Medical Edge Recruitment provided this article.
Written by: Christine Purviance, BSN, RN, Director of Clinical Services at Medical Edge Recruitment
It is no secret that working night shift can cause weight gain. We have all been there—it is 02:00 in the morning, and you have hit the wall where you struggle to keep your eyes open. You find yourself ordering delivery from the nearest fast-food restaurant, or you are at the vending machine getting a candy bar. You might grab a soda for a sugar rush or sneak an ice cream from the nutrition room. Next thing you know, it is a few months later, and your scrubs start to feel tight. You are screaming on the inside while reflecting back on all the poor eating choices you made over the past weeks, thinking to yourself that if you were on days, you wouldn’t have made those choices. You know that you are in a contract and start to feel like you will never get out of this cycle.
As a former travel nurse, I promise you that most of us have been there. After a year on nightshift in the ICU, I found myself needing larger scrubs and constantly craving sugary snacks to keep me awake. I consumed a ridiculous amount of candy, leading to recurrent binges every night that I worked. I finally committed to creating better habits for myself, losing the night shift fifteen, and improving my energy levels. These habits are for anyone who may be struggling on nightshift and wants to make healthier choices, drop a few pounds, and prevent weight gain! It may not be easy, but it will be worth it!
How To Avoid Weight Gain While Traveling On Night Shift
Exercising regularly can be challenging while working travel assignments and working night shift. Finding ways to move your body that you enjoy is crucial to staying committed. There are many ways to exercise while on assignment, including:
- Yoga and Pilates
- Fitness classes (F45 and Orange Theory)
No matter who you are, there is a type of exercise for anyone and everyone. If you are worried that you do not have time to exercise on the nights that you work, invest an hour of time on your off days to get moving! Once you start exercising regularly, you may find that exercise before your night shift will increase your energy levels like it did mine!
Finding places to exercise while on a travel assignment is challenging, especially if you are not near a big city. If you do not have access to your preferred means of exercise, or if your hotel does not have a fitness center, increasing movement can be done from the comfort of wherever you are staying. Grab yourself a pair of dumbbells and find a YouTube workout you enjoy! There are dozens, if not hundreds, of apps and videos you can access for free to increase your activity level at your temporary home! A little bit goes a long way, and your body will thank you later!
Eating a balanced diet as a night shifter is hard enough, but when you add in travel, it is a whole different ballgame. Fortunately, there are many ways to eat healthy-ish while on the road! Whether it be meal prep delivery services or bringing your own meals to work, there is always a way to improve our habits! Meal prep companies are great if you do not mind spending up to $10 a meal. For this former travel nurse, I prefer to make my own healthy recipes that are convenient, wallet-friendly, and easy to make with minimal equipment.
Selecting pre-cooked protein for lunches and dinner is not as hard as most of us may think. Rotisserie chicken, turkey sausage, frozen fajita beef, and lunch meat are some of my favorites! Make it a meal by microwaving frozen veggies, frozen rice, or even making a baked potato in the microwave (it is super easy—just google it)! For even simpler meals, make wraps or sandwiches for your shift with your favorite lunchmeat and toppings!
Are your shifts so absolutely nuts that even sitting down for a sandwich is unlikely? Try packing fast, easy snacks that will keep you full and can be consumed while you are walking to the med room or even hiding in the supply room! A few of my favorite snacks for busy shifts are:
- Oatmeal bars or dried fruit bars
- Protein shakes
- Peanut butter packs
- Hardboiled eggs
- String cheese
Remember, the way we feel internally is strongly related to the foods we consume. Fueling your body with healthy foods is key to feeling your best.
Don’t Drink Your Calories.
One of the easiest ways to drop a few pounds is to avoid drinking your calories! Did you know that drinking a 20-ounce Coke daily can result in a 2-pound per month weight gain? A Grande Caramel Frappuccino from Starbucks has almost 350 calories, even more than a soda! Although we may not realize it, these sugary drinks we have for energy on nightshifts contribute to unwanted weight gain! Being mindful and selecting low-calorie, or calorie-free, swaps can help you prevent unwanted weight gain, avoid a sugar crash, and even shed a few pounds! My favorite swaps for high-calorie drinks are:
- Flavored water (sparkling, Mio, Crystal Light)
- Coffee with sugar-free coffee creamer
- Stevia, instead of sugar
- A splash of a protein shake instead of cream and sugar in coffee (Premier Protein is my favorite)
- Light Body armor or Gatorade Zero
- Iced tea with stevia
Have you ever noticed that when we are running on little sleep before a night shift, our cravings for carbs, candy, and sugar exponentially increases? It feels like our bodies are running on E, and we need a pick-me-up to improve our energy levels. We grab a candy bar or soda, and that sugar high perks us up for an hour, but then we feel even worse. The cycle continues; before we know it, we have consumed a very unhealthy amount of sugar.
It is no secret that sleep is essential, and the amount we need varies by person. However, the choices we make are significantly be impacted on the amount of sleep that we get! Improving your sleep schedule can result in better habits. If you are a new night shifter, finding a routine that works for you can be a process when you are training your body to sleep during the day. Blackout curtains, white noise, an eye mask, and melatonin are a few ways that work for most of us!
Find What Works for You
We are all so unique, from the foods we enjoy to the hours of sleep we need. These tips are what worked for me, and hope that they work for you! Finding balance in your life while you are traveling will be a learning process. Just because you are working away from home and working nightshift does not mean that your health must suffer. Remember, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Taking care of yourself means you are better equipped to care for others!
We hope you found this article on ways to avoid weight gain while working night shift as a travel nurse. Do you have any tips to help fellow travel nurses avoid weight gain while working night shift? Comment below any tips you have to avoid weight gain.
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