If you’re working in a hospital, studying in a vocational nurse school or BSN program, you’ll notice that many of the nurses around you are often so busy that they forget to eat. Most people with stressful jobs have the problem of overeating, but nutritional experts are quick to point out that the biggest problem with nurses’ eating habits is actually the opposite. It’s not that they eat too much, but that they don’t eat.
So many nurses skip meals while working that they don’t get the essential nutrients they need to function. This lowers glucose levels which can harm the brain and the body. Cathryn Domrose, writer for Nurse.com, reports that low glucose levels can affect concentration, short-term memory, and the ability to retain information, which can affect performance at work. That’s why it’s imperative that nurses eat and get enough nutrients during the day.
This problem is compounded by the fact that as caretakers. Nurses often put themselves last as they run around caring for everyone else. It’s not completely your fault if you let this happen, you can’t be a good nurse without being compassionate. But you do need to keep in mind that if you don’t take care of yourself, then you can’t take care of anyone else.
Kristen E. D’Anci, PhD, a researcher in the department of psychology and nutrition and neurocognition laboratory at Tufts University, comments on the effects of skipping meals, “If you’re not able to pay attention, you’re going to miss things, and it’s critical for nurses not to miss things,” she says. She adds that hunger has an effect on mood, making people irritable and less equipped to handle stressful situations, she says.
Nurses in hospitals definitely aren’t the only ones who are too busy to eat sometimes. Nursing students in vocational nurse schools and BSN programs are also very familiar with having full schedules and eating on the run. The key to being a healthy and able nurse, or nursing student, is to eat, and to eat right. Here are a few suggestions from nutritional experts outlined by Domrose in her article Food for Thought:
- Keep a stash of nutrient-dense snacks in your purse, pocket, car, drawer or locker. Cans of tuna, string cheese, packets of whole-grain crackers, trail mix, fresh and dried fruit, and containers of yogurt provide portable servings of sustained energy to help keep the body and mind going strong throughout the day. Just be careful not to snack too much lest you end up overeating.
- Eat breakfast, the most important meal of the day. After 10 or 12 hours without food, the body needs energy.
- Stay hydrated with plenty of water or unsweetened tea throughout the shift. But keep away from soft drinks. Sugar in liquid form not only spikes glucose levels and provides empty calories, it doesn’t fill you up, not even for a short time
- Consider working together to make sure everyone is eating for optimal energy. Rather than hold a weight-loss competition, co-workers can remind each other to eat during the day; ask colleagues if they’ve had breakfast; take turns stocking a cupboard with nutritious snacks; and agree to bring in healthful treats such as fruit baskets, limiting the days they bring in sugary foods, or pitching in for a massage therapist to give neck rubs instead of a takeout food feast.
I’d like to emphasize this last point for everyone. Since we nurses tend to think of ourselves last, try to think of each other. If you’re working on the job or through a vocational nurse school or BSN program, remember to take care of your colleagues in addition to your patients.