As a nurse, your job is to make sure patients are in good health. However, maintaining your own physical well-being may be challenging during high-stress workdays and night shifts that can take a toll on your regular eating schedule and appetite.
When hunger strikes, don't let stress or long hours influence what you eat. Use these tips to make healthy choices on the job.
Never fail to eat or drink
As a nurse, sitting down and enjoying a full meal during work hours isn't always possible. However, you should try to avoid waiting until the end of your shift to eat, as this will result in a lack of energy. Laura Anderson, Ph.D., director of the University of Buffalo School of Nursing's PULSE Healthy Weight Research Team, explained to NurseZone that waiting to eat until you're starved will also result in overeating.
Instead, she suggested setting an alarm on your phone for every two hours or so that alerts you to have a quick snack and drink from your water bottle. Staying hydrated is particularly important, as it's common for people to mistake thirst for hunger, triggering junk food cravings.
Avoid convenient fast foods
The glow of the vending machine during a long day may draw you in, but it's essential to avoid eating unhealthy snacks, especially at the end of your shift when your body needs nutrients to recover from an active day. According to a 2005 Healthy Hospital Food Initiative report, 17 percent of the hospitals surveyed had a fast food eatery on site. However, the survey also showed that many hospitals were actively working to provide healthier options for their patients and staff, as more than 80 percent reported offering sugar-free snacks, whole-grain products and fresh fruit on a daily basis. Take advantage of these nutritious food options in your cafeteria or vending machines if you don't like to bring your own food from home.
Find healthy "pick-me-ups"
A lot of times snacking can make getting through the day easier, especially when you're working the night shift. However, it's best to try alternative pick-me-ups, such as going for a quick walk around the building. Drinking a cold glass of water can also serve as a refreshing way to wake yourself up and keep yourself going. If snacking seems to work best for you, bring healthy options like your favorite veggies and hummus.
Make extra portions at home
It's never fun to think about work on your days off, but you'll be glad you did when you're back on the job and it comes time to eat. Make extra portions of your meals and package them so that they can be brought to work throughout the week. You can even stick a few meals in the freezer to be eaten in the future. To avoid eating the same thing every day, add a piece of fruit or a new vegetable to each meal for some variety.
For more information on how to eat healthy during your busy nursing schedule, there are plenty of helpful resources from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or refer to the Action Guide for Healthy Eating from the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute.