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How to Eat When You Work Weird Hours

If you are a healthcare worker or living the second or third-shift work life, you understand the struggles when it comes to eating regular meals. In my physical therapy practice, I failed for YEARS at being successful with timing my food. I barely have 2 minutes in between each patients' appointment to PEE let alone EAT. #physicaltherapistproblems That meant that I used to work an 8 hour shift and only eat once, very quickly, and never enough. Result: BINGE WHEN I GOT HOME!

I know what a little bit of structure around food can do for your health — whether it's three squares daily (and a couple snacks), intermittent fasting, or more involved plans such as Beachbody’s 80 Day Obsession Timed Nutrition — having STRUCTURE goes a long way toward giving us the right foods at the right time to help us reach our goals, whether it’s weight loss, performance, or just plain good health.

Unfortunately, we don't all have an 8-4 schedule.

When and how much to eat gets confusing quickly if you don’t sleep 7 or 8 hours at night and stay awake during the day. I'm not sure exactly WHO'S life that really is, so learning to adjust for your own schedule is going to be required in order to feel your best.

If you work the night shift, the swing shift, the 24-hour shift, or some other terrible shift your employer has devised to torture you, your sleep and meals are GOING TO BE OFF! There's no way around it.

Here are a few guidelines to help you figure out how and when to eat when you work weird hours.

But First, Sleep

Yup, we know it's important to get 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night for so many reasons. Among other benefits, sleep is prime time for muscle recovery and building. It also helps regulate the hunger hormones leptin and ghrelin, both which are important to appetite control.

If 7 to 8 hours a night can’t happen, at least try to take naps. While nothing truly makes up for a good night’s sleep, a 2008 British study shows naps to be more effective in dealing with afternoon drowsiness than caffeine.

Naps can also ward off fatigue for those forced to stay awake for long hours.

Got it? Cool.

Now here are those guidelines:

How to keep a consistent schedule…

Start your eating day when you wake up. If you're just getting out of bed at 6PM, that’s your morning. Eat breakfast.

This is ideal for people who consistently work the night shift. Just like the rest of your life, day becomes night and night becomes day with your diet.

Reset your plan at midnight...

In other words, just make sure you get all your meals for each day in within a 24-hour period, starting at 12:01AM.

This might mean that some days are breakfast, sleep, lunch, and dinner, while others are breakfast, lunch, sleep, and dinner. Just make it work for the day and reboot at midnight.

My number one rule: DON'T SKIP A MEAL JUST BECAUSE IT'S NOT THE RIGHT TIME OF DAY TO EAT IT!

You have to eat enough food during the time you are awake because if you don't, you'll end up bingeing when you get home and probably overeat to compensate for lack of food in the last 12 hour period. Get me?

The Bottom Line

There’s no one-size-fits-all hack for dealing with unusual working hours. Just like other aspects of your life, you’ll need to improvise and learn as you go, but hopefully, with this set of tips, you should be able to find the right solution for you.

-thanks for reading!

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A Healthy Hot Mess by Jennifer Stawarz

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