One of the toughest things nurses face is caring for themselves, and eating for optimal nutrition at work is especially problematic. Filling up on whatever is around can actually zap your energy and lead to longer-term health problems. And a recent study proves the grab-and-go in the break room is challenging for everyone.

A recently published study by the American Society for Nutrition shows that relying on food in the workplace might actually hurt your health. In a time crunch, buying quick take out in the cafeteria, granola bars or candy bars at a vending machine in the hall, or a juice or soda for a pick-me-up can wreak havoc on everything from your blood pressure to your weight.

Even if you resolve to spend nothing on food at work, you aren’t out of the woods. The candy dish that remains filled with tiny pieces of chocolate, the birthday cake for a coworker’s big day, and the party leftovers that appear in the kitchen or break room all add unexpected calories to your daily or weekly total.

The study’s author, Stephen Onufrak noted in his presentation abstract the dietary quality of foods obtained in the average work setting of the study provided less nutrition and a higher ratio of sodium and fats than healthy guidelines recommend.

Even worse, you often aren’t even aware of what you’re eating. A few small cookies barely make a dent in your hunger, but easily pack a lot of fat and calories to your day with little nutritional value. And because nurses work a physically demanding job, eating on the run is pretty common. Sometimes you think it must be better to grab a slice of coffee cake than nothing, and sometimes it is better to do that. But planning ahead and having a yogurt that’s just as fast to eat, string cheese, whole-grain crackers, or a handful of dried fruit and nuts that provides fiber, protein, and a few vitamins to boot is a better choice and provides longer lasting energy.

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If it’s the social aspect of workplace eating that appeals to you, just be aware of your intake. Allocate what you are willing to splurge on and what you won’t really miss. Advocate for healthier choices when food is supplied for meetings, lunches, or celebrations. Also be your own cheering section. Take the time to stash your favorite snacks in your bag so you can feel social, but still fuel your body with healthy foods. As with any behavior change, it helps to enlist support. Find a buddy who can help you resist the urge to nosh on whatever is closest at hand.

With healthier eating comes many benefits, but feeling better is one of the biggest benefits of all.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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