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Better eating habits for first responders

How supplements and smart shopping can start incremental change

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“You don’t have to be an overnight success; you just have to make small changes every day that will eventually make you feel better and stronger,” write Taha.

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Unpredictable workdays, chronic sleep disruption and acute stress patterns – what could possibly go wrong? Trying to live a healthier lifestyle is hard enough for anybody; now mix in all the above and give it a try. It’s no easy feat. First responders face a unique challenge when it comes to improving their diet.

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At the table

Although public safety jobs can be similar in many ways, not all first responders mirror each other’s lifestyle. Fire departments and many municipal EMS agencies that participate in communal lunches/dinners have a unique advantage to improving nutritional habits of their cohorts.
I have found that in these workplaces, all it takes is one person who is willing to shop and cook “healthy” to influence the rest of the members. Most of the time, once the food is there, the people will eat it. Of course, there are always individuals with a picky palate who may opt out, and departments that are just too busy to shop and cook in one sitting. The best solution for the latter was once taught to me by a mentor: shop before the shift. If just one person is willing to grocery shop before the shift, we are now positioned to eat well no matter what the day brings – no more “it’s too busy, let’s just order out” mentality.

On the go

Of course, not all agencies are fortunate enough to be able to sit down and eat as a crew every shift. Our law enforcement partners know this very well. My early days in urban EMS very much consisted of cramming a few bites at the hospital before the next call.
For these individuals, preparation is going to be a game changer, and quite frankly, the only option. Food must be prepped ahead of time and available to microwave at a moment’s notice. Investment in a nice lunch box and water jug is very helpful.

Some may ask, how are you supposed to meal prep while working all that overtime and managing other life responsibilities? If you’re asking this question, a meal service might be the answer for you. More affordable than people think, there are many companies out there that will send prepackaged, healthy alternatives to your door on a weekly basis. This helps keep us from making bad food choices just because it’s easier. Again, if the food is there, most of us will eat it.

Filling in the missing pieces

No matter which sector of the public safety world you’re in, one thing is for certain, we are all behind the eight-ball just by the nature of our jobs. Constant adrenalin, dopamine and cortisol surges leave us susceptible to chronic inflammation, visceral fat stores, and a high likelihood of mental and physical health issues before retirement. Working all hours of the day, we are all suspectable to immune system weakness and compromise. Those of us in the northeast, especially our night tour friends, are very susceptible to vitamin D deficiencies.
These are even more reasons to keep a watchful eye over what we put in our bodies. With that said, in the absence of a perfect diet, supplementation can be huge for long-term health. Simple things like a daily multi-vitamin, vitamin C, D3 and B12 supplements can be very beneficial towards strengthening our immune system, elevating energy levels and even sharpening our minds. Compounds like Tyrosine can help us mitigate long-term dopamine depletion from years of doing this job. Magnesium and many herbal roots can help manage the disruptions to our circadian rhythm and restfulness. I recommend every first responder up their supplement game and consult with their physician about what supplements they should be taking.

Compounding changes

An interesting phenomenon happens when small steps are taken towards bettering our health. A snowball effect is created, and little steps begin slowly compounding until a complete lifestyle change is made. You don’t have to be an overnight success; you just have to make small changes every day that will eventually make you feel better and stronger. In my opinion, small, positive changes to our eating habits are the best place to start.
Furthermore, the catalyst to this series of events is information. I encourage individuals that are even remotely interested in health/wellness to educate their colleagues and influence them to eat and live better.

Every agency, large or small, should have a health and wellness committee or resource person to provide nutritional and wellness tips. We need to get the information out, because at the end of the day, I believe nothing is more important than coming home to our families healthy and whole.


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[Complete the form on this page to download a guide to supplements for first responders]

Ahmad Taha is a Nationally Registered Paramedic and Certified Athletic Trainer. He started his career at Boston EMS in 2016, transitioning to the Sharon Fire Department in 2021. At both agencies, Ahmad has been heavily involved in creating and maintaining a Health and Wellness program that is second to none and inclusive to all. His experience in training bodybuilding and weight loss clients has translated smoothly to first responders, helping them implement proper body mechanics and strategies for injury prevention and longevity in their careers.