The Connection Between Truck Driver Eating Habits and Mental Health

Always suggests that when truckers reach for a snack, they should pause and ask themselves if they are genuinely hungry. Often, people resort to eating out of boredom or to alleviate feelings of loneliness, she points out

Green-go Trucker 13/10/2023 MATTHEW GOSSETT (The Green-Go Trucker)
Screenshot 2023-10-12 at 11.16.53 PM

In the fast-paced world of long-haul trucking, the conversation around driver health frequently gravitates toward concerns about unhealthy eating habits and weight management. However, beneath the surface, these challenges often have a deeper connection to mental health, shining a light on a lesser-explored aspect of the profession.

According to a 2014 survey conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, a startling revelation emerged: seven out of every ten long-haul truckers are classified as obese, a figure that is twice the obesity rate observed in the broader U.S. working population. But what's even more concerning is the finding from previous research titled "Trucking Organization and Mental Health Disorders of Truck Drivers": approximately 30% of truckers reported feelings of loneliness and depression.

Remarkably, food, much like other substances, can sometimes serve as an unhealthy coping mechanism or even develop into an addiction for truck drivers. In comparison to drugs and alcohol, food is more accessible, cost-effective, and doesn't impair judgment on the job, making it a seemingly more acceptable option for those seeking solace.

Ethan Slaughter, founder of the Copeland Hall Research Institute and COO of Christenson Transportation, believes that seeking help from a mental health professional can be a valuable approach to understanding the underlying causes of unhealthy eating habits. However, he acknowledges that there's a stigma surrounding therapy, especially in industries like trucking, which are traditionally male-dominated.

For those who may be hesitant to seek professional help, Jane Alway, past president of the Ontario Association of Mental Health Professionals (OAMHP) and a registered psychotherapist, offers self-help techniques. She emphasizes the importance of self-awareness and maintaining a healthy balance in life.

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Always suggests that when truckers reach for a snack, they should pause and ask themselves if they are genuinely hungry. Often, people resort to eating out of boredom or to alleviate feelings of loneliness, she points out.

Slaughter highlights that various underlying factors, such as financial stress, lack of respect on the road, and extended periods of isolation from family and community, can contribute to unhealthy eating habits among truck drivers. He recalls an example of a driver who would stock up on snacks before a long drive and mindlessly consume them during the journey, often finishing an entire bag of treats without realizing it.

In some cases, eating is associated with specific events or activities. To help identify and address these issues, drivers can use reminders like sticky notes placed around the cab. For instance, if the urge to eat strikes when pulling into a truck stop, these notes can serve as cues to explore the deeper triggers behind the craving, which may be related more to social connections than actual hunger.

Truckers with established patterns of coping through overeating can consider attending 12-step meetings or reaching out to therapists for support. Another effective strategy is practicing mindfulness, which involves staying present in the moment by paying attention to details like temperature and breathing patterns. This technique can help redirect thoughts away from impulsive eating.

Screenshot 2023-09-22 at 4.57.14 PMGreen-Go Trucker: Cargo Theft

Alway also recommends focusing on the act of eating itself, turning meals into mindful experiences. Above all, she emphasizes the need for self-compassion, recognizing that occasional lapses are part of the journey and should be met with forgiveness and a renewed commitment to using the available tools for healthier living.

In conclusion, the link between truck driver eating habits and mental health is an essential issue that deserves greater attention. Addressing the mental health aspects of this profession can lead to healthier eating habits and improved overall well-being for these hardworking individuals who spend long hours on the road. It's time to break the silence surrounding mental health in the trucking industry and support drivers in their quest for a healthier life on and off the highway.

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