Thoughts on the Night Shift Eater

I separate people into two categories. Those that “eat to live” and those that “live to eat”. Of course, I fall into the latter. My fondness of healthy foods (most of the time) and working out kept my weight down the majority of my life. When I first started working as a night shifter, I worried about sleeping during the day and staying awake at night. Never did I imagine my biggest struggle would be my weight. I gained 18 lbs. in less than two months making no obvious changes to my eating and exercise habits . 

So, I’m a nurse with my first degree in Biology and a personal interest in nutrition but I wasn’t pulling myself out of this hole. Understandably worried about the rapid gain I talked to a few friends. One of them recommended a Registered Dietitian with a M.S. in Exercise Physiology who happens to kick butt at Endurance Triathlons. Her name is Marni, also known as Trimarni.

Marni was fabulous. She offers a consultation service that examines what you are eating and why you are eating what you are eating. That seems like a mouthful. The logs were the most helpful because she identified my trouble spots. For example, I would think a healthy snack on-the-go was an apple, she would remind me about the satiety that an added protein would provide. Reviewing my logs really showed how my “healthy” eating wasn’t always that healthy especially when I didn’t plan ahead. 

So did I lose any weight working with Marni? Not immediately. I also wasn’t looking for a quick fix. My stress and emotional eating habits were difficult to break. The most important lesson I took from her was how to “mindfully eat”. 

Here are some eating lessons I’ve learned working night shift the past two years.

Tips for the Night Shift Eater

Plan ahead. This may seem like a no brainer but not planning leaves you with Cafeteria food. At my hospital during night shift, this means quesadillas, Philly Cheesesteaks, and onion rings. The only healthy option is grilled chicken or the typical salad bar. 

You don’t need to eat full meals at normal times. My biggest mistake was trying to have “typical meals” which going into a night shift could mean breakfast at 7am, lunch at 12 pm, dinner at 5 pm, “lunch” at 2 am, breakfast at 8 am and then sleeping. Marni is really big on not letting your blood sugar drop too low and encourages eating smaller meals or snacks more frequently. Low blood sugar leads to bad food decisions. So now I split a lot of meals.

Calorie tracking isn’t the devil. Calorie tracking made me nervous at first. My fear was setting myself up for restricting calories. But I had a really difficult time grasping just how many calories I was consuming. My first time I had well over 2,000 calories in a 24 hour period. Yikes. MyFitnessPal App is my tracker of choice.

Brush your teeth. At 4 am, the carrots and hummus you brought sounds less appealing than the cupcakes a coworker baked for everybody. For some reason, brushing my teeth seems to lead to better decisions at the more difficult hours.

Think about the true purpose of food. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie. I love finding good restaurants and cooking fabulous meals to share. Indulgence isn’t a four-letter word to me. And yes, it’s okay to treat yourself occasionally. Food shouldn’t be a reward or a coping mechanism. My first year of nursing, I would reward or cope on a daily basis. “You had a rough night. Let’s stop here for food.” “You survived this week. Treat time!” All those rewards add up to extra weight. Food should be nourishment. Nutritious doesn’t have to taste bad either.

Crock pot meals, stir-fries, salads, and smoothies. These are my go-to night shift saviors. Crock pot meals can be cooked in large quantities and frozen in portion sizes for later use with minimal work. Stir-fry is one of my favorite healthy quick meals. I use a pre-mixed vegetable bag and sauté with some sort of protein adding some spices. Our hospital gave us one of those reusable containers with separate sections. Perfect for keeping salads from getting soggy. Doesn’t hurt I found out about ginger dressing. That stuff is incredible. Lastly, smoothies allow for jam packed quick nutrition that I can sip on during my commute.

In conclusion, with these changes I’ve lost most, but not all, of the weight. Numerous studies prove night shift isn’t ideal for our bodies. You don’t need research to tell you it’s not natural. Night shift really exaggerated my bad eating habits. I’m much happier now than I was last year mostly because I feel better. Any night shifters out there have additional advice?

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