Recent studies have shown that shift workers, particularly nurses, have a higher risk of obesity and obesity related illness such as type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Unsettling news perhaps, but it doesn’t have to be that way. With proper planning you can learn to make nutrition more convenient and conducive to your work schedule, allowing for more energy, a leaner physique, and a better mood.
Plan to Succeed
You’ve heard the phrase a million times. People don’t plan to fail, they fail to plan. Poor nutrition and impulsive eating habits are the number one cause of weight gain among shift workers. The cause of these bad eating habits isn’t necessarily a lack of will power; it is more likely a lack of proper planning.
Without a proper meal plan, we easily succumb to temptation. Hunger strikes and we are unprepared, leading us to the closest vending machine and purchasing the first sugary, fat laden snack that catches our eye. This is not a personality flaw; it is human nature.
So how do put together a consistent, nutritious meal plan while you are at the mercy of a hectic, unpredictable work schedule? You’ll need to make it convenient, so that you can easily grab a nutritious bite while on the go. Portable, compact, balanced meals and snacks that are waistline friendly need to be the meat of your plan.
Invest in a take along cooler, a couple of ice packs and a number of reusable food storage containers so that you’re prepared. Do your meal plan up for the week ahead of you and make sure you have all the supplies that you will need. Before heading to bed, or after coming home from work, prepare your meals and snacks for the next shift.
While the planning and preparing of food may seem daunting and time consuming at first, it soon becomes a habit and just a way of life. You will adjust. The benefits greatly outweigh the time commitment. Not only will your health and physique benefit, so will your wallet. Avoiding the cafeteria and vending machine costs will save you a lot of money and a lot of calories.
Write it Down
The value of a food journal cannot be underestimated. If you don’t keep your plan on paper, you are likely to forget things, and that’s when trouble starts. Keep a detailed food journal of all the meals and snacks that you are going to enjoy for the work-week ahead of you.
Studies have shown that people underestimate their daily calories by about 25 percent. That’s easy to do if you’re backtracking. Writing things down and planning ahead of time eliminates this obstacle.
Putting it Together
Your daily caloric requirements will depend on a number of factors such as weight, age, activity level and gender. Once you determine the number of calories you need per day, you will be in a position to plan your meals and snacks so that they are supportive of either a goal of weight loss or of weight maintenance.
Either way, you will need to ensure meals and snacks are balanced in the form of carbohydrates, protein and fats. All of these macronutrients are crucial in maintaining optimal health and an appropriate weight. One particular food group should never be eliminated in the pursuit of weight loss. This just leads to poor health, low energy levels, and irritability.
When planning meals and snacks, include a balance of complex carbohydrates with lots of fruits and veggies, beans, legumes and whole grains. If gluten intolerance is not an issue for you, breads and pastas will make good options as well, in moderation. Stay away as much as possible from processed and refined carbs such as sugar, white breads and pastas, sweets, and baked goods. Make carbohydrates approximately 40 percent of your daily calories.
Protein aids in the repair of muscle and tissue such as hair, skin and nails. It also helps to regulate hormones and slows the rate of digestion, helping to stabilize blood sugar levels. About 30 percent of your calories should come from lean sources of protein such as chicken breast, egg whites, fish, extra lean cuts of beef or bison and low fat dairy products.
Often, people consider dietary fat to be the enemy. This is not the case. We need fat in order for our brains and hormones to function. Fat also makes food palatable and slows digestion, leaving our bellies satiated for far longer. Healthy fat choices include those that are rich in Omega 3’s like fatty fish, nuts, seeds, flax, olive oil and avocado.
There are many meal and snack combinations that can easily be added to your plan. If you have access to a microwave, pack up a chicken stir fry with wild rice and lots of veggies or try a cleaned up, lean version of beef stroganoff or meatloaf.
If your 12 hour shift simply will not allow for a sit down meal, this can be accommodated too. Sandwiches make an easy, take along meal on the go and the options are endless. Try hard-boiled eggs, chicken, veggies, low fat cheese, tuna or any combination.
There are many super easy snacks that can be packed up with your meals to round out your shift. Nuts, fruit, raw veggies, individual cheeses with whole grain crackers, cottage cheese, or homemade sugar free granola bars are just a few of the delicious, nutritious and balanced snacks that can easily be added to some healthy meals to round out a hectic shift. All of these can be eaten on the go too.
The quickest way to derail progress is to wait too long between meals or snacks. If you leave numerous hours between feedings, you will experience low blood sugar, irritability and an inevitable crash. This will have you reaching for whatever may be close within reach, whether that’s an apple or a bag of chips.
You can easily prevent this by having convenient, take along snacks handy to you. Abiding by your plan will ensure that you are prepared. Also, make sure that you take the time to eat. Of course your job can be hectic, so it’s important to eat whenever you get the chance. If you don’t take the opportunity to refuel when it comes around, you may miss out for the next six or seven hours, and that’s when ravenous hunger hits.