Odd Hours... Odd Habits?

For those who work the nine to five grind everyday, there may be no difficulty in finding food options. They may be both appealing and healthy. Also, meal times are more standard. But if you are one of the more than 15 million Americans who work evening, night, or rotating shifts, you may run into problems. Food habits may develop that are hard to break.

What dietary problems does this group face and how can they be solved? For those who work evening or night shifts, time to eat may be limited. Working a relief or rotating shift means the shift can be different every single day making it difficult to establish regular meal times. These situations can promote frequent snacking before, during and after a work shift resulting in excess food consumption.

Frequent food choices of those working evening, night and rotating shifts are pizza, fast food value combos, or vending machine snacks. More healthful eating takes some planning but is not difficult to achieve.

For example, small snacks needing no refrigeration may be packed at home and brought to work. Try low sodium crackers with peanut butter, unsalted pretzels, a piece of whole fruit, or trail mix. If you have access to a refrigerator, consider snacking on low fat yogurts and cheeses with low sodium turkey, or celery sticks dipped in peanut butter. Utilizing break time to take a breather, a walk, or a small revitalizing snack can help a strong push into the home stretch.

In order to curb the need for a full meal at work, false logic will lead some to consume a large meal before work. Depending on the meal, this can cause low energy on the job. To avoid this, workers should start consuming smaller portions of balanced foods more frequently throughout the day. A balanced meal with a three ounce portion of lean protein, two cups of vegetables, and a starch portion (size dependent upon your choice) can give the energy needed to keep up performance. This will stave off hunger pangs and help to avoid binge snacking later in the shift. Avoiding fried foods and refined sugars at meals can also keep energy levels high and steady throughout the shift.

If your work does not allow for you to keep food with you but instead leaves you only with a beverage, keep in mind that proper hydration can be key. Sometimes, night shift workers pour on the caffeine to keep the engine running. Caffeine stays in the system for five to seven hours, giving you some real bang for your buck. However, it can also disturb sleep, creating tiredness and next day stress. Too much caffeine can be dehydrating leading to headaches, irritability, and irregular digestion. Avoid sugary drinks, which can add extra calories to the diet. Replace these beverages with water. This will keep hydration the best possible.

Lastly, the body's clock is what should be ringing the dinner bell. The body is well equipped to signal the need for food as well as the timing of meals. If the day regularly starts with an afternoon wake up call, then plan accordingly. Meals should be consumed at approximately the same schedule daily to give the system structure. These plans may require additional time but it will make the work hours much more enjoyable as well as healthful.


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