3 essentials to cure hangry medic syndrome

Feel better and eat better on every shift by always having snacks, meals and hydration with you

By Tommy Guidroz

I am nearing the last few hours of the shift. The day started slow but the city is awake now and I haven't eaten in hours responding to back-to-back calls. What started as hunger is now making me easily agitated, distracted and short tempered. All signs point to an impending "hangry medic attack."

I keep thinking "we will get a break after this call" ... bam, another call. The call gets run, but afterwards, my hangry level – the negative emotion state caused by a lack of food – is so high, that any meal plan I was trying to stick with goes out the window.

Meal prepping and the right containers can keep you balanced and stave off hangry medic syndrome. Photo courtesy of Tommy Guidroz
Meal prepping and the right containers can keep you balanced and stave off hangry medic syndrome. Photo courtesy of Tommy Guidroz

I need something quick and easy. Gas station grab bag it is!

Ravenously, I snatch a candy bar, bag of chips and fill up a huge soda, the perfect salty sweet combination to subdue the onset of hangry medic syndrome.

The gas station grab bag has eased the problem for today, but what about next time?

We know there will be a next time. Chronic hangry medic syndrome can lead to a constant yo-yo of frustration and regretful food choices that are calorically rich and nutritionally void.

Hangry medic syndrome is treatable. After having a prolonged battle with this ailment during steady day shifts, irregular night shifts and unpredictable 24-hour shifts, I have determined these three essential items are the antidote.

Essential Item No. 1: Badass lunch box

No, I’m not talking about that sweet superhero tin can, but a real modern day juggernaut of a lunchbox that can handle it all; food, tools, gadgets, utensils, shakers, GoStaks – which are small stackable containers – and more. A particular big bonus for the scorching summers in the deep south, where I live, is a box that can keep food cold for at least half the shift.

I went through every type of lunchbox on the shelf at Wal-Mart and beyond. Each had their pros and cons but all of them failed the test of time compared to this uniquely designed and highly efficient lunchbox.

I discovered this gem of a lunchbox at the gym. During one of my lifting sessions, I noticed our star bodybuilder and personal trainer unzip his lunchbox, not from the top, but from the side.

He pulled out a great looking meal and started chomping down. With the box unzipped, I could see the vertically placed freezer bag pockets keeping the food cool.

It all made sense. He was between training sessions with clients, but also super particular about his nutrition and – like medics – has a dynamic work schedule.

Two days later, I had my own ISOBAG.

The ISOBAG was developed for bodybuilder and fitness gurus for keeping food at a comfortable temperate and being optimally portable for use on the go. The ISOBAG comes in a variety of sizes. The three-meal size fits into more convenient spots in the ambulance.

The ISOBAG has a large compartment for easy access to your main meals, two zippered and insulated compartments for quick snacks and two outer mesh pockets for utensils, seasoning, gum and more. The zippered top compartment – the cherry on top – over the main meal compartment is great for gadget storage. I use it to stow shears, ear buds, tweezers, quick reference meds chart and my phone charger.

A lunch box is only as good as the items in it and that leads to the next essential item to treat hangry medic syndrome.

Essential Item No. 2: Quick fix and go-to meals

Some days are slow, some are fast and others are a mix of ups and downs. Regardless, hunger does not care what you’re doing or who you are with. When hunger is left unaddressed, intentionally or unintentionally, it can lead to hangry medic syndrome.

Being prepared for the fast and the not-so-fast shift includes packing a badass lunchbox with quick fixes and go-to meals. Here's what I mean.

Quick fixes are easy to pack and require no real prepping. Just toss handheld fruit – apple, banana, pear, orange – protein or snack bar, pack of trail mix or nuts, a protein shake, PB and J or a deli meat wrap – in the lunch box. If you are having a crappy shift, a quick fix is a bailout until you can eat a go-to meal.

Not having and using a quick fix can lead to more overindulgence after the call because of the "I need this" feeling when scarfing down a fast food value meal that hurts our wallets and our bodies in the long run.

Go-to meal planning and preparation is an ongoing skillset we can learn and improve, just as we can always improve on being a better medic. Go-to meals require some prep work and action outside of work. A little pre-shift work goes a long way.

Go-to meals need to be high in satiety – the feeling of fullness, rich in nutrition and easy to prepare at home. Most go-to meals reheat in a microwave easily and store in leak-proof containers. It's a bonus if the meal can be enjoyed hot or cold. Some of my go-to meal favorites are tacos, jar salad, chicken and rice, beef and potatoes, vegetable and meat stir-fry, bunless cheddar bacon burgers and leftovers from dinning out.

For on-duty hydration and to wash down quick fixes and go-to meals, we need something other than a big gulp.

Essential item No. 3: Hydration containers

Water consumption is one of the most common health deficiencies. A lot of what we feel as hunger pain is actually dehydration.

A swig of water or a healthy beverage before jumping out for a scene call can help delay those hangry medic syndrome signs and symptoms until after the call.

Starting the shift, it’s important to hydrate or, as I like to call it, to "wet the gut." On the way into work or upon arrival at the station, make it a habit to consume 16 to 20 ounces of water. After that, it’s on to the coffee!

Coffee is an amazing energy booster, appetite suppressant, heart/liver protector and comes in a variety of flavors. It is best enjoyed black with maybe one splash of cream or dollop of sugar.

Coffee is best kept in an air-tight, super-vacuumed container. Contigo is the best container I have found. If you’re filling it up with just black coffee – no cream, no sugar – then the upkeep is minimal because there is no milk or sugar to go rancid inside the container. Furthermore, Contigo prides itself on keeping drinks hot for hours, which is way better than the cups you’re filling up at the hospital's freebie station.

After the coffee is finished, water is your best friend for the rest of the shift. Contigo makes a great vacuum-sealed water bottle that fits comfortably in many ambulance cab door cup holders. A coffee thermos and water bottle fits easily in the ISOBAG mesh front pockets or side insulated zippered sleeves.

Regardless your shift, with the proper awareness and pre-shift action, you can make the most of a stressful day (or night) at work without having your body or mind pay the price for it. Start by first making a choice to not let the job control your body and mind. Be prepared for what may or may not come during a shift with a bad ass lunch box, quick fixes, go-to meals and always available hydration. Throughout the day, you will have little moments of joy to help balance the challenges of working in EMS.

Share these tips with other medics and comment below with your best advice to stay healthy as a medic.

About the author

Tommy Guidroz works as a flight paramedic in Louisiana. Tommy holds a bachelors’ degree in Exercise Science and Human Nutrition. In addition to working as a paramedic, Tommy serves as a Wellness Consultant providing health and wellness testing and coaching to assist medics reduce risk of injury, efficient hydration and smart eating behaviors to promote a better health habits while working in Emergency Medicine. Contact Tommy at TommyGp104@gmail.com or on The Hangry Medic Facebook Page.

This article was originally posted Apr. 7, 2016. It has been updated. 

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