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Why a proper diet is so important to First Responder mental health and wellness

Posted by Dan McBride on

Why a proper diet is so important to First Responder mental health and wellness

Air travel is constantly evolving but there’s one constant that still baffles many (no, not why the food is still so, um, unappetizing.): Why do they insist on fixing your own oxygen mask – if the worst were to happen – before your child’s?

The answer is quite simple, once you get over the parental instinct that screams out against this apparent challenge to nature that should see you protecting your children at all costs: By fixing your own oxygen mask first, you are putting your children first, for if you’re not around to look after them, who will?

By the same logic, ensuring your diet as a First Responder is top notch is absolutely vital if you want to be at your fighting best to save lives. Yet according to a 2010 study, “Addressing the Epidemic of Obesity in the United States Fire Service”, 73-88% of all firefighters were either overweight or obese – considerably higher than in the general public. The factors behind this could be discussed ad nauseum (we’ll leave that to another blog, don’t worry!) – but bottom line, it’s a very real concern that must be addressed. It’s also prudent to note that what we eat not only has a direct effect on our physical bodies, but our mental health, too (with First Responder mental health statistics unfortunately speaking for themselves!) so the importance of eating well really cannot be overstated.

Learn what to eat

According to Health and Safety assistant at the IAFF, Courtney Fulton, “part of staying healthy is learning what to eat and sustaining a well-balanced diet. This in turn can help strengthen the immune system, boost energy levels, enhance recovery and fuel the body for strenuous work. It can help firefighters and emergency responders become more physically capable of withstanding the stress and demands of the job and enhance their performance and quality of life.”

Health and Fitness Entrepreneur, Pollyanna Hale – also known as The Fit Mum Formula – tells Thin Fit Line exclusively that “First Responders need to be able to react quickly at short notice and 
have the physical energy to do so, as well as be mentally on the ball in extreme situations.

From a physical point of view extreme diets or skipping meals will leave  the person tired and struggling to deal with the physical and spontaneous nature of the job, especially since they may have shift work that means they don’t always get enough sleep or sunlight as is ideal.

“On the other hand snacking on sugary, high energy junk for energy and convenience, while giving a short burst of energy, will lead to energy crashes and brain fog, which could be dangerous when dealing with a demanding situation.”

So, what is a good diet for First Responders? Thin Fit Line is here to tell all!

An example of what to eat:

Mediterranean foods


Studies continue to show that the oily, fish-heavy and healthy-fat foods making up this palette contribute to good mental health, particularly in reducing stress and depression. Research has shown that a lack of important molecules being produced in our gut can lead to both increased anxiety and depression, meaning a diet high in antioxidants, anti-inflammatory components and omega-3s (all important in gut health) is absolutely vital – especially if you’re a First Responder.


An example of what not to eat:


Junk food 


Sorry, we are going to be the bearers of bad news here (although you probably know it already) – fast food – with its preservative-high, refined ingredients – is just not going to cut it (and yes, we know the irony of this seeing as it’s just so damn convenient when you’re working long hours and irregular schedules!). As well as adding inches to your waistline – making your job harder to do physically – it has also been linked to worsening mental health problems.


Top tips


No-one’s saying you have to overhaul your diet overnight, but following these tips should help you make the first steps to ensuring your diet is a proper one:


  • Prep healthy meals – even if it’s just a couple a week to start with – in advance. “Easy to eat, portable, no need to heat meals and snacks that can be picked as and when during a shift is both more practical and will keep energy balanced better than large meals with big gaps in between”, Pollyanna explains.
  • Choose a salad – or something on the healthier end of the menu – if you do find yourself at a fast-food chain.
  • “Protein and slow release starchy carbs like lentils and whole-grains for energy and B Vitamins which are needed for brain function” are a good choice, according to Pollyanna. In real terms, these are things like meat, fish, hummus, oatcakes and cheese. Ben Coomber, of the UK’s number one Health and Fitness podcast, Ben Coomber Radio, adds fiber as a good option, too.
  • “Play around with what works best for you at mealtimes,'' he adds.
  • “Caffeine is tempting when tired but too much coffee will lead to energy crashes”, Pollyanna advises. “Tea or green tea gives a gentler lift if caffeine is needed to get through a shift” but should “be avoided near the end of a shift if possible” otherwise it may get in the way of “deep restful sleep.”
  • Stay hydrated”, instructs Ben. “Simple, but often overlooked when you get busy. A hydrated body and brain will be a high performing one. Fill up your water bottles and take them to work and try to drink water with minerals/electrolytes in it” so as to avoid too many bathroom breaks.

Of course, no matter how good your diet is, it’s never going to hurt to introduce the right supplements into your daily routine to ensure you’re getting everything your body needs. Luckily for you, we sell that right here!

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