Julie* and Kristen* – from the 12 Week Weight Management Program-are both ER nurses. They found themselves with similar problems: night shifts, binge eating upon arriving home, a traveling career, and inconsistent schedules. As a Surgical Physician Assistant, I could relate. I used to work 12 hours shifts and rotated nights. I too was tempted by junk food in the workroom lounge and had an inconsistent eating and exercise schedule. Together, we put our heads together and began brainstorming solutions to these difficult career road blocks that were impeding their health goals.
I’m a 1900-0700 ER nurse.
I typically wake up around 4:30-5pm and do some sort of activity with my dog. I enjoy mixing up my exercise routine with my dog to keep it fun and interesting. We walk, run, trail run, rollerblade, swim, etc. When we’re done, I come back and then make myself dinner AT HOME!
By 5:45/6pm, I make myself food. This way, if the night is busy at work and I don’t get a break or one that is very late, I know that I had a full, balanced, dinner in me ahead of time.
At work, I only bring healthy snacks with me because I know I’ll throw down the bag of chips in the break room. Popcorn is a good one. It’s not something that is you have to reheat, so you can eat it at your desk pretty easily and the mini bags are amazing!
I think it’s key to try and maintain a normal life routine working nights.
You don’t have to necessarily be functioning during the day but I found it easier to get my eating under control when I did my dishes at 9am (9pm for normal folks) before I went to bed. I also made sure my laundry was done for “the next day” even though the next day was going to be in 9 hours.
Waking up to a messy life calls for a messy day. A messy day translates to feeling scattered, and THAT’S when I find myself making bad eating choices.
Building in Movement:
For me, as a rotating night shift PA, this is what my schedule looked like:
By 07:30am, I was finished with my sign-out and night shift. I intentionally wore workout clothes to work before changing into scrubs. That way, I was already dressed for the gym on my drive home. I made an 08:30 workout class my priority and got to know the instructor and women in the class well. That way, they would keep me accountable and call me out when I wouldn’t show up.
If I was groggy, missed some moves, or didn’t have 100% energy, I gave myself forgiveness. I mentally high-fived myself for just getting there and doing SOMETHING. One motto I would tell myself was; “It doesn’t matter how slow you go, you’re lapping everyone on the couch!”
As soon as I’d get home, I would make myself a quick protein shake, shower, and curl up in bed. After the workout, I’d usually fall asleep quickly and soundly.
If I didn’t go straight to the 08:30 workout class, I’d make sure I’d wake up around 2:30-3p to get my workout in then. Even though my schedule times were shifted, I kept it as regular as I could with my daily movement routine.
Eating clean was always a priority. If I ate crappy food, I’d feel groggy and lack motivation to work out. I only grocery shopped when I was full so my apartment only had clean foods to choose from.
I’d always eat RIGHT before leaving for my 12 hour shift. I started bringing big bottles of seltzer (literally my Soda Stream machine bottles) and would always ask myself one very important question before eating:
“Am I TRULY hungry? Or is this a STRONG DESIRE for food / craving?
Stimulus control was the biggest help. The break room ALWAYS had free unhealthy food stashed somewhere… and when it was 3am and I was bored or had a strong desire to eat and I SAW the unhealthy food, I was going to eat it…
Recognizing and labeling those tendencies was the first part in my self-awareness. I positioned myself away from all of those temptations. By not putting myself in that position to indulge in unhealthy food, I had better clarity on what my body actually wanted.
If I was hungry, I went for my seltzer water first (or black coffee if I was trying to power through the rest of my shift). If I was STILL really (genuinely) hungry, I kept a snack bag full of unsalted organic cashews. I kept my serving size appropriate (one closed fist) and ate them mindfully and slowly. As I was enjoying the cashews, I reminded myself that the nutrition from this snack would cover my hunger until I could get home and make myself a proper meal.
I also kept a stash of hard boiled eggs and organic turkey breast slices in the call room fridge (or a safe refrigerator away from the junk food lounge). That way, before I could see or smell pizza, Indian food, Thai food, cupcakes, baked goods or whatever else anyone brought in to work, I would first eat my clean and minimally processed protein first.
I would tell myself, “you know what Kate? You can TOTALLY enjoy the food you see AFTER you nourish your body first.” This made me feel less deprived and put less of a shiny attraction to the donated junk food. Usually, after I’d eat my healthy protein, I’d feel full and less of a pull toward the unhealthy food. Or…if I still wanted to, I grabbed the smallest plate, bowl, or cup I could find, and gave myself a very small serving.
Long night shifts, rotating schedules, or a career that makes you travel often, can really make it challenging to maintain a consistent healthy eating and exercise routine. Do you struggle as well? Have you been able to develop a mindful, healthy routine? I encourage you to share your story and any successful tips and tricks you’ve discovered with the Facebook Group!