Stress and poor diet are intrinsically linked. The emergency services lifestyle makes maintaining a healthy diet, difficult. Trauma forces coping mechanisms to emerge, one of which is overeating (and comfort foods).
Harvard Health talks about the importance of eating well in your 20s, so you don’t have to ‘make up’ for years of bad eating, later in life – which isn’t an easy feat. As a first responder, a healthy diet is one of the best armours of defence. It’s one of the best things you can do to help save lives… including your own, with good diet linked to better mental and emotional health.
The nature of emergency work is high stress and requires mobility and strength. With it being a physical job, maintaining a good diet is important for performance levels. But the occupational stress and lifestyle of the emergency services worker isn’t conducive to a well-nourished diet.
Police, firefighters and paramedics work shifts, miss home-cooked meals, have sleeping difficulties, and are exposed to tragedy on a daily basis. Overeating can become a coping mechanism and meals are viewed for convenience, more than nutritional density. For first responders in their 20s, they might not have the skills to cook meals their bodies need.
And if they do, there’s the fear of being riddled ‘by the boys’ for bringing in their own lunch. The outdated ‘I’m tough’, ‘men don’t cook’ stereotype within departments can lead to unhealthy food choices. None of this is true and you can be part of the shift in attitude, especially as you’re at the beginning of your career in emergency services.
Plan ahead, with a cooler full of meals
It’s much easier to stay healthy, maintain your weight and save money with meal preparation. Consider some kind of meat and greens on a bed of rice, wraps that are filled with goodness and eaten on the road, healthy bars, and home-made trail mix. Consider proteins and slow-release carbohydrates such as whole grains and lentils for sustained energy and B vitamins. Aim for portable meals that you don’t need to heat up. Wellness is actually very simple and it shouldn’t be mocked.
The Journal of Emergency Medical Services suggest following a Mediterranean diet. Create your meals based on whole grains, beans, pasta, nuts, fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Less frequent food types should include eggs, yogurt, poultry, and meats.
Of course, avoid fast food and ‘petrol station meals’ at all costs. Improper nutrition is one of the most under-addressed causes of depression. And first responders are on the front line, with the growing mental health crisis.
First responder stress is a real thing and one of the natural remedies you have available to you is good nutrition. It needs to be implemented as early as possible, as studies show that workers over age 40 have a higher 10-year risk of a coronary event (compared to the general public). 72% of females and 43% males have higher cholesterol levels and diastolic blood pressure.
Given that there’s no set schedule for emergency work, it’s critical to maintain level throughout the day or night, in highly stressful situations. The physiological disruption of circadian rhythms also adds to the stress effect.
Keep yourself ‘fit for duty’
Staying healthy is quicker to achieve (and easier to sustain) with wellbeing advocates. Emergency Services Health is your 'cheer squad'. It’s health insurance coverage only for emergency service workers (and their families), with generous Extras that help you get, and stay, fit and healthy. Whether you’re already a member, or interested in becoming one, call us to find out how to get the most out of our cover and benefits.
The life of the first responder isn’t always easy. But, with Emergency Services Health on your side, you might just find yourself in the best shape of your life.
Please note: some articles on this website are compiled from material obtained externally. Although we make every effort to ensure information is correct at the time of publication, we accept no responsibility for its accuracy. Health-related articles are intended for general information only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your doctor. The views expressed in articles are not necessarily those of Emergency Services Health.