For many of us in EMS, getting healthy sounds like a huge undertaking. We’re constantly faced with temptation and the logistics of bringing your own food can be a challenge. We often think that in order to get healthy, we have to make this massive, uncomfortable change. Well, that’s just not true. Change doesn’t have to come all at once. Yes, you need to avoid processed foods. Yes, you need to eat well-balanced meals and learn to keep “junk” food to a minimum, but all that can come with time.
This article is about what you can do today. It doesn’t matter if you’re at home, sitting in the cab of your ambulance or walking into a fast food restaurant as you’re reading this. You can apply these principles right now, no matter where you are. Nothing that I’m going to share is impossible or even that uncomfortable. In fact, you’ll probably start to feel much better in very little time if you follow these guidelines.
Switch to Water
Most of us are operating on a deficiency of at least a liter of water. While it seems to be “the norm” for us, it’s still alarming if you think about it. Staying properly hydrated has so many positive benefits that we don’t realize. For example, some of the biggest side effects of fluid depletion are hunger, drowsiness and fatigue. So what does this mean? Well, when you’re hungry and tired, you may very well just be thirsty! This alone can make a HUGE difference in our health.
So instead of ordering Coke or sweet tea today, try just getting water. The basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your body weight in ounces. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, you should be drinking around 100 ounces of water every day. This isn’t impossible. Just get a 25-ounce bottle and fill it 4 times throughout the day! While I would recommend cutting the sodas and garbage immediately, I would caution against initially jumping into full hydration while you’re on duty, especially if you’re working on street corners. When you first start, you’re going to pee….A LOT. It’s going to feel like you’re constantly going to the restroom. That feeling won’t last forever. Start doing it when you have a couple days off and you should be fine by the time you return to work.
Cut Out Sugar
Sugar is one of the biggest killers out there. It absolutely kills your metabolism, causes massive shifts in blood glucose levels and leads to health problems like diabetes. We tend to forget about sugar when we look at nutrition facts, which is a big mistake. Calories aren’t always a bad thing, and neither are fats. In fact, it’s usually sugar that causes you retain calories and fats. Try to avoid foods and especially drinks that contain a high amount of sugar. Sodas are absolutely terrible for you. And yes, diet sodas are terrible as well (for reasons that I’ll discuss in another article). Honestly, when it comes to drinks, your best bet is going to be water. If you’re looking for flavor, trying infusing it with fresh fruits or herbs.
If you’re going to consume sugar, try to do it before 3pm (or whatever time your “early day” might be). Consuming it close to your bedtime makes it extremely difficult for your body to metabolize and you wind up retaining more.
Get on a Regular Eating Schedule
Another big metabolism killer is irregular or infrequent eating schedules. Your body will respond MUCH better to 5-6 small meals a day than it will with 2-3 large meals. Even if your not eating as healthy as you’d like, at least try to be regular with your eating schedule. I know that this is difficult when you work in EMS, but it’s not impossible. Bringing your food to work makes it a whole lot easier, plus it’s extremely difficult to eat healthy when you’re eating out anyway.
Add Healthy Foods to Your Meals
If you’re not ready to make a total lifestyle change, try adding healthy items to your existing meals. Unhealthy foods can satisfy your body’s macronutrient needs (protein, carbs, fats, etc) but they barely even touch the surface of your micronutrient needs (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc). If you add healthy foods like vegetables to your diet, you’re going to find that it takes less food to satisfy your hunger. This is a good stepping stone towards to getting healthy, but it needs to be temporary. Continuing to eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis will result in your body continuing to hold on to fatty cells, calories, etc, even if you’re adding healthy foods to your diet.
Just Get started and Don’t Give Up
Changing an entire life’s worth of unhealthy habits isn’t always going to be easy. You’re going to slip up from time to time. Just don’t let your mistakes derail everything you’re doing. I allow myself 2-3 “cheat” meals a week. This includes, burgers, pizza, sweets, etc. I do this so that I don’t feel like I’m being deprived of everything I love. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying unhealthy foods periodically. It’s the constant consumption that kills us. It’s all about moderation, not deprivation.
If you’re not ready to jump all in, then at least try doing one of the things I just mentioned. I promise you that anything I listed in this article WILL make positive change. It’s also important to remember that you have spent your life getting your body into the shape it’s in now, so you’re not going to be able to undo everything in a single week. It’s going to take persistence and dedication.
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