There's little doubt that most FIFO camps provide great food! They're renowned for it. So renowned in fact that the industry is also renowned for its higher than average rate of obesity. A study done by Edith Cowan University in Perth back in 2013 found that the overweight / obesity rate amongst FIFO workers hovers around 79% or higher. It's only 64% in the rest of population.
It isn't just about the food though, although the line up of delicious carb-laden pastas, fatty roasts, sugar filled deserts et al certainly doesn't help. FIFO workers are also on long rostered hours; typically they work 12 hour days and a shift may start at 2.30 am and finish at 2.30 pm. Or a shorter shift could start at 2.30 am and finish at 12 noon. Regardless, it's very hard to fit a regular eating and exercise routine into those types of hours. Long hours invariably mean workers are too tired to do much more than grab something quick and easy to eat before heading to bed. Add to this the other pressures FIFO workers are inevitably subjected to – stress, depression, loneliness, boredom and so on, and it's easy to see how people start using food as a crutch. And exhaustion as a reason to not exercise regularly. Combined, it's a recipe for chronic health problems. The issue can be compounded by the fact that a FIFO lifestyle is often not conducive to taking out gym memberships or entering into any type of training program at home.
The major health issues caused by this type of lifestyle include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis. The ECU study mentioned above found that FIFO workers were 80% more likely to develop these chronic health disorders than the rest of the population. Other findings to come out of the project include:
- FIFO workers were found to have unhealthy dietary levels of saturated fat and sodium
- FIFO workers typically consume less than the daily recommended quantities of fruit, vegetables, grain, and dairy products
- At the same time they eat far more than the recommended quantities of meat and unhealthy discretionary foods (discretionary foods are items that can be added to a diet to provide variety but are not required for nutritional purposes – cakes, biscuits, desserts, lollies, and other similar snack foods)
- Unhealthy discretional foods are not only readily available but are also typically prominently displayed, which may promote the idea that regular daily consumption of these types of foods is acceptable
- Sixty percent of the recipes at the camp involved in the study included ingredients that are high in salt (commercial sauces, cheese, butter, and salty stocks)
The report also suggested that getting regular supplies of fresh, healthy food to remote mining camps may be difficult. However, where such foods were on offer it was typically found that people chose the unhealthier options. Therefore, more research is required to identify the reasons why FIFO workers make the food choices they do ie – why they choose cheesecake over a piece of fruit for dessert! Although this isn't just restricted to FIFO workers! However, the option to do so presents itself more frequently than for the rest of us!
Some initiatives prompted by the results of research like the ECU study have since seen changes begin to happen in the catering at FIFO camps. Worksafe Queensland have been involved in a partnership that created the Choose Well, Live Well campaign, part of the state government's Healthier Happier Workplaces initiative. The campaign was tasked with the job of putting together practical nutritional guidelines for remote camp catering services.
The Compass Group, a catering contractor that provides the catering services for a number of Australia's mining camps, runs Tastelife weight-loss challenges. They also provide Active Life Coaches on site. Since its inception, these initiatives have led to thousands of FIFO workers losing tonnes of weight. The coaches are a vital part of the plan. Without these guys encouraging, supporting, and even 'bullying' people into keeping their appointments with gym equipment, and sticking to their diet plan, many participants in the programs would not have stuck with it. By 2013 there were 130 of these coaches in the program, a jump from just 5 when it first started 13 years prior. The trainers fit their training programs around their 'protégées' rostered hours.
Keeping fit and healthy in a mine camp though doesn't have to be about formal exercise, diet plans, and coaches. There are numerous ways you can help yourself help yourself.
- Opt for a healthy breakfast. The hot breakfast with bacon, hash browns, steak, sausages etc may be tempting but they're loaded with fat. Go with healthy cereals like porridge (it's also hot), or a cereal like Weetbix. If the idea of a hot breakfast is just too tempting, opt for something like poached eggs on toast with tomato and a few other veggies, or an omelette. Eggs are an excellent source of important nutrients like folate and other goodies. Choose whole grain toast, and limit the buttery spread, or leave it out altogether. A tip here – a good breakfast with plenty of fibre will help you feel fuller for longer and ward off the hunger pangs that often lead to illicit snacking in between meals.
- Don't overdo protein. The recommended daily intake is 0.8 gms / kilo of body weight for sedentary people and let's face it – that's most of us! Body builders benefit from excessive amounts of it because they're constantly doing exercises that require protein to rebuild and repair muscle tissue. The rest of us don't. In fact too much protein isn't good for us at all. When the body breaks it back down into its constituent amino acids we wind up with a lot of nitrogen that we don't need. The task of getting rid of this nitrogen, along with the other by-products of protein metabolism, falls to our kidneys. It is possible to overwork these organs, which can lead to kidney problems. Someone who already has kidney disease should definitely watch their protein intake. Obviously all the meat on offer in mining camp mess halls is very high in protein so avoid eating excessive amounts of it.
- If you need to take your lunch with you, sort it straight after you've eaten breakfast. When you're full you're less likely to add extra things. It's the same principle as going shopping when you're hungry…. Stick to the healthy lunch options – a salad roll or sandwiches, a wrap filled with vegetables and boiled eggs. If you return to the mess for lunch it's the same deal – try not to venture too far beyond the salad bar. The curries, roasts, pastas, chips, and other fried foods may be tempting but resist. Your body will definitely thank you for it!
- When filling your plate, start with the salads and vegetable dishes. By the time you're done with a serving of each of those, there'll be less room on your plate for junk food. Add a small portion of lean meat (chicken or fish is always a good choice), perhaps a slice of whole grain bread and you have the makings of an excellent, and healthy, meal. And just for the record, potato chips and potato bake are not really a healthy way to eat one of nature's most bounteous vegetables. Try the steamed or salad (with low fat dressing) versions instead.
- You do not need dessert. Make this your mantra. If that craving for something sweet persists get into the habit of eating fresh fruit instead. Or yoghurt – the low fat varieties are always better but even full fat yoghurt is better than the same quantity of ice cream. Canned fruit in juice, not syrup, is also a convenient dessert option, as is dried fruit.
- We all like snacking but there are healthy snacks, and unhealthy snacks. Under the heading of unhealthy are biscuits, cakes, lollies, most commercial so-called health bars, crisps, crackers and so on. Healthy includes fruit (dried or fresh), nuts, seeds, and raw vegetables. Even dark chocolate in moderation is a healthy snack but the key word here is moderation. And dark. The higher the cocoa content, the better for you it is.
- Limit your alcohol intake. The wet mess is invariably one of the most popular spots on campus. However, excessive indulgence poses several problems. First and foremost, you could blow your drug and alcohol test, which usually means you'll also blow your job. Secondly, too much alcohol is not good for you. Nor is smoking.
- Make good use of whatever exercise facilities are provided in the camp. Most have a gym of some sort. It's been provided by your employer for a reason – notably because they're concerned about the statistics we mentioned at the start. Most also come equipped with someone who knows a thing or three about fitness and gym equipment. Get to know this person! Because he or she will be your best friend when it comes to figuring out the best types of routines to get you where you want to be fitness wise. Without causing yourself bodily harm in the process by using the equipment incorrectly. Many camps also have a swimming pool, tennis courts, and other sports facilities as well.
When it's time to head home for R and R don't forget to take your improved dietary and exercise habits with you. There's not much point in spending your away from home time making a concerted effort to stay fit and healthy if you're going to blow it all when you go home. Most of the healthy eating options apply equally as well at home.
- Avoid excessive quantities of alcoholic and sugary beverages. You may not have an alcohol test to pass when you're at home but the risks to your health remain the same regardless of location.
- If you like dining out, you can still be healthy about it. Go grilled rather than fried, and pair it with a salad not chips. Get them to put the sauce or dressing on the side of the plate, or in a separate bowl, so you can use sparingly. Get the entrée size if you're not that hungry. And when it comes time to head back to site, consider taking your own snacks with you.
On the exercise front, one of the noted problems for FIFO workers is that it's often not worth their while joining a gym. But there are other ways to keep your exercise regime on track even at home. Go for a jog each day and juice it up with some interval training. Get your trainer on site to come up with some exercises you can do at home without equipment. There are plenty to choose from – push ups, skipping, wall sits, footwork drills and more. Or just spend an hour kicking a ball around in the park with the kids.