Eating Healthy on Duty
Being in law enforcement brings with it certain challenges and risks. One which is often overlooked when selecting this career is the danger of a poor diet and the long-term effects this can have on an officer’s health and readiness. Here are some tips to keep you from surviving on coffee and doughnuts for 20 years.
Shift work, irregular schedules and the inability to have an uninterrupted meal are all challenges when it comes to eating healthy as a police officer. But, like any challenge they do not need to be insurmountable obstacles. With a plan, some preparation and a little will power you can avoid a waistline that grows quicker than your pension.
Avoid the Junk
One of the biggest pitfalls officers face when it comes to on-duty nutrition is taking the easy route and grabbing a snack from the gas station or patrol room vending machine. A coffee and donuts for breakfast and couple bags of chips or candy bars throughout the shift are quick & easy but can cost you in the long run. Not only will this add up in terms of price, but it will soon add to your waistline and overall diminished health as well.
Try to eat real meals whenever possible so that you can avoid the need to graze throughout the shift. If a snack is needed select healthier options - more on this in a moment.
Pack your own
Packing your own meals allows for the most control over what you eat. This allow you to avoid unhealthy choices but does take some planning and preparations.
Plan your meals ahead of time and prepare the evening before to avoid wondering what you can make as you get ready to head out the door. While it is probably the last thing you want to do you can precook or pack the week’s meals on your days off and have them ready to go. You can also take leftovers from the family meal you probably missed the day before.
If you eat out choose healthy
There are times when you simply do not have the time to prepare a meal for the next shift. Plus, some days you just want to have lunch with some co-workers or do not have the ability to take a lunch. Don’t worry, it is still okay to eat out, just choose wisely.
Like junk food burgers & fries or pizza are an easy solution but not the best long-term choices Select restaurants that offer grilled or broiled options, buffets can be a good choice if they offer enough variety to avoid “fried everything”.
Go for the grilled chicken or fish with a side of veggies, maybe a salad with meat toppings for a little extra protein. It is also a good idea to limit your overall carbohydrate intake, including rice or pasta, as this can lead to an energy crash (and need for a snack later) as well as digestive issues.
Snacks can be healthy too
There are going to be times when the next meal is a bit too far away, or when you missed a meal all together and need something to fill your gut. This is a prime time for junk food, but it doesn’t have to be. Snacks can be healthy too.
Instead of a donut or chocolate bar pick up a bag of nuts, some of your favorite seeds or even some hard-boiled eggs. If you are packing your meals be sure to include some healthy snacks as well such as nuts, protein bars (watch the sugar content), cheese bits , cut veggies or even beef jerky (despite the sodium levels they are better than candy or chips).
Allow yourself a treat
Most diets fail because they are impossible in the long run. Sure, you can survive without pizza or wings with the squad and retirement cake is not a requirement, but few people can live that type of lifestyle. Even fewer want to. Allow yourself the occasional treat.
Not only does a little indulgence let you enjoy life occasionally it also removes the feeling of failure when you slip up and go off your diet. Those days when you can’t resist or have no choice but grab a hot dog from the vending truck are okay, if it isn’t a habit.
Hopefully these tips will help you keep from upsizing your duty belt along with your number of stripes, or maybe reverse course if you are already there. What they will do is help you eat and live healthier regardless of the obstacles your profession throws in front of you.
Written by Tom Burrell- Expert law enforcement columnist