It’s no secret that nurses and other health care workers struggle more with weight than those with standard working hours. There have been numerous studies in the news that all suggest shift workers have the highest rate of obesity and other weight related health problems, such as high cholesterol and hypertension.
There are a number of contributing factors to the increasing waistlines of those in the health care field. High stress environments, long working hours and a lack of sleep all combine to create the perfect storm, disrupting the hormones responsible for weight gain. Combine that with a lack of proper planning and very little, or possibly no daily exercise and you’ve got the recipe for obesity.
Fortunately things don’t have to be this way for everyone. With some careful planning and preparation paired with lifestyle changes that encourage sleep and stress relief, you can avoid or reverse the detrimental effects of shift work. I will explain the top five weight loss errors that shift workers make and how you can correct them.
Your career revolves around helping others. You’ve become used to making others a priority and neglected yourself in the process. Now is the time to change that. Checkout: How to plan a healthy eating plan conducive to 12 hour shifts
Careful meal planning is the number one way you can avoid weight gain. The value of a well designed, well planned and mapped out, detailed food log is often grossly underestimated.
So many shift workers don’t consider what they will be eating until their belly starts grumbling. At that point, we are willing to grab whatever is handy. Usually the foods that are fast, easy and convenient are high fat, sugar laden, processed foods like chips, nitrate and fat filled deli sandwiches, candy, processed granola bars or cookies. These are all things that would never make it into your mouth if you had a detailed plan in action.
Take the time to write down everything you will be eating for the work week ahead of you. Get yourself a small cooler and a number of baggies and reusable plastic containers to pack nutritious, physique friendly meals and snacks. Keep your choices convenient and handy for those times when you may only have two minutes to fill your belly.
Having nutritious food with you that is packed into appropriate serving sizes and accounted for within your food log will keep temptation at bay, as well as maintaining those crucial energy levels and stable blood sugar. No longer will you experience the highs and lows associated with high fat, sugary snacks.
At first, this process may seem time consuming but it quickly becomes second nature. Once you see and feel the benefits from adopting this healthy habit, you’ll wonder why you waited so long.
Timing of Meals
How many times during your workday do you go long periods of time without eating? Perhaps you have a sandwich at 10 p.m. and by 5 a.m. your belly starts complaining that it’s been empty for hours. This is a big mistake. At times, it is unavoidable due to the job description of a nurse, but you need to make consistent meals and snacks a priority as much as possible.
In a perfect world, we would enjoy a nutrient dense meal or snack every three to four hours. This allows blood sugar levels to remain stable, keeping the infamous crash at bay. Low blood sugar will leave you weak and fatigued which of course is not conducive to optimal job performance.
Long breaks between feedings may also alter metabolism. Depending on just how long you’ve been fasting, your body may naturally slow down the rate of metabolism, burning less fat and fewer calories. Not only will you feel lethargic and possibly irritable, you may end up sacrificing precious muscle tissue for energy. This combination of physiological processes continuing over the long term, is a recipe for weight gain.
By utilizing your food plan and having your meals and snacks conveniently packed in your cooler, you can easily grab a low calorie, healthy snack at your leisure. Feeding your body and metabolism every few hours is a simple task if you’re plan is in action.
Making Time for Exercise
After a long, stressful day, working out is often the last thing we want to do. If you want to feel better, look better and perform better, it’s what you have to do. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon after every shift, but some physical activity is a must.
Once again, fitting a work out into your busy life, comes down to smart planning. Making time for exercise may seem exhausting but it will actually increase your energy in the long run. Start out slow with a few short workouts a week, scheduled around your days of, or alternating days.
Aim for two to three sessions per week of resistance training. Full body workouts may be intense, but they offer incredible heart healthy and fat burning benefits and can be done within half an hour if the necessary intensity is applied.
Cardiovascular exercise will round out a great workout program appropriately. While starting out, schedule time for two to three, 30-minute cardio sessions of walking, jogging, cycling or whatever you enjoy.
As you progress, you may opt for high intensity interval workouts. These are incredibly efficient for both fat burning and improving cardiovascular capacity. Two sessions per week is all you’ll need and these can be complete within 25 minutes.
Allow for Time to De-Stress
Chronic stress is responsible for raising levels of the hormone cortisol. High levels of cortisol lead to weight gain, specifically in the abdominal area and raised insulin levels, which also contribute to an increase in weight. Stress is inevitable for all of us but by incorporating a few simple practices into our daily routine, we can help to alleviate that somewhat.
Plan some time every day to de stress in whichever way may work for you. Perhaps it’s a bubble bath, time spent with a mindless novel, yoga or meditation. Or you could save time in your day by taking a good, heart rate pumping, brisk walk. Exercise can be a great way to process the day and get frustrations out.
Allow Time for Adequate Sleep
Insomnia is a common complaint of shift workers. The work schedule tends to go against our natural circadian rhythm and that, combined with the stress of the job can definitely contribute to sleep disturbance. Making sleep a priority is important for both our health and our weight.
Lack of sleep on a regular basis contributes to the rise of cortisol, which as discussed earlier can lead to weight gain. It’s imperative to make time for restful sleep and again it comes down to planning. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to decompress from the day and follow some of the relaxation techniques described previously to naturally relax.
Once you are on the right track and you have made sound nutrition and regular, consistent exercise a priority, sleep will come much more naturally. Your system will be functioning at optimal levels, hormones will remain within healthy levels and the mind will be able to let go and drift off.