The sedentary lifestyle of commercial truck drivers can lead to many health problems, including weight gain, back pain and lethargy.
The trouble is that most drivers don’t realize how quickly these changes take effect. A steady diet of fast food, a lack of exercise and other bad habits creep up on you. And it’s hard because there aren’t many healthy food options at most truck stops, and after a long shift of driving you need to relax and get in your 10 hours of mandated rest. These lifestyle-induced health issues are causing many drivers to leave the field, but it is possible to maintain a healthy lifestyle on the road.
To learn more about the biggest challenges of staying healthy on the road and how to overcome them, we talked to Jeannie Lennox, a commercial truck driver and the creative thinker behind the Heart Smart Highway Facebook page. Jeannie and her husband have been driving as a team for nearly 10 years and have hauled it all in their currently owned Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, including 30 live flamingos to the Nashville Zoo.
Like many professional drivers, Jeannie started to notice weight gain, a lack of energy and shortness of breath after several years as a team driver. So a year and a half ago she set out to find healthy meal solutions. Since then, she has lost 25 pounds and hopes to inspire other drivers to make the change by sharing meal ideas and providing support to her Facebook community.
Also Read: 10 Healthy Snacks for America's Road Warriors
Here are some of the top challenges she hears from her Facebook group members and her tips to conquer them:
Myth 1: It’s too hard to cook a full meal in a truck.
Many commercial truck drivers feel that it’s too difficult to cook healthy meals without a full kitchen. To that, Jeannie says, “As long as you can sauté, boil, and bake, you can cook anything.” Jeannie admits that she has an induction burner built into her truck, but that an electric skillet can accomplish the same tasks. If your truck doesn’t have a microwave or convection oven, she recommends a toaster oven, lunchbox oven, or the Ninja® Cooking System. Most trucks have a generator to power appliances, which is all drivers need to be successful. Jeannie is able to cook all of her meals with just two pans: a sauce pan and a sauté pan. The NutriBullet is also a good multitasker appliance to help prepare dishes and smoothies.
Myth 2: Truck drivers don’t have time to meal plan.
With unpredictable schedules, it’s hard for truck drivers to find time to plan meals and buy groceries for specific recipes. However, Jeannie believes in teaching people to cook off the cuff. “I have taught myself to take the ingredients that I have on hand, and that’s what I use to make my meals,” she said. “A lot of people are sticklers about recipes, but if you’re missing one ingredient, you’ll be deterred from making it.” Instead, Jeannie recommends buying groceries that drivers can mix and match. Some staples she recommends are: organic produce, oils, seasonings, organic chicken and beef, wild caught salmon, quinoa, canned beans, and lentils. “Vegetables are the one thing that are so easy,” said Jeannie. “You wash them, chop them, and cook them with a little oil and a little seasoning. There are so many different vegetables that it’s easy to switch it up.”
Myth 3: Cooking healthy meals is too expensive.
Fast food is not only appealing because it’s easily accessible, but it can also be cheap. Costs of organic produce and meats can add up quickly, but as Jeannie says, it’s a tradeoff. “I’m 52 years old, I’m not on any prescription drugs, and I don’t go to the doctor frequently – that’s where my savings are.” Good health not only saves you money on doctor visits, but it also keeps you on the road and working. On top of that, when cooking there are often leftovers for a second meal, and you don’t have to pay gratuities like in a restaurant. Good health is an investment, one that yields priceless returns.
Where do I start?
It’s important to view health as a committed life change. Fad diets don’t work long-term, but cutting out processed foods, eating organic and being conscious of portion sizes does. For tips, inspiration, and support, visit Heart Smart Highway. “If I can just help one person, my job is done,” said Jeannie. “If one person makes a change in their life and realizes, ‘Hey, I have to make a change,’ I guess that ultimately is my goal.”
For more health tips, visit Freightliner’s Health Smart articles