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Fuel for the fight: Eating right!

One component of physical fitness that we police officers often tend to ignore is diet. Even today, this is the one aspect of fitness that I have a tendency to forget about and I shouldn’t. Some years back when I was in my early 30s, I just didn’t feel myself. I lifted weights every other day and did all the things I thought you should do to be a police officer ready to deal with any problem.

Even so, I just felt slightly off. During that time I went to my physician for a yearly physical and mentioned this. He had me talk to his Nurse Practitioner (NP) who was into diet as a cause and effect of good or bad health.

She bluntly told me that my eating habits were a disgrace and I should change them. 

Figuring I had nothing to lose and everything to gain, I did. In around a month I started to feel a lot better and had more energy. So, with that meeting in mind, here are some insights on feeling better and, hopefully, living longer. As in all things with the human body, check with your physician before you make any radical changes to your lifestyle.

1. Eat breakfast! Sounds simple, but I was surprised how many people don’t, including me once upon a time. Breakfast is more important than we think. Remember, your body has spent your sleeping hours repairing itself and when you wake up, your body is depleted and needs fuel to continue to function properly. More importantly, without fuel you’ll feel lethargic and inattentive when out on patrol. This is not a good way to be when quick reflexes might mean the difference between going home and going to the morgue. Skipping breakfast tends to lead to binge eating, usually sweet, sugary stuff. This leads to carbohydrates being stored as fat.

2. Cut down on junk food. Yeah I know, sometimes a “heart attack on a bun” hits the spot. Truthfully, I don’t see anything wrong with some fast food occasionally, but it’s just a lousy idea to constantly eat that stuff. In my old department there are a couple of officers who lived on fast food. They have paid the price with heart attacks, strokes and a score of other illnesses. Just use your head when it comes to junk food and enjoy it sparingly.

3. When out on patrol, eat lightly when you’re eating your meals. Have you ever seen pictures of an African lion sleeping soundly after eating? A large lunch does the same to you as it does to that lion. Being sleepy and slow moving is not a good thing when out on patrol. Survival sometimes hinges on the smallest things. Choosing a small lunch verses a large lunch could one day be one of those small things.

4. No bad carbs after 1500 hours. According to that nurse in my doctor’s office, three o’clock in the afternoon is the cutoff time to eat carbohydrates. Our bodies are beginning to prepare themselves for sleep and there may not be enough time to burn all those carbohydrates off. So the body does the only thing it can think of: it stores the carbohydrates as fat. This can lead to obesity in the long run, which prevents an officer from making a short run in pursuit fleeing bad guy.

5. Take vitamins. I never thought of this either but, when you think of it, our lifestyle causes us to use up vitamins at a faster rate than the average person. A police officer’s hypervigilance — our state of readiness and enhanced sensory awareness — causes adrenaline to dump into our bodies during most of a shift. Also, our schedules put our bodies under more strain than the average person. A multi-vitamin once a day does wonders. I take one that is high in Vitamins A and C plus the B complex. One word of caution for men over 40. Check with your doctor before buying a vitamin with Iron in it. My doctor advised against it because men over 40 tend to store excess iron and it could be bad for the heart.

6. Finally, if you smoke, quit. It is hard to imagine that people still smoke given all the medical evidence against it. Now, I smoked for twenty years, but gave it up when it was getting hard to do normal everyday tasks, let alone police work. You'll get nothing out of this activity except an early grave so say goodbye to it.

So there you have it. Not really a lot to remember. The hardest part for me was just getting into a good routine when it came to my eating habits. Once the routine settled in, I just operated without thinking. Don’t get me wrong, I won’t be on the cover of GQ anytime soon, at least if they want to sell magazines; but I’m 59 and going strong with no major illnesses or diseases, and I’m not on any kind of medication nor do I have to live on a restricted diet. So far, so good.

This list is not complete. I wouldn’t mind hearing from others out there who have additional ideas on good dietary habits for police, so drop your idea in as a comment below. Together we can build up a small database to help police officers everywhere.

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