Nutrition

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What we eat, the quality of our sleep and how much we exercise can have a huge impact on mental wellbeing. 

Most of us will experience some sort of mental health strain in our life. This ranges from experiencing occasional stress, to severe symptoms of a diagnosable mental illness.

Some people have a vulnerability to mental illness due to biology or life experience, but symptoms may not emerge unless they are confronted with a significant stressful event.

Lifestyle habits such as lack of exercise, over-eating processed foods and not getting enough sleep all build up to reduce our ability to cope with life challenges. 

A healthy lifestyle is like a tree ‘s healthy root system. The more stable the base, the better the tree can withstand the changes that occur around it and continue to thrive. 

What should I eat?

The human body functions best when fuelled by fresh, whole foods.  Overconsumption of processed foods, which are often saturated with sugar, food additives and chemicals, will restrict your intake of nutrients that are essential for good brain functioning. 

Current Australian nutritional guidelines advocate eating a healthy and balanced diet, full of fruit and vegetables, meats, grains, fats, legumes, and dairy. Nutrition Australia provides further guidance. 

When you’re feeling stressed or working irregular hours, takeaway food can be an easy option. Even if you choose takeaway foods, you can still control how often this happens and what food you put in your body. There are usually healthier fast food options on a menu. This list points out some of the best and worst common takeaways.

Eating when you’re doing shift work

Working irregular hours can upset your natural body clock. This can lead to changes in your appetite, and create physical issues such as weight loss and weight gain, as well as digestive problems. However, there are things you can do to keep your health on track:

When to eat

Don’t stress too much about what time you eat. Instead, focus on how you will get all the nutrition you need into your body. For example, one breakfast style meal, one light meal, one main meal, and one or two snacks. The order of the meals will vary depending on what type of shift you’re doing, but as long as you do this over a 24-hour period, you’ll know your nutrition needs are covered.

Make sure the meal you have before starting work is packed with as much nutrition as possible. Make this your main meal. If you are on an afternoon shift, have your main meal at midday. If you are on an evening shift, eat your main meal in the early evening before you go to work. 

Have a small meal and pack healthy snacks to eat during your shift. Eating large meals during the night can upset your digestion, slow you down and make you feel sleepy. This is because your internal body clock is set on the ‘sleep’ cycle so your digestion is slower than during the day

Remember that cafes are often closed at night and most fast food restaurants have limited healthy eating options.

What to eat

Avoid high sugar foods and drinks. You may feel a quick boost of energy after having a chocolate bar or soft drink, but this doesn’t last long and can lead to an energy crash.

Stay well hydrated and watch your caffeine. Caffeine consumption tends to be highest near the end of a shift as energy levels decline. However, caffeine can stay in your system for up to 8 hours, which can affect your sleep. Make sure you switch to decaffeinated drinks about four hours before your bedtime. 

Avoid drinking alcohol after work if you intend to go straight to bed. While alcohol can make you feel more relaxed, research also shows that is can disturb your sleep. 

Have a light snack before bedtime. Unlike day workers, most people on shift work are going straight home to bed. They don’t have the equivalent of an evening. It’s hard to fall asleep when you’re too hungry or too full. If you’re still hungry after work, try a bowl of whole grain cereal with milk or a piece of toast. If you find yourself too full when you get home, try cutting out a snack during your shift. 

How to eat

Eat together as a family or team. Try to eat one meal a day with your family if possible. Meal times are a great time to connect with other people and generally people eat healthier when they’re with others