Late night shifts. Changing shifts and irregular hours. Constantly on your feet. No time to sit down and eat. Slips, trips, falls. Chemical exposure. Stress. Parties… restaurants aren’t exactly health clubs. Perhaps that’s why researchers found the rate of heart disease and stroke was highest among people in two industries, one of them “Accommodation and Food Service,” which includes people who work in traveler accommodations, restaurants and bars.
So what can restaurant workers do to beat the statistics and maintain a healthy lifestyle in the restaurant industry? Here are 10 steps to take toward protecting yourself:
1. Meet with your employer
It’s a good idea to talk with a potential employer before accepting a job to find out about things like shift management, the physical environment, smoking policies, breaks and personal food prep policies. If you didn’t do this before starting work, and you experience particular things that interfere with best practices for health, bringing them tactfully to your employer’s attention might help.
Sometimes modifications work to everyone’s advantage. These days more employers understand the cost-benefit equation surrounding health and employee sickness, injury and absenteeism.
2. Keep “regular” sleep hours
Yes, restaurant shifts are a potential cause of health problems. To the extent you can, aim for regularity, approximately the same time frame each day that you work. Then adjust your sleep schedule accordingly so that you can get in most of your sleep at the same time every night (or day). If you can’t get in 7-8 hours of sleep in one block, schedule a regular short nap time each day. Keep to your schedule even on days you don’t work. Your goal is to let your body adjust to a rhythm, whatever it is.
A hearty breakfast will provide extended energy, which restaurant employees most definitely need!
3. Eat a great breakfast
What if you work a breakfast shift? Schedule time before you go in to sit down and eat a healthy, hearty breakfast. Eat your breakfast at the same time each day whether you’re working that day or not. A healthy, hearty breakfast doesn’t mean commercial cereals, sweet rolls or bagels. Better are walnuts and almonds, chia, flax and hemp seeds, fresh and frozen fruits, topped with milk, unsweetened yogurt or unsweetened soy milk. This will provide extended energy, which restaurant employees most definitely need!
4. Focus on these foods
Maybe your workplace serves up healthy food and soups and lets its employees enjoy them. If not, you need to prepare. Drfuhrman.com offers a guide to healthy eating based on four principles: nutrient density, comprehensive nutrient adequacy, favorable hormone levels and avoiding toxins. This plant-rich diet aims for maximum nutrient density in minimum calories. Salad is your main dish each day.
“For at least one meal a day, have a big salad that includes plenty of leafy greens, plus beans, onions, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, mushrooms, bell peppers and more, topped by a nut/seed-based dressing.” Limit animal products. Eliminate all sweeteners and refined grains. Since most of your diet consists of plant foods, and only 1 in 10 Americans eats enough of them, it’s easy to see where you need to focus: on those fruits and veggies! Keep it simple, and prepare ahead.
5. Find a space and a time to eat
Oddly enough, most eateries offer limited space for restaurant workers to eat. If your shift is long enough that you need a meal, find a corner where you can sit quietly and enjoy your fruits and veggies or made-ahead salad.
The food service world don’t always go quite the way you expect…so be sure you plan ahead.
6. Prepare an emergency food kit
Things in the food service world don’t always go quite the way you expect…so be sure you plan ahead for those times when you’re starving and don’t want to grab the first thing that pops into your line of vision. Chances are good that thing will be sweet and refined. Good things for an emergency food kit are carrot sticks, nuts, pumpkin seeds, canned sardines and apples.
In a way, you’re lucky. As a restaurant worker, you’re probably on your feet all the time. Why? Because sitting for extended periods of time increases your chance of heart attack. In fact, Women who sit more than 6 hours a day are 96% more likely to die of a heart attack than women who sit for less than 3 hours a day — and men who sit more than 6 hours a day are 48% more likely than their standing counterparts to die of a heart attack.
But too much of a good thing also causes problems. Take advantage of moments to sit — and while you’re on your feet, watch your posture, and keep moving. Many chefs shift side to side as they work in position on their feet.
Restaurant work seems to demand multi-tasking, but many recent studies show that multi-tasking is not only ineffective but has a negative health impact. Instead, work on mastering the art of rapid set shifting, “…consciously and completely shifting…attention from one task to the next, focusing on the task at hand.”
9. Don’t smoke
You know the statistics. Hopefully, you work in a smoke-free environment, but if not, you have to deal with second-hand smoke, and this is not good for your health. Don’t add to the problem by smoking yourself.
10. Drink water
One of the major causes of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and other chronic diseases is high sugar drinks. This includes not only soda but unsweetened fruit juices. When you’re thirsty, drink water — and eat the whole fruit.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be difficult when working in a restaurant. So, remember, that even if you do just a few of these or work up to checking off the entire list, it’s still a win. Here’s to your health, restaurant professionals!
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