As you already know, working in a veterinary clinic possesses numerous daily unknowns. You never know when you walk in for your shift if you are going to be bombarded with a triage and 10 patients in the ICU or a calm environment with just a few appointments for the morning.
First, what exactly is the idea of intuitive eating?
Intuitive eating is your innate ability to listen to your body. Your body is constantly letting you know what exactly it needs, we just must learn to listen better. It does so much for you already – like breathing, beating your heart, and healing wounds. Sometimes though, it needs us to take action to help it along.
Two signals that your body sends you daily are the hunger and fullness signals. Learning to pay attention to your body, choosing to eat when you are truly hungry, and stopping eating when you become full are abilities we are all born with but learn to ignore as we grow up.
For instance, in a busy veterinary clinic or hospital, you could notice hunger pangs, yet be in the middle of a surgery with two more appointments back-to-back and no time to eat. Just as likely, it could be a slow day as an ER doctor, and you find yourself grazing and picking at food out of boredom. In both cases, we are not listening to the body. I totally get it. As an ICU tech, there were days where I barely took a bite of food, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Those days just happen.
Being healthy and eating intuitively may not always be possible every single day, but that does not mean you cannot aim to practice intuitive eating whenever possible. Slower workdays, at home, and even on busy workdays, you can practice simply by bringing awareness to your hunger and fullness levels as you go about your day.
Here are 3 helpful tips to practice intuitive eating no matter how busy work gets.
1. Be prepared.
You do not have to meal prep every meal to successfully eat healthy at work. If you know you are going to work for 12+ hour shifts, then bringing food with you can be extremely helpful. These can be fast frozen meals, pre-made food you can heat up in the microwave, or something super easy like hard boiled eggs. Having food on hand that is healthy and filling will nourish your body, give you energy, and help you think better.
2. Eat before work.
On workdays, eating before you arrive can help you fuel up, provide you energy, and ensure that if work gets super busy around 11 am when you normally would eat, you don’t have to skip that meal and become super hungry.
This somewhat alters my philosophy of waiting until you feel hunger to eat your first meal of the day. If you are like me and do not get hungry until 11 am, then you may want to go to work fasting and eat a few hours into your shift. Use caution, as this can backfire if your day becomes busy, your meal is missed, and you have then surpassed hunger, entering “irritable and hangry” land. Perhaps practice this concept on days you do not work.
3. Slow down and notice your thinking.
You walk into work, and you are hit with triage after triage with not a moment to take a breath or run to the bathroom. The day is flying. You are busy with patients, trying to stay caught up on your records all at the same time, and then you notice that you are extremely hungry.
What happens next? So many things…
Maybe management brought in donuts or pizza to work. A client brought a gift basket. In that moment, I may think, “go grab a donut, you’re starving.” ”My pre-made lunch may very well be sitting in the fridge, but that donut sounds way more amazing and easier than taking 2 minutes to heat up my lunch in the microwave.”
It has been a tough day; I haven’t had a break; I deserve a donut” is what I would tell myself.
Slow down and notice how we create stories, create narratives like this around food both at work and at home. We do not need to create a reason to allow ourselves the joy of sitting down to eat a donut. You can have the donut if you wish; it is not off limits. The way I would proceed, however, is to eat my meal first, before the donut. My body is hungry because it is demanding nutrients. Donuts do not really contain nutrients, just a good sugar rush to help keep hunger at bay.
What your body truly needs in these moments are nutrients. If instead you have your meal first, filled with items like protein, veggies, and healthy fats, you can feel satisfied and full for hours after, giving you the boost you need to complete your shift. You can still eat the donut as a dessert to your meal if you wish, but you do not need to create stories around food in order to justify them.
4. Stay Hydrated
“Up to 60% of the human adult body is made up of water” (USGS, 2020). Water is vital to our life, to our bodily functions, and is essential to help give us energy to tackle the day. Often though, water is neglected.
You work a busy schedule and may rarely have time for a bathroom break. Knowing this, you may drink less water in hopes of not filling up your bladder, thus decreasing your need to use the restroom. Fallible, sure. Another reason we avoid water is that most humans do not drink until they feel thirsty. Waiting for thirst, though, usually means that you are already starting to become dehydrated.
One of the easiest ways to drink more water is to carry your own water bottle and aim to fill it up about 3 times a day depending on how many ounces it holds. A good water goal is roughly 64 ounces a day.
While the idea of avoiding bathroom breaks is a nice idea, it can become detrimental to your health. You may find yourself to be hungrier, have sugar cravings, become irritable, suffer headaches, and even feel fatigued – all because you are not drinking enough water. If you are an active person or it is a hot day outside, you should increase your water intake.
But what if you don’t like water?
I get it. Some people truly are not fans of water. Start small. Water, tea, seltzer, and watery foods like watermelon can all help you hydrate more. Pay attention to how much water you currently drink a day, and if it is not close to 64 ounces, aim to add in 5 more ounces per day until you can create the habit of drinking 64 ounces a day.
We are all busy. We often have crazy work schedules and put ourselves on the back burner. Bring a few meals to work. Maybe some snacks. Try to eat with intent. Listen to your thoughts and focus them away from the habitual narratives of donuts. Practice intuitive eating.
USGS. (n.d.). The water in You: Water and the human body. Retrieved February 03, 2021, from https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/water-you-water-and-human-body?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects