2016 was a whirlwind year, but 2017 is here to provide us a new beginning. With a new year comes the potential for a new and improved self. Particularly for truck drivers, staying healthy is one of the leading concerns.
Sure, it’s easy to swing by a truck stop near you and grab a few cheese-smothered chili dogs, but that offers no nutritional benefits to you. The goal should be to create healthy habits and make it a lifestyle. These habits should be deeper than just what you eat, but also when you eat and how your shop for your food.
Before we talk about shopping and cooking we should talk about something extremely important: eating. Our society and the trucking industry has been organized around the idea that people should only eat about 3 times a day. While this might be more efficient in terms of consuming maximum calories in minimum time and getting back on the road, it is not always the best plan for your health. Instead, aim for around five smaller meals each day. This might seem crazy but it is necessary to metabolize food more efficiently.
Your body is designed to absorb calories, use them for energy and then burn them off. In order for your body to make use of the food, what you eat has to be broken down into a form of sugar called glucose. This is a natural process and for most, the human body does this quite well. You have probably heard people talking about their “blood sugar level”, and what they are referring to is the amount of glucose in their blood.
Your body has a normal range for the amount of glucose in your blood (between 4.0 and 11.0) and it has a beautiful system for managing that level. Hormones like insulin keep your blood sugar from getting too high and becoming toxic, and another awesome compound, glucagon keeps your sugar from getting too low and making you pass out. It is something like a highway with really good guard rails that keep a truck from running off the road.
The only problem is that it is possible to overwhelm this excellent system and cause a wreck. Actually, many people are overwhelming it every day and causing small “fender benders” that lead to a total cataclysm later in life called diabetes.
So why does this make eating only three times per day (or fewer) a bad idea? Because you can end up constantly overwhelming the system with extreme blood sugar highs and lows. If you wait to eat until you are extremely hungry and have very low blood sugar, your body will send the signal that you are starving, and when you do eat it is often much easier to overeat unhealthy and convenient food.
Some people conclude that the solution is to simply eat drastically less overall and there is a grain of truth to this. While dramatically reducing your caloric intake does cause the body to burn stored fat to stay alive, it can signal your body to store everything you do eat, which results in rebound weight gain when you do return to a more normal diet. Starving yourself is not the answer.
Thankfully there is a much better way. Simply, eat a reasonable amount of food more often. Eating five or six smaller and healthier meals per day is like steering down the middle of your lane instead of bouncing your truck off the guard rails all day. This practice will help you feel more content and stop your body from deciding to store fat for hibernation. Of course, if you eat more often and end up eating more food overall you will still have trouble being healthy. The objective is to eat an appropriate amount of food, in a more sustainable way. Typically, 2,000–2,500 daily calories are suggested; however, consulting a healthcare professional is the best way to understand what an appropriate daily caloric intake means for your individual health needs.
There is also an enormous safety benefit to eating more often and avoiding the blood sugar spikes: you are less likely to feel drowsy at the wheel. Most people have experienced the after dinner slump that makes it all but impossible to keep your eyes open after a big meal. That might be fine after Christmas dinner when you are lounging on the couch at home, but at work, behind the wheel of an 80,000 pound-plus rig, it can be a disaster.
You might be wondering: how on earth is it possible to eat five or more meals per day? Who has the time to stop for food that often? There is a way to make your diet much simpler, more healthy, easier to sustain over the long term, and much less expensive! The key is to learn to shop for your own food and cook for yourself on the road. It is much easier than it may sound, and the rewards for your health and happiness are amazing! It will even allow you to have more freedom to implement your doctor’s specific recommendations.
Anyone who has dealt with eating healthier has heard the term portion control. Controlling what, how much, how often you eat and making sensible, sustainable choices is the path to solving many of the health risks of the trucking lifestyle. To eat healthier you don’t have to give up all of your favorite foods and consume a spinach and carrot based diet like a rabbit. Instead of going to the extreme, eating a balanced diet will keep you “between the lines” and on the road to better health. Extremes are by nature quite unsustainable and will not help you. Just like over-steering on the highway to avoid a crash can actually end up killing you, bouncing from one diet extreme to another, like chili-dogs to rabbit food, will just leave your lifestyle in a bewildering wreck.
The cornerstone of a healthy life is eating well. But this is one of the most difficult problems for commercial truck drivers. Most trucks aren’t designed with a fully equipped kitchen or proper food storage. Even if you can manage to find space for some cooking gear, it is often difficult to consistently find time in a busy schedule to prepare a good meal. We all want to be around long enough to enjoy time with our families and loved ones. The best way to ensure this is to focus on eating healthier.
Stay tuned over the next two weeks for more Wellness Wednesday tips to help you implement a healthier lifestyle!
By: John Heslop