Kitchen work will break your body down.

This week we are continuing our look into why kitchen stress hits us so hard. The second big reason is our health. This topic is near and dear to me, as it is the main focus of my work. I think that the health of our bodies is a critical factor in our ability to do our jobs well. And I think that our lifestyle, and the spotty access to healthcare that we have causes not only sickness, disease, and low energy, but it causes unnecessary stress.

I won’t get into my feelings about our healthcare system here, you can read my rant on this previous post if you like. The thing about healthcare is that we don’t have it very consistently. The whole system of having a primary care doctor who you go to for preventative care and sick care is out the window if you change jobs/ insurance every year or go without for long stretches. It takes months to get an appointment with a doctor as a new patient, so when you make the switch, it is difficult to start over. I hear from lots of industry folks that their healthcare is urgent care, and why not? They will see you when you need to get seen.

Inconsistent healthcare leads to stuff getting ignored, or pushed farther and farther into the future. Having a healthcare pro that you see on the regular helps catch problems like diabetes, heart problems, weight gain, depression. If you sporadically go to the clinic and see a different person every time, you are basically in charge of remembering to pay attention to your own health. And we all know how good we are at that! Worrying about heath problems and not being able to see a clear path to help is major emotional and psychological stress. If you know you need to see a doctor about something, but you can’t imagine when or how- it’s going to be on your mind, distracting you when you need to be focused on your work.

Living an unhealthy lifestyle, carrying around a bunch of extra weight, replacing sleep with caffeine. This is a recipe for disaster. Unfortunately, it’s the recipe that has been passed down from one generation of chefs to the next. So many industry folks started when they were young, and learned from the people around them. That sets us up to learn bad habits and let them lead us into unhealthy lives. Is there any reason that Chefs, cooks, and restaurant workers should have such unhealthy lives and habits? No. It is not inherent in the work. We are surrounded by just an many carrots as we are french fries. The water tap is right next to the coffee pump pot. It is learned behavior; we have bad habits. And these bad habits put stress on our bodies and our minds.

Did you know that according to the Arthritis Foundation, every pound of excess weight exerts about 4 pounds of extra pressure on the knees? So a person who is 10 pounds overweight has 40 pounds of extra pressure on his knees; if a person is 100 pounds overweight, that is 400 pounds of extra pressure on his knees.

That’s a lot of pressure, especially when you are working 12 hour shifts standing on concrete. Is it any wonder your body hurts?

It’s not just your joints that are feeling the stress, it’s your brain. Feeding yourself a steady diet of coffee and energy drinks is hard on your nerves. Caffeine doesn't actually create energy, what it does is give your body a shot of stress hormone to kick it into fight or flight mode. When you are in danger, this is great, but to be that way all day long? It wears your system down. It also works by blocking the receptors in your brain that allow you to measure how tired you are. Sound great? Again, in the short term, this is a solution. But we are in it for the long run. We can’t be burning out our nervous system.

When people have panic attacks, stress attacks, anxiety attacks, it’s a sign that their body has reached its limit. You can get off of this track when you stop pushing your body to its limit. Replace unhealthy, processed foods with whole foods, vegetables, and fruits. Replace coffee and energy drinks with water. Replace alcohol and drugs with sleep and connection. Replace phone time with sleep and exercise. This is a recipe for success.

It is really challenging to make positive steps toward better health. As a chef or cook, your forte is in the kitchen, creating art through food, managing costs, inspiring staff to work hard and grow. It is not in regulating your lifestyle for better health. If you are ready to make big changes, you need a team. Let me know if you would like to chat about your personal goals. We can work on moving forward together.

Laura Mcwilliams