We’ve all been there; it’s breakfast time with the crew and the “quick and easy” meal most of us go to? Eggs, bacon, and toast in one manner or another. The usual. Maybe it’s the new guy’s first week, and he’s continuously bringing in donuts or bagels with all types of cream cheese. No big deal, right? After all, we’re firefighters. We’ll surely burn these calories off throughout the day.
Well, take a look around your station. Tell me how well that’s worked out for a good portion of those you work with. Chances are, the image doesn’t look too promising. How many firefighters do you work with that you can honestly say can pull you from a burning building? How many on your crew can you pull out?
We have a job where meals of convenience and speed have replaced those of nutrition and health. And we live in a society that has made this more acceptable. Not only that, but people, in general, have become increasingly lazier, thus resulting in the grotesque obesity rate we have in this country, which is just over 36% based on a CDC study released in 2015.
And the fire service is not excluded. A CDC study conducted in 2012 found that of 1,002 firefighters examined, 69% were obese.
As firefighters, we not only have an image to uphold in the eyes of the public – to be those buff, athletic, “calendar” types they dream about – but we also need to be accountable for what we are doing to ourselves and our crews. The men and women who will be pulling us out of a building after we suffer a cardiac emergency; risking their lives to a greater extent to rescue you because you would rather have an unhealthy lifestyle than spending an hour a day bettering yourself.
It’s no secret that the leading cause of Line of Duty Deaths in our field is cardiovascular problems. It is also no secret that this needs to change. No firefighter should come back from working at a fire and die in his sleep, or go into cardiac arrest after arriving back at the station.
Changing habits isn’t easy. You are not addicted to junk food. You just like how it tastes. Trust me I was there, too. But it all starts with YOU believing that YOU can change for the better. Once the first week passes, and you’ve replaced that high fat, carb-heavy junk food with a chicken salad instead, you’ll begin to notice a change. Once you pull those sneakers out of your locker, lace them up, and start doing calisthenics and cardio again, you will notice. Just remember, you didn’t gain weight overnight, and you won’t lose it overnight, either.
I’m not saying to go crazy and run one of the several obstacle course races that are out there. But start by walking the dog or doing air squats and pushups, and use that race as a GOAL to push towards for the future. Even better, put together a team at your department or on your shift, and use it as a TEAM goal.
The physical fitness game is one we all need to play as firefighters. A lot of people compare what we do to being professional athletes. How many 5’9” 280-pound professional athletes do you see, though?
I could go on and on, and type an entire college thesis on the epidemic that has shrouded the fire service. Instead I am going to challenge you. My challenge is for one week, to eat clean and work out for five days. The workouts don’t need to be high-intensity workouts, but if that’s what you like, then, by all means, do it.
As for eating clean, here are some hints: If it looks like it’s bad, don’t eat it. Eat a high protein breakfast like oatmeal with a scoop of protein mixed in. Have some almonds for a snack instead of that candy bar. For lunch, focus on high protein again with some carbs to prepare you for your workout. An example could be a peanut butter and honey sandwich on whole grain bread. After your workout, you want to make sure to have a protein to take in as soon as you’re done. There are several good protein powders out there now, such as Universal Nutrition, that are easy on the wallet as well.
A couple of hours after the workout is usually the group dinner, and frequently this is the hardest time to eat a clean meal. My suggestion is to make your dinner the night before or offer to cook the for the crew. There are so many healthy, high protein dinners to try that it should be easy to achieve, you just have to put in the effort.
I know none of us want to be a statistic as one of the thousands of obese firefighters. And I know damn well that none of us want to go down as the statistic for a cardiac related LODD. A healthy lifestyle is contagious to those around you. Once they start seeing that it works for you, they will ask about it and join in.
Stop hesitating. Stop making excuses. Make the change today. And remember, it’s called WORKING out for a reason. If it were easy everyone would do it. You need to put in the work if you want a positive outcome.