This post is by Natalie Bridges, a fellow nurse blogger over at thirtyeightfive.com. She is also a critical care nurse! Woo-hoo! Natalie is a chef, nurse, and patient. She blogs about healthy eating and nursing and I love it. I asked her to write about working as a nurse and eating healthy. Enjoy!
We all know that as nurses sometimes we don’t care for ourselves first. In fact, most of the time we fall somewhere far underneath our patients and then our families in the hierarchy of priorities. We will go twelve hours without using the restroom while we worry about our patient who hasn’t urinated in eight (and then we wonder what our Creatinine is after such a day). We sacrifice sleep for children, ignore exercise in favor of doing laundry, and often pull whatever is not expired out of the fridge at the end of a long day. We are programmed people- programmed to sacrifice for the good of those around us and to fulfill our responsibilities, even if that leaves us last on the priority list. It’s what makes us good at our jobs, reliable wives and husbands, or caring mothers and fathers. But I believe we can strike a balance that ends up benefiting not only us but also those around us.
If you resonate with any of this, then take comfort that you’re in good company. We all know how hard it can be both physically and mentally to find something to eat after a long day at the hospital. And with the added burdens of every day life, we often forget to plan ahead, pack a lunch, or cook in bulk for the week ahead. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve struggled with this and have learned some lessons along the way.
Having been a trauma ICU nurse for over five years now, I’ve worked every shift you can think of and more including periods of night shifts, three shifts in a row, and weekends. I’ve gone almost an entire shift without putting a single piece of food in my mouth because my patient was so sick, leaving me hangry and desperate when the charge nurse offered to relive me. I’ve struggled over the eternal debate of whether you eat “dinner” food after a night shift or breakfast (or both). I’ve been seduced by the cafeteria pepperoni pizza, leaving my own healthy lunch alone and cold in the fridge. I’ve wandered into the waiting area and found myself looking longingly at the candy in the vending machine wondering how I got there, and then blaming my own dietary failures on my psychotic patient. Who else could drive me to eat an entire Snickers bar at three in the morning?
But after being diagnosed with an autoimmune gastrointestinal disease, I was forced to drastically alter my diet and make some permanent changes. Transitioning through those changes wasn’t easy. I could no longer indulge in the convenience of the cafeteria but was faced with the daunting task of cooking almost all of our meals at home. I had to plan ahead and resist the allure of the cookies or cake that somehow mysteriously arrived in the break room. I had to say yes to things I didn’t want to eat and no to those I could no longer eat. But despite the time, effort, and (let’s be honest) tears at points, I believe I have become a much more informed, healthier human, as well as a better nurse because of those changes.
I’m not suggesting you completely overhaul your life (if you don’t have to for a medical reason). However, I am proposing that altering your dietary routine might not be as hard as you imagine and by adhering to a few basic tenants, you can hopefully find success in your efforts to become a healthier nurse. I think you will find yourself more energized, efficient and able to successfully fulfill all the roles you take on in life, both at home and at work. To get you started, let’s talk about how to handle meals after a long day at work.
- Plan ahead. This is already everyone’s least favorite tip but I promise this practice will become your best ally if you can do even a little prior preparation. If I don’t think about meals at all during the week, I come home exhausted and frustrated that I have nothing in the fridge. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, cook a big batch of vegetables or sweet potatoes and a protein on a day off. Then invest in some glass Pyrex dishes so you can portion out your meals and even freeze some if you have enough. Although you may still end up eating the same thing a few times, you can alternate between frozen pre-made meals to give yourself some variety. Throw in some fresh fruit to complement your meal and a piece of dark chocolate for dessert (you still need some kind of treat after a long day!)
- Have a backup plan. If all else fails and the refrigerator breaks, your stove explodes or your dog eats every last crumb of your prepared food, have some emergency options. Think of these as the crash cart of your kitchen for those times when your stomach is about to go into VFib. Some ideas include a protein shake, protein bars, or a frozen meal from a reliable company like Amy’s Organics. It may not be exactly what you’re craving but just the fact that it exists may keep you out of the drive-through line.
- Share with friends. I think this tip is especially helpful if you live alone or are cooking for one. Find a coworker who also wants to eat healthy and split up the work of preparing and cooking. Alternate weeks or have one person bring lunch and the other person bring dinner so that you’re going home with a healthy meal already in your lunch box. Aside from the health benefits, you also get to experience different kinds of dishes and share both your burden and joy with someone else.
You will fail at times and that’s ok. Give yourself room to adjust, especially if you aren’t accustomed to cooking or preparing food in advance. By fueling your body with healthy sustenance, you’re setting yourself up to take better care of your patients and your family, and that leaves everyone happy. #healthynurse