31 October 2017Healthy Eating Tips for Night Shift Workers

If you work outside the hours of 7 AM - 6 PM then you are not alone. Statistics show that 20% of Americans do some type of shift work. Shift work creates a misalignment between your internal clock and the outside world. This can wreak havoc on your appetite, weight, digestion and ability to sleep and feel rested. Try experimenting with these 4 tips to help you to feel your best during and after your shift.

1. Stay hydrated

Staying well-hydrated is important for regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, flushing waste from the body and preventing constipation. When it comes to shift work, staying adequately hydrated may also help you to stay awake. If you'd like some variety besides water, try herbal teas, low sodium tomato or vegetable juice, or flavored water. Many shift workers turn to caffeine for its stimulating effects. Too much caffeine can disrupt hydration as well as impact sleep. Experts suggest avoiding caffeine 4-8 hours before the end of a shift to prevent the caffeine from disrupting your sleep when you do get home. Another beverage that can be dehydrating as well as interfere with the body's sleep cycle is alcohol. Avoid the urge to turn to alcohol to help you unwind at the end of a shift.

2. When to eat

When to eat may be one of the most perplexing dilemmas when doing shift work. Meal timing may be impacted by work schedule and responsibilities, family expectations, and hunger level. Try to eat a balanced meal before arriving at work or within 2-3 hours of starting your shift. This will provide a strong foundation to get you through the night. Making sure to include some protein and dietary fiber early in your shift may help prevent a late night visit to the vending machine. Here's a sample meal plan and eating schedule that worked for a water treatment plant operator who was actively working to lose weight and worked a shift from 6 PM - 6 PM.

  • 8 PM Dinner
  • 4 oz Bison patty with ketchup and mustard
  • 1 cup of broccoli
  • 3 oz sweet potato (reheated in the breakroom microwave)
  • 12:00 AM Snack
  • 1 small apple
  • 1 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 2:30 AM Snack
  • 1 oz raw almonds + carrots and celery
  • 4:30 AM Snack
  • 1 cup cheerios + 3/4 cup 1% milk
  • 6 AM End of shift
  • 6:45 AM Go to sleep
  • 1:30 PM - 2 PM First meal of the day ("Breakfast")
  • Turkey wrap with side salad
  • 4 PM - 5 PM
  • 1 cup bran flakes + 3/4 cup 1% milk
  • 1 hardboiled egg
  • 16 oz black coffee

3. Eating is an activity

Some shift workers will be the first to admit they turn to food out of boredom or in hopes of getting a burst of energy. Depending on what tasks are required during your shift, you may be turning to food for these reasons. Making note of your habits is the first step towards changing them. MyNetDiary's Notes allows you to track things like what prompted you to eat or how you were feeling. Try experimenting with these options instead of turning to food: walk around, read emails, talk with coworkers, alternate tasks, or simply avoid sitting in one place for too long. One radiology technician I worked with took full advantage of downtime between imaging consults by doing yoga at his desk. He wasn't about to abandon his fitness goals while working nights!

4. Digestion and sleep

Sleep deprivation can lead to cravings for foods high in fat and sugar. Yet greasy foods such as fried chicken, pizza and French fries are more difficult to digest. Instead, choose small portions of leaner protein foods such as skinless chicken, deli meat, lean beef and low fat dairy products. Also include veggies, fruits, whole grains and nuts. Some individuals find that avoiding high fiber foods such as beans, lentils, large amounts of raw veggies and spicy foods in the middle of the night prevent a gassy or upset stomach from interfering with work and sleep. Try experimenting with different food combinations at different times to find those that work best for your body.

In the end, any type of shift work is taxing on the body and mind. So remember to take it easy on yourself if you are having a difficult time meeting your weight loss or general fitness goals. Remember, it is all about progress not perfection!

Joanna Kriehn is a Registered Dietitian with a decade of experience working in the area of weight loss surgery. You can learn more about Joanna by visiting her LinkedIn page.

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Disclaimer: Please note that we cannot provide personalized advice and that the information provided does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit a medical professional.

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Meal Planning & Diets/Healthy Eating Weight Loss/Behavior

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