According to The Physicians Foundation, 61% of physicians in the U.S. reported burnout in 2021, “an incredible increase” from the 40% who reported it in 2018. By 2025, the HHS has predicted a shortage of up to 90,000 physicians, and a major driver of this shortage will be the loss of practicing clinicians due to burnout. While system-level solutions to address physician burnout are very effective, self-care can also play an important role. A big part of self-care for physicians is nutrition.
Chronic stress, like the stress experienced by individuals suffering from burnout, has shown to influence the amount and type of food individuals eat, contributing to excessive eating and underrating, and stress hormones have been linked with abdominal obesity. Burnout is also associated with chronic conditions, attributed to poor diet and lifestyle habits, such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Burnout in women has been linked with emotional and uncontrolled eating behaviors correlated with higher body mass index.
Healthy eating is a pattern of nutritious and wholesome food choices that people make over time. Healthy eating habits are built on a pattern of daily food and beverage choices that are tailored to individual preference, culture, tradition and budget. Cultivating healthy eating habits sets the foundation for healthy eating patterns, supporting long-term health and well-being.
Overall diet quality matters more than calories or single nutrient amounts. For a high-quality diet, emphasis should be placed on consumption of nutrient-dense, wholesome foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed while reducing refined starches, added sugars, processed meats and other highly processed foods. Furthermore, foods that are high-quality and nutritious include fruit, vegetables, milk, cheese, yogurt, beans, nuts, seeds, fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, healthy fats and oils. When high-quality foods are eaten together, their nutrients interact with one another in unique ways, providing health benefits greater than the sum of their parts, re-emphasizing the importance of a healthy eating pattern for nutrition as well as health-promoting and protective benefits.
Dietary strategies to reduce burnout for physicians and healthcare professionals are needed to minimize shortages within healthcare professions, maximize investment in healthcare professionals’ training, and improve quality of life for these frontline workers. Effective strategies for improving nutrition behaviors include nutrition education and counseling and mindful eating interventions.
Now is the time for physicians and healthcare professionals to re-evaluate their priorities, especially with regards to nutrition. That is because smarter self-care is a win-win for doctors – and their patients.