Among their many medical functions, our ambulances can act as trash containers full of evidence of our poor eating habits.
I am referring to the dashboard that is a minefield of empty fast-food wrappers, fountain soda cups and energy drink cans. Below are some strategies you can use to change all that and get started on the path to healthy eating, while freeing up the dashboard in your ambulance for its intended purpose—bookshelf and IV fluid warmer.
1. Plan Ahead
Plan your meals ahead of time by bringing food from home, or buying an entire shift’s worth of food at its start. The combination of knowing what you will eat, and having it with you when it’s time to do so, will be the best method of keeping you from making bad food decisions “in the moment.”
Sandwiches are easy to make and easy to eat on the go. Just make sure your sandwich (and any food you bring) serves to provide you with the right kind of fuel—think whole wheat bread or whole wheat wrap paired with one of the protein options mentioned below. Swap out high-fat condiments like mayonnaise for healthier, high-flavor choices such as mustard or salsa.
Various types of quick and easy premade dishes can be stored in hard, sealable containers and brought to work. Throw a piece of chicken, fish or other protein of choice on the grill (or stovetop grill pan) for a no-frills, hassle-free and satisfying meal you will find yourself wanting to dig into mid-shift.
Foods packaged specifically for quick or instant cooking, such as single-serving “just add water” brown rice cups, or single envelopes of oatmeal, can be used as valuable assets when deciding what to pack. Most coffee shops and establishments I’ve encountered are more than willing to accommodate a request for a cup of hot water so I can “cook” my breakfast or side dish on the go.
2. Eat at Regular Intervals
Having your food with you and your meals planned ahead of time makes this infinitely easier, especially in a busy EMS system. Eat smaller amounts, approximately 200 to 500 calories every two to four hours throughout the day—depending on the time of day and size of the meal—to prevent you from becoming ravenous, and subsequently making poor food choices out of hunger or desperation. It will also keep you from overeating once you finally do get a chance to eat. As a bonus, eating at regular intervals will also help you maintain focus, concentration and critical-thinking skills necessary for optimal job performance.
3. Avoid Overeating
It’s only natural to want to shove as much food as possible into your body when you don’t know when your next meal will be, and I know it feels good to get those bites in when you’re very hungry. In the end, though, eating uncontrollably and feverishly can end up being counter-productive.
Overeating will cause you to feel tired, bloated or generally not in the mood to do much, especially some of the more physically intensive aspects of the job such as holding c-spine while curled up inside a vehicle, or carrying an unresponsive patient down the stairs.
Stop eating when you start to feel full. This seems obvious, but most people don’t do it. Let the food settle for a few minutes, and if you truly still feel hungry, go back for a few more bites.
4. Size Up Servings
If you can’t tell what a serving size or the appropriate recommended amount of a particular food is, look it up. Most of this information can be found on the outer packaging of foods, and printed on menus or signs in eateries and food establishments.
It’s important to note that although this information is “per serving size,” there can be more than one serving size contained within a package. This can trick you into thinking you are only eating a select amount of calories, while you are, in fact, eating double or triple that amount. For example, in a popular iced tea drink, the serving size is 8 fluid ounces, and contains 100 calories and 24 grams of sugar. Yet, if you look closely on the label next to the serving size, it reads: “servings per container: 2”. In actuality, drinking the entire iced tea drink will give you 200 calories and 48 grams of sugar.