Is a Junk Food Diet Slowing You Down?

Nurses have to be on their feet far more than most professionals. They have to be clear-headed to make competent decisions, and physically strong enough to move patients in and out of wheelchairs and beds. However, because nurses work such crazy hours with limited break times, readily available junk food can become the go-to snack for a quick energy boost.

While understandable, unhealthy choices backfire in so many ways, including affecting long-term nurse health. Read on to get the facts and find some healthy alternatives.

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How Junk Food Affects You:

1. Your Energy is Zapped

Sugary, processed foods, unlike natural foods, release their glucose quicker. This results in a small burst of energy that is quickly followed by a feeling of extreme fatigue. Junky foods’ insufficient protein burdens your metabolism because your pancreas ends up secreting higher amounts of insulin to prevent a spike in your blood sugar levels. This zaps your body’s energy.

2. You Can’t Concentrate as Well

High-fat snacks have an adverse effect on your brain. Your body’s digestive system needs to work overtime to process unhealthy foods, which reduces the oxygen levels that should be going to your brain. This can affect your ability to concentrate. Don’t forget, too, that the brain doesn’t get the vitamins it needs with nutrient impoverished foods, further reducing its function.

3. You May Develop a Sugary-Food Addiction

A 2013 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that sugary foods can be addictive, in a way. These foods have a very high glycemic rating, meaning they trigger the same area of the brain prone to drug or gambling addictions. When your blood sugar level begins to drop, guess what: you crave even more of the sugary junk foods. The “sickening” cycle continues on and on.

In addition to these short-term effects, a long-term junk food diet can lead to obesity, heart disease, and other chronic conditions. So decide to make some positive changes now.

Healthy Solutions for Time-Crunched Nurses

When you’re working that long nursing shift and you’re feeling sluggish, consider these options instead of reaching for the candy bar or can of soda:

1. Stay Hydrated with Water

Our blood, which is composed largely of water, is what carries nutrients to our cells for energy. So when our body is low on water, sleepiness overtakes us. Refueling your liquid intake throughout the day is mandatory to maintain high levels of vitality, alertness, and productivity.

2. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

All-natural fruits and vegetables are loaded with vitamins and nutrients your body always needs. They are loaded with antioxidants, ensuring that you’ll perform in tip-top shape. These all-natural food choices even increase the production of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that helps improve your overall mood, making you feel energized and raring to go! Make snacking on fruit and veggies easy by pre-slicing them and bringing them to work in small containers that are quick to grab and go.

3. Graze Throughout Your Shift

Eating little snacks throughout your nursing shift provides a constant refueling of nutrients for your brain. Even just a handful of nuts or a bit of fruit can give you a much-needed energy boost. Keep a bag of almonds nearby, or fill that fridge with some blueberries or carrots when the hunger pangs start. Then you’ll be less likely to visit that vending machine filled with unhealthy choices.

Expect a 2-Month Process (or More)

Recent research tells us it takes at least two months to break a habit. While going from a bag of chips to almonds or exchanging a cheeseburger for fish with vegetables may sound depressing, if you can stick with it for a few weeks, you’ll soon come to appreciate your new diet. In fact, you’ll wonder how you ever ate anything from McDonald's.

We all know that we crave carbohydrates when we’re tired. Elizabeth Somer, author of Eat Your Way to Happiness, recommends that when hit by a craving (like after work or during a stressful time on your nursing shift), we think through the texture of what we crave. Instead of going right to the bad stuff, we can decide on a healthier alternative.

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