Great! You have a travel nurse position. You work this full-time job and the rest of your free time is your own. You don’t have to think about landscaping your yard or painting your deck. While on assignment, you’re probably not going to be spending much time volunteering in civic organizations or running for political office either.
Instead, free time will most likely be dedicated to relaxing and exploring your new location. You can have a little fun, but it’s important to take care of yourself as well!
What to Avoid
Things can easily spin out of control when your out of town. Restaurant menus are loaded with extra calories. Relaxing by the pool feels good, but it doesn’t get the heart pumping.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get things under control as well because, perhaps now more than any other time, you are in control. You don’t have to eat what everyone else is eating. A well-focused diet just takes a little extra planning, and a plan well-executed takes less time and less effort in the long run.
Dieting can be a serious business. If you plan on doing so during your assignments, you should run any weight loss plans across your primary care physician. I am not saying that any one diet is better than any other for your needs.
Rather, it is important to keep in mind that when you're alone and out of town, without the responsibilities of home, you can take advantage of the opportunity to get your diet on the right track.
So, set some goals that will work for you. How many calories do you expect to consume in a day? What percentage to you want from protein, carbohydrates and fats? The USDA has fantastic guidelines available at health.gov to help you get started.
Simple rules of thumb while on the road include: avoiding processed foods, unsaturated fats and added sugars; and limiting breads and carbohydrates. These tend to make you hungry sooner, and can make it difficult to stick to your diet plans.
Meal Prepping + Goal Setting
Keep yourself accountable. There are calorie trackers that you can put onto your cell phone for free or a small, yearly fee. My Fitness Pal by Under Armour has great features to track your calorie intake and find healthy recipes. It also has a feature that allows you to scan the barcodes of the foods that you purchase. A scanned barcode quickly adds the nutritional qualities of the food directly into personal your diet diary, making tracking calories easy.
Meeting your goals will be much easier if you prepare your meals, rather than eating out. You can do all your cooking on weekends and package meals into portion controlled containers. Ten meals cooked ahead of time can become five lunches and five dinners, covering you for the whole week ahead.
A few simple starters can lead you to a variety of results. Some grilled chicken breast can become chicken salad, a chicken sandwich and chicken soup. Boil a dozen eggs to add to your salads, sandwiches or just provide some quick extra protein. As a locum tenens dentist, I meal prep and freeze at least half of what I make in any given week to add variety to other weeks.
If you choose to track your diet via an app, you can easily enter your calories into your personal diet diary for the week ahead, and then all you must do is account for breakfasts and any additional calories you didn't meal prep for.
When you start cooking for yourself during a travel nurse assignment, you quickly learn that there are a lot of great healthy food alternatives that are fun to eat and easy to prepare that won’t leave you feeling deprived between meals. Homemade soups are an excellent choice. Chili, beans, Greek yogurt, and vegetables are all great things you might want to add to your weekly meal plans. When you start monitoring your calories, you also learn to avoid chips dip and excessive chocolates and sweets, including soda.
Having healthy alternatives available is half the battle, so I carry bottled water everywhere!
You also learn to identify those times of the week where you added those senseless calories. Perhaps you drive to your assignments and notice that you get a soda and candy bar when you stop at a gas station. Or, you come home from work and relax with a beer and bag of chips in front of the television. Great. Now you know what to avoid, or do sparingly. If you must buy something at the gas station, then I'd recommend buying a bottle of water and a lottery ticket.
And don’t forget: this is all about feeling good. You will feel better and have more energy with a healthy diet than with a poor one. If you think your diet needs some improvement, then make a plan and make some changes. A good diet will make simplify your life and make you feel better.