The longer I am a nurse, the more I understand why the United States’ population has a weight problem. We see holidays as an excuse to eat bad things.
We just got over Easter with all chocolate eggs and marshmallow bunnies associated with that. July 4th: hot dogs, hamburgers, and potato salad. Halloween: need I even mention it? Thanksgiving: an excuse to completely gorge yourself of your own body’s weight full of turkey, stuffing, and pumpkin pie. Christmas/Hanukkah: meat, casseroles and cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for an entire week. Valentine’s Day: chocolate hearts, chocolate bath salts, chocolate teddy bears, chocolate roses, chocolate fountains, chocolate husbands…
The best part yet? Because nurses took such good care of little Johnny this Christmas, and because it is Ella’s one year anniversary of surgery, the nurses’ station becomes the dumping ground for all of WalMart and Target’s entire edible holiday display. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for the generosity of the parents who think of the nursing staff around the holidays, but it’s no wonder nurses have a stereotype for being a little pleasantly plump. Aside from the crazy working hours with minimal breaks (even to pee), having to stay awake in the middle of the night, and having poor food choices in the cafeteria, I think a large contributing factor to nurses packing on the pounds at work is the fact that you must have a willpower stronger than a freight train to turn the constant influx of sweets begging to be eaten down. Never in my life have I eaten a chocolate cookie for breakfast. Before nursing. Never in my life have I scooped up the equivalent of a liter of sour jelly bellies before noon. Before nursing.
So how do nurses overcome the massive amounts of junk food at their disposal every second of every work day? I think it’s a combination of efforts that will slim nurses down and keep us healthy.
- Portion control. Something that has helped me significantly with the plethora of goodies sitting within reach is setting myself limits each day. By telling myself at the beginning of the shift that I will allow myself one piece/morsel/serving of the temptation on the counter, I am better able to control the craving that I have at 10am. Portion control applies to not only sweets but all meals as well. The servings down in the cafeteria are sometimes HUGE, and to limit the amount of calories you consume at one sitting and save a little bit of money, try taking half of the meal home and eating it for dinner. It’s hard to do when you haven’t eaten for most of the shift and you have 10 minutes to consume a day’s worth of food, but setting aside half before you dig in can do wonders. Trick? Eat only half of everything. These tricks work outside of the hospital setting too, and you may just notice your pants being a little looser after a couple of weeks.
- Eat breakfast. I swear by my old health teacher’s adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. If you have a good base of protein and carbohydrates in your stomach when you get to work, you will be less tempted to snack in the morning and you will be held over until later for lunch. I know some people that don’t eat breakfast and by 11am are feeling light-headed due to hypoglycemia. They don’t have time yet to eat lunch so their quick fix? A piece of that red velvet cake sitting on the counter. Bad! Force yourself to eat in the morning, even if you’re not hungry. Because in this industry, you never know when you’ll next have time.
- Just say no to sweets. Have you ever given up anything for an extended period of time? Have you noticed that the first couple of days you crave it but then after a few more you aren’t even tempted? If you can’t limit yourself to just one piece, try cutting out the bad stuff all together. That way you won’t even have to decide what time you want to eat that one piece of candy. That’s the ultimate willpower.
- Exercise. Even on work days. If that means getting up earlier than usual to do sit-ups in your room or finding a running buddy to run with at 4am, do it. Some hospitals are also conducive to working out while at work- just be creative. Always take the stairs. Ask for your assignment to be spread out so you have to walk the extra distance. Exercising not only burns calories but curbs my appetite, in a good way. Perhaps it’s all in my head, but when I exercise I would prefer an apple to something sugary in a heartbeat.
- Pack your lunch. It’s very likely that what you pack from home will be healthier than what you will find downstairs. If you pack your lunch the night before, you will have more time to evaluate your food choices and you may even find yourself shopping for healthier foods at the grocery store. And you’ll save a ton of money in the process.
- Send subliminal messages to your patients’ families when they are sleeping. Next time you are working a night shift and taking care of a very gregarious family, whisper in their ears when they are sleeping, “chocolate is good, but fruit baskets are better.” It works every time
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