3 Reasons Why Obesity Is Common in Nursing (and How to Fix It)

Obesity is a growing health problem in the US. As a nurse, you have probably seen to quite a few obese patients or others who are struggling with their weight. However, as a nurse, you probably also work with other nurses who are overweight. Indeed, obesity is becoming more common in the nursing profession. As counterintuitive as it sounds to have healthcare professionals struggling with this particular health issue, there are several reasons why obesity is a growing issue.

Problem #1: Poor Eating Habits

Nursing isn’t known as a profession with lots of downtime. Nurses rarely have time to sit down for a leisurely meal of healthy foods. Unfortunately, nurses are more likely to grab a bag of chips or a soda from a vending machine than they are to prepare a well-balanced meal. Not having enough time to prepare meals at home or sit and eat them at work can all lead to obesity if left unchecked.

Solution: Plan and Prepare

Because a lot of nurses’ food decisions are made due to a lack of time, it’s important to schedule in food planning and preparation as you would any other necessity. Try to go shopping once a week and focus on easy, quick foods that don’t require a lot of preparation. This doesn’t mean stock up on freezer meals or prepared foods, as these are usually filled with sodium and preservatives. Instead, focus on real foods that you can snack on. Whole fruits, veggie sticks with hummus, cheese sticks, and almonds all make tasty and quick snacks for those times at work when you can’t sit down and eat.

If you do have a regular break time that you can rely on, try meal prepping at home. On your day off, spend two or three hours in the kitchen roasting veggies and a protein that you can then portion off for the week. You might get bored with eating the same thing all week long, but rest assured that you’ll be getting adequate nutrition.

What happens after work is just as important as what happens during, so you’ll want to stop your post-work visits to fast-food restaurants and those couple glasses of wine. Instead, whip up some eggs and veggies for a healthy and filling dinner. Hydrate with water instead of alcohol so your metabolism stays up.

Problem #2: Not Enough Exercise

We know, as a nurse, you are constantly on your feet. You may not have 10 minutes to sit down during your 12-hour shift. By the end of the day, your feet are on fire and you’re exhausted. However, walking up and down the hallways during your shift isn’t quite what the American Heart Association has in mind when they recommend 30 minutes of physical activity 5+ times per week and won’t do much to curb the obesity problem.

Solution: Just Do It

Getting a reliable exercise routine into place is a challenge. You’ll have to do some trial-and-error work to figure out what works for you, but you need to just do it.

If you are more lively before your shift, go for a brisk walk or a jog. If strength training is more your thing, there’s no need to join a gym – just use your own bodyweight to do push-ups, planks, and crunches. Riding the momentum you’ve built up throughout the day can allow you to do your workouts after work before you go to bed.

The benefits of getting in daily exercise is more than just physical. Physical activity releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine, which support mental health. Working out, even when you’re exhausted after work, can change your mood to a more positive one in addition to the health benefits.

Problem #3: Not Enough Sleep

Not getting enough sleep is, unfortunately, par for the course for those in the medical field. Nurses especially work unpredictable hours and may include some surprise night shifts. Sleep deprivation causes a lot of different issues, but it is also related to obesity. The more tired you are, the more you may find yourself using sugary foods as a pick-me-up to stay awake during your shift. Sodas and energy drinks are also major culprits when it comes to obesity in nurses that struggle with a lack of sleep.

Solution: Find Substitutions

As a nurse, there may not be much you can do to get the sleep that you need, especially if your schedule is out of your control. If you struggle to have enough energy to get through the day (or night), try to find some healthy substitutions for what you are already using to perk up. If you often turn to caffeinated sodas, energy drinks, or sugary coffees, try unsweetened green tea for a caffeinated punch without the sugar or work to acquire the taste of plain black coffee. If munching keeps you awake, try almonds instead of candy or celery sticks instead of donuts that coworker brought in.

While you can’t really control the hours that you work, you can get into good sleep habits at home. Even with unpredictable working hours, a bedtime routine can help you sink into sleep faster so you’re not wasting time just lying in bed. About 30 minutes to an hour before you go to bed, put all screens away so your eyes can rest. If you need to do a bedtime activity, try reading a book or doing a Sudoku puzzle. A hot cup of tea or warm milk can be soothing, as can lighting a fragrant candle. Try lavender for its sleep-inducing powers.

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of things in life that can get in the way of optimum health. With a lot on your plate as a nurse, no one expects physical fitness to be your top priority above everything else. However, you need to recognize the importance of staying healthy. As obesity creeps up on the nursing population, now is the time to curb its progress.