Shift work, involves working hours outside the standard 9 to 5 hours. It can include evenings, weekends or rotating shifts and is mostly found in professions such as care work, nursing, transport drivers and social care assistants. In the UK, it is estimated that there are over 3 million shift workers.
Working at ‘odd’ hours which have a disruptive nature, can act as a barrier to healthy eating, making it harder for many people to ensure that they maintain a healthy lifestyle (e.g. obtain enough sleep) and consume a balanced diet.
Lifestyle behaviours such as diet, exercise, alcohol consumption and smoking have been found to be associated with increased risks of developing ‘non-infectious’ diseases when they are not appropriately monitored. This includes type 2 diabetes, weight gain, obesity and high cholesterol levels; all of which can be negatively influenced by shift work.
Our internal ‘body clock’ is a system, which helps to regulate several bodily functions such as sleeping, waking, body temperature, blood pressure and digestion. As a result, shift workers often find that they experience a change of appetite, trouble sleeping, weight gain or loss and digestion problems such as constipation, diarrhoea, gas and heartburn.
If you one of the 1 in 9 shift workers, healthy eating can pose as a challenge, which over time can leave you a sufferer to the negative side effects of a unbalanced body clock.
7 Tips for Healthy Eating & Shift Workers
Here are some practical tips to help you overcome the barriers to a healthy lifestyle and balanced diet while working:
Try to eat your main meal before you work – this will avoid you having to eat a large meal twice, once at work and another when you return
Pack healthy snacks e.g. a peanut butter sandwich – bringing healthy snacks will make it easier to eat well on your shift. Avoid sugary snacks as after a short burst of energy, will leave you feeling sluggish and tired. Snacks with higher amounts of protein are better to avoid this.
Bring your own food to work – not only are you more likely to eat well when you prepare your own food, but you are also able to save money in the long run by avoiding take-out counters and vending machines.
Cut down on caffeinated products – although they can help you to stay alert, too much caffeine can disrupt your sleep and upset your stomach. To avoid this, switch to decaffeinated drinks or herbal teas.
Stay hydrated – not only does water increase your hydration but it also helps you to stay awake. While working, keep a bottle of water close by.
Avoid spicy foods – try to stay away from foods that are spicy and high in fat in order to prevent digestion problems. You can use other herbs to add flavour to food that is milder for your stomach such as garlic and basil.
Prepare food at home before work – after a long day at work, you are more likely to reach for unhealthy foods when tired. To avoid this, prepare meals in advance for easy access when you are too tired or do not have time to cook after work. For example, you can freeze cooked meals so that they are easier to prepare.
Consuming a more mindful and balanced diet will help to reduce the negative effects of the disruptive work schedule on your overall health. A balanced diet can increase your energy levels, mood, and can help you sleep better. It can also protect you from developing a range of ‘non-infectious’, dietary diseases such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease and certain cancers.