How an ICU Nurse Balances Work + Life During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Last Update: June 5, 2020

Welcome to What I Eat in a Day, a blog series that showcases the daily lives and meals of Thrive Market members like you. Today, we’re talking with Colleen Spiro, a 27-year-old ICU nurse at Tufts Medical Center in Boston. As a new Thrive Market member, Spiro shares why healthy living is important to her and how her work-life balance has changed during the COVID-19 pandemic.


What’s your job title and what are your main responsibilities in that role?

When I started as an ICU nurse right out of college five years ago, I never thought my job would place me right in the middle of a pandemic! Today we are primarily caring for critically ill COVID-19 patients, but normally I would be working with critically ill cardiac patients, which includes patients following a heart attack and those waiting for heart transplants, plus others. I currently work directly at the bedside and have a one or two patient assignment each shift. I love my job—there are good days and bad days but being there to support my patients, their families, and my coworkers is a very rewarding experience.

What’s your biggest challenge with healthy eating and/or healthy living?

As with any high-stress job, maintaining a routine of healthy living and eating can be challenging at times. Working both days and night shifts can really confuse your body. I do not follow any specific diet, but I do try to incorporate the major food groups in moderation in my daily snacks and meals. I also try to watch my added sugars and saturated fats, along with limiting my carbs where I can, but also listening to my cravings, treating myself, and knowing I am not perfect.

What do you eat in a day?

I wake up at 5:15 a.m. and leave for work at 6:15. There is definitely no way I will be waking up any earlier to make breakfast. So I usually rely on healthy quick snacks/bars/fruit. It is very important for me to have something in my stomach before I start since I never know how busy I will be or where the day will take me. We always have to be on our toes. The peanut butter Perfect Bars, Orgain Chocolate protein to-go shake, an apple, mixed nuts with dried fruit, and my new favorite, mini almond-flour muffins (homemade with Thrive Market Organic Raw Unstrained honey, Thrive Market Almond Flour, and Lily’s Milk Chocolate Baking Chips) are my go-to morning meals on workdays. I obviously need caffeine, so I start my morning with a Nespresso double espresso with a splash of almond milk and stevia or a Phocus sparkling water.

For lunch at work, I usually bring leftovers from dinner. I have been big into making easy soups and salads. Spinach and white bean meatball soup with orzo and Greek salads have been my favorite!

For dinner, thankfully my boyfriend, Chris, has been working from home so coming home to a cooked meal after a long shift is truly a blessing—especially if I am back to work the next day. On days we want a quick meal we usually throw chicken thighs, brown rice, and vegetables into the Instant Pot. But like everyone else, we need a break from cooking and have been supporting our local restaurants and ordering take out about once a week. This includes our favorite pizza, sushi, and Thai restaurants.

Snacking after dinner has been at an all-time high during the pandemic. We still haven’t decided if it’s due to boredom, stress, or being in the apartment, but either way, we have been loving the organic chickpea Hippeas puff snacks and have small amounts of ice cream in the freezer.

How has your work life changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Work days have been an adjustment for all. We have all gotten used to wearing face masks, which we put on as soon as we enter the hospital and are required to wear until we leave work. Many people have found that it makes it more difficult to grab something quick to eat or drink including your coffee or water. Many people say they are drinking less water during the day, and have just been grabbing food off the break room table, which is definitely the biggest challenge to healthy eating.

What keeps going when you feel overwhelmed?

What gets me through the work day and helps me stay sane is the support of my coworkers and my family and friends. Having your coworkers as some of your best friends truly makes a stressful job seem not so bad. We can laugh together, vent, and joke with each other. Having friends and family at home who are also working in different health care systems makes it easier. Being able to talk about the good and the bad is a huge weight off my shoulders.

How has your life outside of work changed during the COVID-19 pandemic?

When not at work, I try to maintain some sort of routine to keep me from feeling overwhelmed. I wake up, have my coffee and breakfast, and watch the news. My go-to breakfast on my days off has been plain Greek yogurt with almond butter or a piece of chicken breakfast sausage with two over-easy eggs, a piece of American cheese, and half an avocado.

In the mid-afternoon, I have been setting up my yoga mat and doing one or two Plankk Studio app exercises. I especially love these because you can find exercises that require minimal space and equipment but I finish them sweating and sore (which to me is a good thing)! One routine that Chris and I love doing together is getting outside and walking. We love exploring our new neighborhood of Somerville, Ma. We find ourselves making lists of cute restaurants and bars and saying, “when this is over, we should go here.” This can be a little bittersweet. We are also huge beach people and I have grown up finding peace in going to the beach and the Cape house. This is the place I feel most at home and relaxed. There is nothing better than fresh salty air, beach breeze, and the sound of waves crashing. Another activity we have started to enjoy is planting and propagating plants.

For dinner, when I am not working, I have found myself working on my cooking skills, creating dishes and recipes I would have never tried before the pandemic. Some of our favorites have been making homemade bread in the Dutch oven, sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, and wonton Caesar salad.

I have also been making more cocktails at home. The cocktails are definitely my splurge and a not-so-healthy habit, but we enjoy being creative and trying new drinks that we would normally be spending money on at a restaurant or bar. We have sipped on a couple different whiskeys and made different flavor margaritas—a fresh coconut margarita was my favorite.

At night I try to focus on self-care. A good skin-care routine, lighting a candle, catching up with friends on Zoom calls, and puzzles have allowed me to recharge and focus on myself. I find these routines really help relax my mind and escape from all the news, articles, and social media posts that can cause a lot of anxiety. Self-care is something I never focused on before this and never really knew what it meant.

For sharing her experience, we’re gifting Colleen Thrive Cash to shop healthy essentials at Interested in sharing your story? We’d love to hear from you! Please email with your name and occupation.

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Lily Comba

Lily Comba has never met a baked good she didn't like. When she's not baking, you'll find her writing, taking a Pilates class, or collaborating with the editorial and social team as a Senior Content Writer at Thrive Market.

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