Not long ago, I coughed coffee straight out of my nose when I read a friend’s comment on Facebook. My friend Kate grappled with the fatigue we military spouses feel, trying to reconcile the demands of holding down the home front with the need to care for ourselves during deployment.
I laughed, but related, reading her comment: “Your husband comes back Magic Mike hot and you’ve been living on frozen pizza, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese.”
Sopping up my coffee, I thought of the universality of Kate’s very authentic sentiment. Many military spouses feel downright exhausted during deployment, sometimes resorting to unhealthy foods and nixing exercise. Researchers have studied the issue, and numerous military spouse bloggers have addressed the subject, ranging from hilarious satires to goal-oriented testimonials.
But when I considered the issue’s many facets, one question seemed to thread it all together: What are practical things we can do to manage our stress and fuel our fire during deployment?
So I asked a registered dietician and a certified personal trainer to provide realistic tips that will help military spouses sustain energy and reduce stress during deployment.
Registered dietitian Becky Wiza sympathizes with the demands of military spouses during deployment. An Army spouse herself, Wiza knows that when service members deploy, military spouses assume immense responsibilities at home.
“It’s hard to function at a high level when we’re not eating well,” she says. “When you have a sports car, you give it high quality fuel for performance. It’s the same with your body.”
What should I eat and why?
It’s easy to respond to stress by indulging in comfort food and sweets. While it’s savory and calming at first, Wiza warns that a crash will follow. To help sustain your energy and juggle responsibilities, Wiza recommends packing your diet with the following high-performance fuel:
- Lean proteins: extra-lean ground beef, skinless chicken, pork loin
- Heart-healthy fats: nuts, seeds
- Fiber: whole grains, fruits, vegetables
These foods will help you feel full longer and reduce the temptation to snack on unhealthy food. Plus, they will slowly release nutrients into your body, giving you a steady dose of energy needed to perform at high levels throughout the day.
How can I prepare healthy meals easily?
Wiza offers some great strategies for military spouses who are stretched thin and strapped for time.
For dinners, Wiza suggests, “Make modifications. Think of things that are easy that you can make yourself.”
If you are inclined to heat up a frozen pizza, consider making the pizza yourself. Pizza crusts involve just three ingredients (drop the sugar), and you can top them with vegetables. Or, instead of heating frozen chicken nuggets, slice and bread skinless chicken breasts yourself.
Both examples take little time to prepare, and they leave out the preservatives and salt of packaged items.
“Stir-frys are also an easy option,” Wiza says. “Heat up some lean beef or chicken, and add vegetables with seasoning.”
What about snacks?
When it comes to snacks, Wiza advises to pay closest attention to portion control. Instead of eating out of the bag, serve yourself a portion in a dish and put the bag away. Then, eat one piece at a time, not handfuls.
“It takes 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach that it’s full,” she says.
By portioning your snacks and eating them one at a time, you are intentionally avoiding over-eating, which can lead to feelings of lethargy.
Overall, Wiza says, keeping a healthy diet will help you feel more capable and maintain mental fortitude.