Chris is a weight-training mother and a full time nurse that I’ve been working with for over a year now. She recently celebrated the wedding of her daughter (congratulations!) and wanted to shed a few pounds to look utterly fabulous for her daughters big day. Slowly, and over the course of 5 months, Chris dropped almost 15 lbs, from 134 lbs to 120 lbs.
She also works in one of the more challenging work environments known to man—the hospital—with its high stress, fast pace, little opportunity for breaks, etc. She’s not my first busy nurse client, or client in a healthcare setting. These work environments are full of tasty, tasty treats in the breakroom that nurses often reach for when swamped or stressed.
When you’re busy, on your feet all day, with little time to think between emergencies, its not surprising that people reach for whatever is nearby; I’ve heard some stories about the kinds of foods/snacks that are typically out in the open in the breakroom. We’re not talking fruit smoothies or fruit baskets.
And, at the end of an incredibly long work shift, it’s not surprising that my busy nurse clients report heading straight for a fast food joint.
So, given all these challenges, how did Chris manage?
Sumi: First of all, tell me what made you decide to lose weight and why?
Chris: I used to be much more fit. I would do high intensity water aerobics, then swim a mile of laps 3 times a week. I rode my road bike 20 miles 2-3 times weekly “for fun” and did long rides of 50+ miles over the open terrain in eastern Washington. It always felt “fun” and not like work. I was also a cross country and downhill skier.
After moving, I let all this go and watched myself gain weight, become sore and tired all the time. I felt confined not being active but also felt too weak and heavy to perform at the level I was used to. And I felt old and past my prime.
I am only 60 and will live another 25 years and want those years to be active and healthy.
Sumi: Why did you feel that it was also important to weight train, and not just diet? People often say that they think they need to lose weight first, before beginning a weight training program. Why did you do both?
Chris: Weight training supports weight loss and builds new strong muscle. Strong muscles and moving all the joints in my body with the appropriate amount of weight keeps me strong, uninjured and with full mobility.
Sumi: Tell me about your work environment. Is it conducive to healthy eating?
Chris: No. Nurses and doctors are the worst for healthy eating due to the long hours, stress and lack of time to sit and eat properly. Many of us grab crap food because we miss lunch hours, are running from one stressful demand to another.
Most people don’t pay attention to what they are putting in their mouths.
We are just hurried and hungry. It is easy to grab chips while running to the next event.
Sumi: What could other nurses, or people in the health care industry do to stack the odds in their favor?
Chris: Invest time in a trainer for those days away from work. A trainer monitors what you are doing so you gain strength safely, provides a person you are obligated to so you can’t put of off due to fatigue, provides companionship and encouragement and instant gratification for your accomplishments.
Sumi: What are some of your favorite snacks to pack in your cooler while at the hospital?
Chris: I like crunchy things. I measure out an appropriate amount of nuts; plain, unsalted and without candy coating. These are easy to keep at my nurse’s station to munch on when I “stress eat” or get hungry while waiting for an opportunity to have a meal. I always eat a fresh salad for lunch; piled high with fresh veggies, fruit and meat. I use lettuce leaves for my taco and spring roll wraps. Again, to provide the crunch I like. Use dressing just for flavor, never coating my salad..a sprinkling of unsweetened dried fruit adds the sweet.
I don’t like donuts nor cookies nor cake….too sugary sweet without much flavor.
Sumi: Why do you think it’s important for nurses to weight train?
Chris: Most hospitals don’t have mechanical patient lift devices. And if they do….it doesn’t relieve the need to lift patient’s limbs or turn patients. I have cared for patients whose one leg weighs more than I do.
Back injuries due to patient lifting is the #1 injury for nurses and most often, those injuries end your career. These injuries also tend to end any activities for nurses out of the hospital; like biking, running, hiking, picking up their grandkids etc…These types of injuries are life long with a lot of pain pills, surgery and misery. I don’t want that to be me.
Sumi: What do you enjoy most about weight training? Other than the physique transformation, tell me what’s changed.
Chris: I enjoy working with my trainer….a great support. I learned to use my body wisely while lifting and I won’t get injured. Lifting also provides a hard work out, so I know my heart is strong and I don’t have hypertension. Training also releases the tension stored in my muscles. My mind is calmed because while training, I only focus on what I am doing….I Zen.
Sumi: Do you have any diet/nutrition tips for other nurses getting started? How can they emulate your success?
Chris: I suggest a food journal to discover what your eating patterns are.
Identify those foods you can eliminate and those foods you just won’t stop eating. For me, nuts are a keeper; cookies, cake, donuts were an easy give away. Discover why you eat and when and what do you choose to eat, especially under stress.
Record a true assessment of your alcohol intake….lots of calories there. Then try the recipes that are lower calorie but give you the enjoyment of food you seek. I actually enjoy cooking now. Then try on those clothes that were a bit to tight….the dress you use to “wow” in. As it fits better, think of that whenever you are tempted to eat “just one, a small one, just this time”, you will be less inclined to go for it and keep you “eye on the prize” which is you the way you want to be.