of you who are already kicking ass will share this message with those you could help inspire. We do so much to care for our patients day in and day out. We save lives. We perform vital bedside care at the most crucial of moments. We offer all of our care for others. We have to offer a tiny bit for ourselves. We deserve to stay on the nurse side of the bed, not to end up in a hospital bed years down the road due to lack of self-care. Share this message of hope and inspiration for all the loving nurses that you know.
For those of you interested in developing a healthy routine or reaching certain fitness goals, I do offer custom one on one training (custom meal plans including vegan, vegetarian and any food preferences you may have) on my website: www.laurendrain.com. I also run a weight loss challenges that last 6 weeks that’s extremely popular and generates amazing results. My Spring Slim challenge is now open for registration and starts on March 19th – feel free to review the information & results on my website. Wishing you all the best! Thank you for all that you do to help others! I am here for you should you need help also.