Very soon it will be Halloween, the start of a holiday season that researchers warn adds an average of eight pounds — if you’re not careful about sweets and snacks.
Nurses have a lot of practice saying “no” to treats at work – boxes of candy from grateful families to trays of pastries from coworkers. Temptations abound, but they become especially intense during the next two months of the year.
Of course, we love getting together with teammates to mark Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, Solstice, or the New Year. Plus, we’ll continue to toast other happy occasions: birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, and job promotions.
So what’s the problem? Some surveys show that nurses are more likely to be overweight than the general population. Could the reason be extreme workplace stress and long shift hours? Or maybe it’s because the nurse population is aging, which correlates to a higher BMI.
You may not be able to do anything about events at work or your own slowing metabolism. But you can control your own actions, which will help you keep on the nutritional straight and narrow.
Here are a few ideas that have worked for other nurses:
First try to become aware of any emotional basis for your cravings for sweets and treats. It’ll then be easier to make behavioral changes, which will go a long way toward keeping you at your healthiest weight.
Decide beforehand on your “food rules” for this season, and then don’t deviate from them. For instance, you may decide to bring low-calorie snacks to events so that you’re not so tempted by sugary, fatty, or salty offerings. A cup of cubed cantaloupe is sweet (only 7 grams of natural sugar), while cut vegetables with Greek yogurt dip and air-popped popcorn with chili spices are savory.
Devise a healthy-eating phrase to repeat silently to yourself when you’re most tempted. Here are a few mantras to try this Halloween, and if some prove helpful, to keep handy all year long.
- “My stress level is through the roof, but chocolate is not the solution.”
- “Sugar is not the best antidote for fatigue from 12-hour shifts.”
- “I can accept the good wishes, but resist the treats from families and staff.”
- “I deserve better than sugary goodies when I work a night shift.”
- “Sweets can not change my not-so-sweet feelings of anger at work.”
In addition, try to cut out sweets in other areas of your life, too. The American Heart Association says to limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons for women and 9 for men. That’s a tall order when you consider that the American average is 22 to 30 teaspoons a day.
You have to be a good detective because sugar hides where you least expect it, like in coffee drinks. Compare a Starbucks’ Grande Vanilla Latte vs. plain coffee with a packet of sugar. The difference is a whopping 32 grams of sugar!
Of course, plain black coffee would be best, but that would probably be too big a shock to the system for a coffee drinker with a sweet tooth.
It’s better to make small and sustainable changes, such as eating and not drinking your snacks and meals. Fruit smoothies, for instance, enjoy a “health halo” but can pack on the pounds because they’re high-calorie, high-sugar, and apparently innocuous.
Sometimes it doesn’t pay to fight the inevitable, like candy on Halloween, though you can sidestep some of the danger. So, don’t go hog wild but instead enjoy a fun-sized piece of candy (80 calories for most bars), and you won’t do too much damage.
It goes without saying, but don’t be the health saboteur who brings bags of candy to work. Your fellow nurses and other staff members won’t appreciate it.
At home, buy your least favorite candy for trick-or-treaters – and fewer bags than you think you’ll need to prevent leftovers. If you want to avoid temptation altogether, give out mini-toys or stickers instead of sugary treats. In a pinch, just reach into your wallet or piggy bank for some quarters and dimes. The youngest goblins appreciate even pennies!
It’s not easy to limit treats around Halloween, but remember, you’re taking good care of yourself, and setting a good example for your patients.