How to Maintain a Healthy Eating Lifestyle When working Overnight and Long Shifts

Long shifts and night shifts can leave you too busy and too exhausted to prepare and eat healthy food.  Working nights poses an additional dietary hazard because your body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) intensifies evening hunger, amps up cravings for starchy foods, and increases sugar urges at a time when glucose tolerance is most impaired.  Too often, reaching for readily-available fast food and sweet, salty vending machine snacks seem like your easiest and quickest options.  Unfortunately these foods provide empty calories, pack on extra pounds, and do little to uphold your concentration, strength, and stamina.

If you want to eat better and are wondering how you can fit healthier food options into your daily routine (on- and off- the-job), here are some practical tips and useful information to get you started.  All it takes is a little bit of planning, self-awareness, and commitment.

Prepare healthy meals in advance.

Take a few hours each weekend to cook, refrigerate, or freeze a bunch of healthy one-dish meals to last the week (or more).  You might think this is a huge time-waster, but it pays off big by taking the guesswork out of eating healthy on the job and eliminating the need to concoct something nutritious when your shift is done.  Most foods will hold up well in the fridge for a week and in the freezer for a month or longer.


Consume healthy and portable energy-boosting snacks

  • Trail mix containing nuts, dried fruits, and bits of dark chocolate provides an excellent source of carbohydrate, protein, and fat (the good kind) and is easy to throw together at home, easy to tote, and easy to grab when lethargy or hunger strike.
  • Vegetables and Hummus
  • Celery stuffed with peanut butter (or cashew butter) topped with raisins, dried cherries, or dried cranberries.
  • A hard-boiled egg with a few whole-wheat pita chips
  • Air-popped popcorn (sans the butter). Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese instead.
  • Peanut butter on a whole-grain, low carb wrap

Start your day with a light meal.

A healthy breakfast has many brain and body benefits: it boosts short-term memory, maintains blood-sugar levels, increases energy, and more.  Make sure it contains a variety of foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains (for fiber), low- or non-fat dairy, and lean protein—which subdues hunger and satiates longer.  Here are some grab and go options:

  • A whole-wheat English muffin with low-fat cheese, a scrambled egg, and slice of tomato or lean ham (freezer-friendly, so you prepare in advance)
  • Salmon on 1/2 whole-grain bagel with light cream cheese (freezer-friendly)
  • Low-fat yogurt and a piece of fresh fruit
  • Yogurt smoothie and a breakfast bar (choose one with high protein and low-sugar)
  • Hard-boiled egg and a banana

Eat small amounts frequently.  And remind yourself to do it.

Your body needs nutrition every 3 to 4 hours to prevent energy dips.   Do not wait for hunger to strike.  If necessary, set you phone or watch to alert you that it’s time to eat.

Recognize hunger and fullness cues.

Eating experts say to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full, but the demands of the day can overshadow your body’s signs of hunger and satiety.

Normal hunger symptoms can include one of more of the following:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling lightheaded, faint, or shaky
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Stomach gurgling, rumbling, or “talking,” that can be loud enough for others to hear.

Experiencing the sensation of fullness is a bit more complex.

Although we can feel our stomach filling up as we eat, it takes 20 minutes for our brain to realize that we have consumed the right amount of food to satisfy our energy needs. When we eat too much too quickly we don’t get a true sense of fullness until we have overeaten (and feel stuffed).  If you don’t have 20 minutes to spare, then eat half your meal and wrap up the rest for later.  If hunger symptoms persist 20 minutes later, finish up your leftovers.

Sit down at mealtime

According to nutrition and dietetics research, when you sit down to eat, you are likely to eat more slowly, which increases your feelings of satiety so you are apt to eat less.  Being mindful of chewing your food (and savoring the taste) also slows down your eating.

Drink plenty of water and unsweetened beverages to stay well hydrated, suppress your appetite, and distinguish hunger from thirst.

Proper hydration is critical to good health, but it turns out that the thirst mechanism in adults is weak, so by the time we sense thirst we are already dehydrated.  What’s more, some symptoms of thirst can mimic hunger.  Next time a headache comes on, or you feel dizzy, lightheaded, sleepy, or confused grab a tall glass of water.  If your symptoms go away, you have satisfied your thirst and dodged unnecessary calories; if they linger, a healthy snack or meal is in order.

To get more advice on topics relevant to the nursing profession, rely on BOS Medical.  Whether you are looking for tips on how to handle challenges in the workplace or want to pursue your career options, our nursing and healthcare staffing recruiters go above and beyond to match each of our candidates to the right job.  Contact BOS Medical today to find your next opportunity.

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