Nurses are the health experts, but you wouldn't know it from their stats. Surveys show that 44 percent are overweight or obese, 16 percent have diabetes, and more than 30 percent have hypertension. The reason makes you appreciate them even more: "People who are attracted to this work tend to give to others before they take care of themselves," says Marla J. Weston, PhD, a registered nurse and the CEO of the American Nurses Association. The three women here finally flipped that equation. Shouldn't you?
"I Ran My Stress Away"
Emily Nan Austin, 29 — Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse in Houston, TX
I was overwhelmed by stress when I first started at the ICU in 2010. It was difficult to adjust to the workload and the emotional toll of caring for patients in critical condition. To comfort myself, I turned to food, most of it junk. I'd grab fast food after a shift, spend my days off snacking on the couch, and calm my nerves at work by digging into the pizza and desserts that are often left out for the staff. In the moment, it was the distraction I craved — even if it left me feeling worse in the long run.
Two years ago, I hit my heaviest weight ever, 173 pounds. Something had to change, so I signed up for nutrition counseling. One of my first assignments was to keep a journal detailing how I felt after each meal, and it quickly became obvious that I wasn't grabbing a third slice of cake because of a rumbling stomach. I'd become oblivious to my body's hunger cues. To tune back in, my nutritionist suggested that I tackle the stress at the root of my overeating with exercise. I chose running.
I'd never been a runner, so it didn't come easily. At first, I couldn't go a mile without walking some of it, but I kept at it, slowly increasing distance and pace until I could jog my first 5K. I found that when I ran, my worries would start to evaporate, and even on days when work was extra challenging I returned home with a clearer head. I signed up for more races to keep myself motivated: a 10K, and eventually a half marathon.
Combined with a healthier diet, running has helped me shed almost 30 pounds. Better yet, it's given me a way to shake off stress that doesn't involve picking up a fork and knife.
"I Learned to Love Exercise"
LaSandra Brown, 38 — Program Director of Nursing Education in Manvel, TX
I gained more than 60 pounds after giving birth to my second child in 2012. The extra weight was hurting me at work: I was constantly tired and felt like a hypocrite when I encouraged my patients to adopt healthy behaviors. I was convinced that to slim down, I'd need to change my eating habits drastically, so I bounced between different fad diets: cutting out sugar or carbs completely, eating mostly protein — you name it.
These got rid of about 25 pounds, but I wasn't able to drop the rest. I knew that adding in exercise would help, so I tried to work out here and there but just couldn't stay committed. It felt like a dreaded chore, and I'd quickly give up. Then in October 2015, I saw the success a friend was having with her personal trainer, Jennifer, and I decided to meet with her too. During our initial consultation, she gave me a fitness test that involved things like running up and down a hill a few times and lifting weights. It was painful, and I ended the session gasping for breath.
Afterward, Jennifer sketched out a plan for me that included what I should eat. I was shocked when she didn't give me a restrictive list but instead told me to focus on having six small nutritious meals a day. She also went over the types of workouts we'd cover: core exercises, strength training, and sometimes even boxing. I was tired just thinking about the work ahead! I started exercising with Jennifer three times a week. On the days when I didn't have a session, I worked out on my own, whether that was taking a Zumba class or going on a two-mile walk.
I watched in amazement as the scale ticked down and I finally lost those last persistent pounds. But I was even more surprised to find that I looked forward to my workouts. Jennifer and I rarely do the same routine twice, which keeps me on my toes and makes it interesting. And seeing my strength and endurance improve was a major motivating factor to go farther and faster at every session.
These days, I can biceps curl 25-pound weights and sprint up that same hill with determination. In the process, I've dropped 63 pounds and am back in clothes that I wore 10 years ago. For me, workouts are now as routine as brushing my teeth, and I plan to keep it that way. Nursing is a demanding job, and when I take care of myself, I have the stamina to give 100 percent at the hospital.
"A Health Scare Woke Me Up"
Wendy Silverstein, 61 — Nurse Manager in Morristown, NJ
Near the end of 2015, I started experiencing severe pain that radiated across my abdomen. As a nurse, I should have known better than to ignore a health issue, but I chalked it up to digestive problems and kept my focus on my job. Then one day the pain was so intense I had to go to the ER.
It turned out that I was having a gallbladder attack and needed surgery. As I recovered, my doctor encouraged me to see the health alarm as a chance to concentrate on my well-being — something I had been neglecting for many years. I log long hours at the hospital, so I had to rethink my personal schedule. Now I wake up early to use my home elliptical and then hop back on it in the evening — time I used to spend on the couch watching TV. I also take a few hours on the weekend to prep food for the week.
The new habits have helped me lose 35 pounds. I'm proud to show my staff and patients that we all do have the time to take care of ourselves — we just have to make it a priority.
This story originally appeared in the January/February 2017 issue of Dr. Oz The Good Life.
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