Poor Nutrition

Nutrition is another arm of a behavioral health plan.  It is considered a behavioral health issue because diet and nutrition effect how we look, feel, think and act.  What we give our bodies for fuel predicts how well our body can perform emotionally, physically and cognitively.  Individuals interested in nutrition, including special recommendations for the specific nutritional needs of firefighters, is referred to pages 76-79 of the Wellness-Fitness manual (insert web link.)


In addition, every fire fighter knows that calories-in need to balance with calories-out, or a change in weight, and a change in function, will result.  Overeating results in weight gain, which can result in decreased fitness for duty.  


Under eating results in weight loss, which can also decrease fitness for duty.


Specific guidelines for amount of foods eaten types of foods eaten and methods of maintaining a healthy diet have been established by organizations such as the:


American Dietetic Association  

American Heart Association  

Center for Disease Control, Healthy Eating Tips  

Food and Nutrition Information Center


The consequences of poor nutrition are considerable.  Surprisingly, some studies suggest that the majority of Americans are malnourished. Indeed, Americans (more than Canadians and Europeans) tend to be overweight and undernourished. Poor nutrition results in poor behavior, lower core strength, increased body fat, slower mental problem solving, less alertness, and slower muscle response time.


The National Institute of Health highlights the impact of poor nutrition on health:


What can someone do to alter his or her unhealthy eating patterns?


Nutritional Counseling is available and often covered by insurance. The local EAP representative should have a list of licensed counselors that understand the physical and mental demands placed on firefighters.  Nutritional counselors can provide a complete analysis of your current diet; make suggestions for a healthier diet, and problem solve methods of achieving a healthy diet.


Exercise will aid in appetite management, and will maximize the number of calories you can consume while remaining healthy.  Links between a healthy diet and exercise are discussed on www.acefitness.org.  

There are also a number of non-profit and for-profit weight management programs available. For example, a non-profit is the 12-step group Overeaters Anonymous (OA). Information on local branches of OA is found on www.oa.org.


Weight Watchers (www.weightwatchers.com) is a for-profit weight management program that has the longest history in the United States of helping adults modify their diets. Relative to other, less long-standing weight management programs, Weight Watchers is reasonably priced and seems more focused on learning behavioral changes that will translate into longer term success and modification.


Finally, there is a growing industry in medical interventions to manage eating habits.  Stomach stapling procedures are expensive and controversial, with preliminary data indicating that although the weight loss can be significant, unless the person is morbidly obese, the procedure’s risks outweigh the benefits. Furthermore, unless a person learns healthier eating patterns and better food choices, the weight loss will not be permanent.