The other night, my wife and I were enjoying our dinner together at home. We were discussing the results of a study that was recently published that confirmed a link between fast food and depression. As we interacted about the subject, my wife who has been my best helper and supporter during my 25+ years in law enforcement, and who has been researching wellness issues in the public safety profession made this statement:
“It is a vicious cycle, when people are depressed they don’t have… the energy, the motivation or sometimes the money to nourish them properly. Eating the high fat, sugar and salty foods, that many cops eat, may be temporarily comforting and this expands their dilemma. Their bodies feel like crap and they get more depressed while they keep eating more unhealthy food”.
This woman makes an amazing observation. Years ago, I experienced this same behavior cycle. I ate crap and I felt like crap. I felt disgusting and my appearance and demeanor were the same.
The Public Health Journal reported a recent study which indicated that eating fast food is linked to a greater risk of suffering from depression. What types of fast food? The usual suspects: commercial baked goods, cakes, donuts, croissants, pizza, hamburgers and hotdogs. The classic part of a law enforcement officer’s basic working diet.
The study indicated that the participants who eat the most of these fast foods and bakery items are most likely to be single, less active and have poor dietary habits. Smoking and working 45+ hours a week are part of these group’s characteristics. Once again, take a guess which group may fit this category? Police officers and other law enforcement professionals.
Several studies conducted by the University of Navarra: SUN Project demonstrated these results:
• Previous study: 8,964 participants that had never been diagnosed with depression or taken anti-depressants. After a 6 month assessment: 493 were diagnosed with depression or started taking an anti-depressant.
• The 2011 study: 12,059 participants never diagnosed with depression or taking anti-depressants after a 6 month assessment. The results: 657 new cases of depression.
The conclusions find that eating fast foods increases the risk of depression. Depression and other forms of emotional and mental illness affect many public safety professionals especially the LEO.
The study also concludes that eating fast foods have other implications to our health such as weight management, heart disease and other emotional and physical issues. Another study from Australia found that eating high fat, processed foods contribute the risk of age-related macular degeneration.
What is a Law Enforcement Officer to do?
Police officers and other law enforcement professionals need to learn how to take care of themselves with proper nutrition to improve their emotional and physical health and overall wellbeing.
Make the changes you need to take care of your emotional and physical well-being.
Eat good nutritious whole foods including omega-3 fats, a multi-vitamin with minerals supplement and water.
• Pack your own meals in a cooler bag. Take it to work, extra private detail duty or in the cruiser on patrol.
• Choose takeout foods wisely. Look at vegetable salads (easy on the dressing), cut up veggies at supermarkets, low fat cheese sticks, low fat plain yogurt, small bags of nuts, fresh or canned (no added sugar) fruits are some healthy choices when you don’t have your own cooler bag meal. Plain oatmeal or shredded wheat cereal are great instant meals with low fat milk.
• Fill that water bottle. Fill your thermos bottle with a hot beverage you enjoy (watch your sweeteners) especially during the overnight shifts when these beverages are limited.
• Exercise is a very important daily activity for an cop. Stress reduction, flexibility, muscle strength and endurance along with cardiovascular improvement are great benefits. Exercising is great mood boosters.
Our well-being is in our own hands. We choose what foods we will eat, how we will take care of our bodies and minds. We have the ability to read and study on better ways to improve our emotional and physical health. We must prepare ourselves for the unexpected negative situations we face daily in our profession.
Situations on the job expose us to some mixed emotions including depression. When we take care of ourselves through proper eating, exercise and other wellness techniques, we build our resiliency to endure. To endure and bounce back is the key to officer survival.
This is very important: If you feel down, sad or depressed, reach out to a professional clinician, department chaplain, peer assistant or your EAP. Don’t suffer in silence, it’s confidential.
Use the Emergency 24-7 HOTLINE: SAFE CALL NOW at (206)-459-3020.
If you see a peer in this situation, reach out and guide them to some assistance.
Do it for yourself, your loved ones, your peers and your community that you serve.
REMEMBER: WE ARE THE HONORABLE PROFESSION!
Stay safe and be well!
Mark St. Hilaire
CopsAlive is written to prompt discussions within our profession about the issues of law enforcement career survival. We invite you to share your opinions in the Comment Box that is at the bottom of this article.
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