Shift workers often have unpredictable, ever-changing work schedules. The amount of consecutive work days, length of shifts, work required during shifts and whether they are on days or nights are all variables that change and rearrange.
When you’re on an irregular schedule, it is hard to maintain regular beneficial habits such as exercising, getting adequate sleep (which we wrote about in a previous blog) and eating healthy, which is what this blog is going to focus on.
On a shift work schedule, it is easy to develop bad eating habits. This can include skipping meals, overeating, mindlessly snacking and/or eating at abnormal times. Due to these unhealthy habits, shift workers are at risk for weight gain, heart disease, indigestion, high blood pressure, constipation, diarrhea, etc.
But, why is it more difficult to eat healthy on a shift work schedule? From a shift worker’s perspective, here are just a few reasons:
- It’s inconvenient. It’s quick and easy to run through a drive-thru and grab a #7 with a large Coke or to call and order your usual from the take-out place down the street.
- You’re surrounded by people with the same eating habits. It’s harder to go against the grain and be the “healthy” one when your coworkers are stuck in a certain routine.
- You get bored. If there isn’t a whole lot of action going on, it’s easy to grab a snack or two, and most oftentimes these are not healthy snacks. It’s a bag of chips, a dessert that someone brought, a Honey Bun from the local gas station.
There are many excuses as to why it’s easier to eat unhealthy on a shift work schedule, the health concerns remain. To avoid high blood pressure, heart disease, weight gain and more, you should focus on the foods you’re putting into your body. It’s never too late to turn things around and make a change for the better.
Here are six ways to start eating healthier on a shift work schedule:
- Plan ahead. This is crucial. Your preparation will set you up for a successful day of eating healthy. This looks like going to the grocery store with a list of healthy snacks and meals to prepare. This also looks like portioning out and setting aside these snacks and meals before work. If you cut up your veggies and divide up your snacks into individual bags and containers, they’re easier to grab-and-go when you’re getting ready to leave for work.
- Bring your own food. It is much easier to eat healthy when you know exactly what you’re eating. Most restaurants give a much larger portion size than needed. Additionally, restaurant food is often loaded with butter, sugar, sodium and many other ingredients that are not great for our cholesterol levels.
- Do your research. It would be unwise to assume that you will always bring your own food. There are times when we forget our lunch, or when we don’t have leftovers to pack. So, do your research. Find out what restaurants around your workplace have healthy options. Look up the menus to find out a list of good options to order if you do have to pick something up mid-shift.
- Learn to say “no.” This one takes discipline. If the kitchen at your workplace is always packed with sweets, if the vending machine is filled up with unhealthy snacks –– just say “no.” By saying “no” to these types of snacks, you’re saying “yes” to a healthier and happier you.
- Get some accountability. It is not fun to start a new way of eating by yourself. Ask your coworkers to join you! Or ask someone close to you to ask you questions and cheer you on in this process.
- Don’t think of this as a diet. A diet has the connotation that it has a starting and stopping point. Think of this as a lifestyle change. It’s not about a quick fix to lose the weight, but rather about choosing the way of eating for your life that is manageable and easy to maintain.
There are many ways to eat healthy and pursue a healthy lifestyle, even with a shift work schedule. Don’t let your schedule be an excuse to be unhealthy. Let it motivate you to prepare and plan ahead to be successful at eating healthier.