Ernährung im Schichtdienst

Shift work – working against the body clock. Those who work night shifts or rotating schedules are familiar with the question: What does a healthy diet look like for shift workers? We explore this question and find out how weight loss and shift work don’t have to be contradictory.

Can we outsmart our internal clock?

Many bodily functions follow a daily rhythm. Body temperature, heart rate, metabolism, and blood pressure are examples of processes governed by the circadian rhythm. At night, digestive function also decreases. This is primarily regulated by the brain, specifically the hypothalamus. Interestingly, these cycles continue even without external influences like light. However, they can be slightly adjusted by factors such as light, temperature, and food intake.

This means we can influence our internal clock, but we cannot completely reverse it and turn night into day. Hence, it’s clear that the classic meal times—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—do not always fit well with shift work.

Even those who work exclusively night shifts usually cannot fully adapt their biological rhythm. On days off, most people revert to a normal schedule to participate in social life.
Learn more about the power of routines here.

Does shift work affect health?

Unfortunately, more and more studies show that shift work can significantly impact health. The irregular sleep-wake cycle and the lack of alignment with the natural circadian rhythm often lead to sleep disorders and chronic fatigue. These factors can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, metabolic disorders, and even certain cancers.

Another health aspect is nutrition. Shift workers often resort to unhealthy snacks and fast food because they are quickly available and satisfy hunger quickly. This can lead to weight gain and further health problems. Additionally, the risk of gastrointestinal issues increases because digestive processes slow down at night, making heavy foods harder to tolerate.

Therefore, it is doubly important for your health to maintain a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet while working shifts.

Healthy eating despite shift work – here’s how!

Despite these challenges, it is possible to maintain a healthy diet while working shifts. Here are some tips on how to achieve this:

  1. Plan regular meals: Try to eat your meals as regularly as possible. Schedule fixed times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and stick to them even on your days off to help your body find a rhythm.
  2. Light meals at night: Opt for light, easily digestible foods at night. Vegetable dishes or a soup are ideal. Avoid heavy and fatty foods as they can overburden the digestive system and negatively affect sleep quality.
  3. Healthy snacks: Keep healthy snacks on hand to prevent cravings. Fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, nuts, or yogurt are good alternatives to chocolate bars and chips.
  4. Stay hydrated: Make sure to drink enough. Water and unsweetened teas are the best choices. Avoid caffeinated drinks in the last hours of your shift to prevent sleep problems.Find out more about drinking water to lose weight here.
  5. Preparation is key: Prepare your meals in advance. Meal prepping can help you have healthy options ready even during stressful times. Plan your shopping and cook larger quantities that you can simply reheat.
  6. Listen to your body: Everyone reacts differently to shift work. Pay attention to your body’s signals and adjust your diet and lifestyle accordingly.

How nutrition can look in different shifts

Every shift work schedule is different, so our suggestions may not be directly applicable to everyone. They are meant to provide a rough guide on how to maintain a healthy diet for weight loss despite shift work.

Early shift nutrition

Even if it’s hard to eat very early, include a breakfast. This can be either before work or during a first break. Even a small meal helps maintain regular eating habits. Your prepared lunch should be eaten during your lunch break. Dinner can then be at home at the usual time. Avoid eating too close to bedtime. This is especially important with a gastric balloon.

Tip for shift work with a gastric balloon: Choose a light dinner and plan some activity afterward, like a short walk, to prevent the food from causing discomfort by sitting in your stomach all night.

Late shift nutrition

A (late) breakfast and lunch should be at home. A healthy afternoon snack can follow if desired. Your prepared meal should be eaten during your break in the late shift. Try to have your dinner at the usual time if possible.

Night shift nutrition

Before going to work, it’s advisable to have a balanced dinner. During the night, consume only small amounts. It’s best to eat a light meal, like soup, yogurt, or steamed vegetables with potatoes, in the first half of the night shift. In the morning, a small breakfast can prevent hunger while sleeping. Once you wake up, have a nutritious lunch at your usual time.

Tip for night shifts with a gastric balloon: To avoid symptoms while sleeping, allow as much time as possible between breakfast and going to bed. It can be helpful to prepare breakfast the afternoon before and eat it after work. This way, you naturally get some movement on the way home and a larger time gap. Light foods are also recommended: yogurt, homemade protein shake, a small amount of overnight oats, or similar.

Your Weight Buddy is here to help if you’re unsure about your diet during shift work.

Conclusion: Healthy eating despite shift work

Yes, a healthy diet during shift work is definitely achievable, but it requires a certain amount of planning and discipline. By scheduling regular meals, opting for light meals at night, and choosing healthy snacks, you can support your body to stay fit and healthy even while working shifts. Don’t forget to listen to your body and adjust your diet accordingly so that weight loss and shift work no longer have to be mutually exclusive.

Sources

https://www.jobundfit.de/fileadmin/user_upload/medien/EssenWennAndereSchlafen.pdf

https://www.bmel.de/DE/themen/ernaehrung/gesunde-ernaehrung/arbeit-und-freizeit/ernaehrung-schichtarbeit.html

The yo-yo effect, cravings, stress - losing weight can be quite frustrating. But there is a way out for everyone. Together we will find the right solution for you. As a nutritionist at My Weight®, I support my patients individually and personally on their way to their desired weight. Losing weight can and should be fun...and we work on this together! 😊

Maren - Weight Buddy® and nutritionist My Weight®

Hi, wie dürfen wir Dir helfen?