Zero waste healthy habits for the distressed and on-call

There’s a Daft Punk song with the words “we’re up all night to get lucky.” My neurosurgical buddies and I used to sing that to each other because it some how made going through 72 hour periods of minimal sleep or rest sort of ok, and kind of amusing. I’m not sure what we deemed as “getting lucky”– an extradural haematoma, maybe?

  One thing I get asked about a lot is how I maintain a healthy lifestyle whilst working a job that is definitely not conducive to healthy habits. Picture this- the majority of my colleagues, after years of sleep deprivation and work stress, have survived on caffeine, sugar hits from the nurses’ station, whatever passes as “lunch” from the hospital cafe (hot chips and white bread), 3am on call fast food runs, sugary energy drinks (sometimes for breakfast), up and go drinks (filled with sugar), and have little to no regular exercise regimen. After a few years most develop the “neurosurgical pot-belly”- a combination of chocolate, alcohol, high cortisol levels leading to central adipose tissue deposition- useful for when you run out of hands to hold a head still, not so useful when it means that your life may be plagued with chronic disease.

  I believe that with a tiny bit of planning, eating a mostly healthy and sustainable diet is achievable for everyone. I say this as someone who works weird hours, does on call, works weekends, is up by 5am and sleeps 4-5 hours a night. And has a husband who lives in a different state. If I had a 9-5 job with every weekend off my head would be spinning- I would probably have to get into politics to fill up all that spare time 😉


  1. Meal planning is key- I’ve been meal planning for 2 years now and it’s really useful. It avoids food waste, and stops me from impulse buying. I work on the 80/20 (or sometimes 90/10 if I’m feeling pretentious) rule- 80% of meals are clean. That means if you have 3 meals a day, then about 3- 4 meals in a week are not as “clean”- this can range from eating white bread and potatoes to eating fried tasty things at the local burger joint. If you have 2 snacks a day- then it works out to two naughty snacks in a week (see also: vegan chocolate dipped soft serve). I think 100% clean would drive anyone crazy, and you’re more likely to stick to eating well if you actually *plan* to eat something tasty. I black those meals out on my meal plan and I don’t think beyond that! This also prevents you from being that annoying health conscious person when going out for dinner
  2. Keep staples on hand so that in the event of Armageddon (or being on call 4 out of 5 days) you will still be able to nourish yourself. I keep gluten free grains in the pantry, freeze cooked brown rice portions for easy microwaving. I keep some canned beans around, until I can make enough room in my freezer to freeze home made glass jars of beans. There’s always at least some potatoes and veggies in the fridge- it’s not going to be pretty but will feed you. 
  3. Vegetable box deliveries- I’ve written about this habit shift before. Just because I can’t go prancing around at my local farmers market in my vintage sun dress every Sunday due to work commitments doesn’t mean I can’t still eat local, organic produce. 
  4. Be a creature of habit- every week I prep the same things- home made almond milk, protein smoothie for post gym breakfasts, Bircher muesli,  green smoothie, a vegetable soup or stew, a “put together” meal like Vietnamese salad rolls or Buddha bowls, maybe something carb heavy like a grain salad or vegan gluten free pasta dish. This means plenty of left overs for lunches and that I’m not slaving away in the kitchen all the time. Occasionally I’ll make a sweet treat in bulk- like bliss balls, protein cookies, gluten free muffins, vegan raw slices, clean peanut butter cups. I once made hummus- like… 15 months ago 🙂
  5. Have your go to healthy snacks- I always have an apple in my bag and a couple of bliss balls. I’ve started bringing home made pop corn and kale chips, sometimes I’ll have a green smoothie as a snack, or a home made matcha latte made with bulk ingredients. Needless to say my work bag is mostly snacks and a water bottle
  6. Drink lots of water- work is really dehydrating and it’s so easy to forget to drink. Most times when we’re hungry we’re actually just thirsty. Carry water with you and sip it between clinic patients and operating cases- thank me later.
  7. Be unapologetic about eating well. I’ve drunk my green smoothie at xray meetings, bring out my glass container of Bircher muesli at coffee rounds, eat green beans whilst handing over. Getting any micronutrients in anywhere and anytime you can is really important
  8. Pack your lunch. If people at work steal your lunch routinely- put an “eat vegan” sticker on your box to throw them off the scent. Because no body wants to be associated with the weird hippy vegan 🙂 It saves so much money and is so much better for you. Case in point: I’m pretty sure I’ve saved up for my house deposit independently just by making my own food for 1 year
  9. Time your meals better- I plan higher carb meals on days where I know I’m doing a lot of cardio or lifting heavy, because I need the extra energy and also need it for muscle repair.
  10. Eat mostly plants. I’m not a crazy preachy vegan, but including lots of vegetables with every meal and having whole fruit as snacks is so important. I have a colleague who has a coffee to go with a sweet danish or croissant everyday as his breakfast. Don’t be that guy. That guy crashes from all that sugar and refined carbs mid morning and struggles to survive the day and almost dies from stress and fatigue and worries about his exponential weight gain. And then craves greasy burgers and fries and beer. Don’t be that guy.

Most important of all- eating well isn’t all about getting rock hard abs and becoming instafamous. It’s about eating right to fuel the life you want to lead. I know I need tons of energy during the day to get through work and long operating days and repair my brain, I need micronutrients to prevent me from getting sick, I need protein to recover from gym sessions. I want to live for as long as I can before I have to deal with a “lifestyle disease”. I don’t want to be the person who has a heart attack on the treadmill at 40 because I’ve realised too late that I need to “get healthy” for the new year.

Also- my food prep is mostly zero waste so it’s a bit of a no brainer for me. And eating mostly plants makes it pretty easy and natural to eat package free.
May the meal prep be with you,
Lisa x

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