Are You Developing A Hospital Habitus? The Side Effects of A Poor Diet

If you are a resident physician, then you know that you spend more time in the hospital than anywhere else.

Let's do the math: If you are at the hospital for 60- 80 hours a week, 48 weeks out of the year, then that means you could be spending up to 45% of your life in the hospital.

This means that you most of your meals have to happen while you are at work. If you are not careful with what you eat, you may begin to develop the 'hospital habitus.'

This post will cover the effects of a poor diet and why you should care. 



The Three Types of Eating Habits at the Hospital

Most dietary habits fall into one, or a combination of these three categories:

  • Those that pack their lunch and cycle through similar food choices,
  • Those who eat whatever the cafeteria is serving,
  • Those who order the majority of their meals from the same 3-4 places.  


There is nothing wrong with any of these options, and healthy choices could be made with all three.

However, having a busy schedule and eating healthy can often be at odds with one another.

If you are a resident doctor, for example, your schedule can severely limit your options.

You may be working the night shift where food choices are limited, or you might be stuck in a 6-hour surgical case, or maybe you are on a 24-hour shift and anything edible in sight looks appealing.  


The problem is that many residents and other employees use any of these situations as justification to eat whatever they please.


Have you ever thought to yourself, "I'm on a 24, so I'll just eat whatever today, and I'll eat healthy tomorrow."


You might believe that one or two days of eating 'junk food' while on call will be balanced out by eating "okay" the rest of the week.

Unfortunately, having loose standards for your dietary choices can significantly increase your chances of eating junk food when not on call as well..


This is a recipe for developing the hospital body 'habitus.'


the Side Effects of a Poor Diet

This hospital habitus is characterized by an increase in abdominal waist circumference and a progressive worsening of posture. 

It is also correlated with increased levels of fatigue.

In no way is this post meant to be a criticism of anyone’s body type or their dietary habits, rather it is meant to be informative and educational.  

Letting yourself develop higher body fat percentages and impaired posture is fraught with many negative consequences.  Most resident doctors are in their late 20s and early 30s, and mistakenly believe that because they are young, they are resistant to any significant metabolic abnormalities.  

Fortunately, my hospital actually encourages their employees, (resident doctors especially), to get healthier, and offered to check our blood pressure, waist circumference, hemoglobin A1c, and lipid levels for free.  

 Poor Food Choices Can Lead to Weight Gain, Increase in Abdominal Circumference, Worsening of Posture and Metabolic Abnormalities

Poor Food Choices Can Lead to Weight Gain, Increase in Abdominal Circumference, Worsening of Posture and Metabolic Abnormalities

Surprisingly, despite appearance, or ‘young age’ some co-workers had levels that were borderline and even elevated.  

It is reasonable to assume that if you continue on this trajectory, it will only spiral downward. With increasing age, we tend to exercise less, and our bodies become less efficient at processing the poor food choices we consume.

It is a well-known fact that increased bodyweight, especially in abdominal circumference is associated with lower levels of metabolism, increase in insulin resistance and increased levels of cardiovascular risk.

Worsening posture also has a dramatic impact on your physical health, but that topic is outside of the scope of this post.

This is not even to mention the mental effects of watching your body lose its plasticity.



The Importance of Health: You are a role model

Lastly, let's not forget that we are healthcare providers, and it is important to be role models for our patients, and to the society at large.


We are constantly advocating for others to lead healthy lifestyles, and it is important that we hold ourselves to the same standards. We must take care of ourselves if we are to take care of others.

This is one of the reasons why the WCT is passionate about helping you improve your fitness- because many of you spend so much of your time helping others.

A doctor or any busy professional who stands tall and follows a healthy lifestyle exudes charisma and inspires others to do better!

Even if you are not a doctor, the same can be said about anyone who has integrated fitness into their life. Do not let the hospital (or any other workplace) take control of your habitus!

Check out 7 Simple Ways to Eat Better Immediately for strategies that you can use to improve your diet, regardless of how busy you are.

Are you constantly making poor dietary choices due to your busy schedule? How do you try to avoid developing the hospital habitus?



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Alex & Brittany Robles are the founders of The White Coat Trainer, a site dedicated to improving the health and wellness of busy individuals. Learn more about them here and connect with them on instagram and Twitter. Feel free to send them a message here