I am fortunate to have a consistent schedule at work every week. This for me has allowed me to be on a strict schedule with my food and workouts because I know it's the same every week. There are a few shift workers who I know who are going through this health journey with me. Their schedule changes every week so I don't see them as much as others in the Biggest Winners group, but they are still a huge part of it. Shawna and Laura graciously offered to answer some questions for me and give me some insight about how they have been coping on this journey and adjusting their life to meet their weight loss goals.
About 20-25% of the North American population works in jobs that require shift work. These include health care and support staff of hospitals, protective services (e.g. police, fire), transportation industry (e.g. truckers, airlines), hospitality services, and industrial work. Shifts tend to be between 8 and 12 hours long (though some do 24+ hrs), and may rotate between day, evening and night shifts depending on one's job. While some people prefer shift work to the regular M-F/9-5 schedule because of the variety and flexibility it can afford, the health risks shift work presents are multiple and well documented. These include cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal problems, circadian rhythm disynchronization, chronic fatigue disorder,and insomnia. Of interest to people seeking weight loss, shift work (notably night shift work) disrupts cortisol levels, insulin and leptin (the hormone that controls appetite). Weight gain and obesity is common among shift workers as a result of sleep, hormonal and appetite changes, and planning and scheduling challenges. It is disruptive to family and social life, and can make participation in clubs, sports and other organized activities difficult. Notwithstanding these challenges, with determination, planning and creativity weight loss and a high level of fitness is absolutely possible for the shift worker.
What is your job and schedule look like over the course of a month? hours of work etc.
I'm a Registered Nurse and I work in a casual position (this means I generally get called a few days to hours before an available shift). Over the summer many of my shifts are booked weeks in advance because I'm covering other nurses' holidays but generally they are last minute. Because I'm new and have little seniority, I work almost entirely night shifts because that is what is available. Personally my schedule is all over the map (July: 1 night, 4 off; 2 nights; 1 off; 3 nights; 3 off; 4 nights, 1 off, 3 nights, 3 off) but many shift workers have set schedules that tend to be more like "2 days/2 nights/5 off" if they are doing 12 hour shifts.
As I start I set of shifts, I try to have a normal, active day (usually involves food preparation and storage like freezing it) until about 2pm, then I wind down and try to sleep for 2 or 3 hours. I usually go to a 5pm exercise class and then bike to the hospital (11km from my home). I shower there, have a light dinner and am ready for work at 7:15 pm. When I'm done at 7:30 am I force myself to cycle home because I find it helps me put the shift behind me and I sleep better in the day for having had the exercise. I try to sleep until 3 or 4pm when I repeat it all to go back to work.
I usually work 4 12hr shifts consisting of 2 12hr day shifts from 0700-1900 and then 2 12hr night shifts from 1900-0700. Then it is mostly 4 days off sometimes 5 or 6 days off in a row. This rotation is equal to the average person working Mon thru Friday 8hr shifts.
What prompted you to want to get healthy?
My most recent (and significant) weight gain happened during nursing school. As I transitioned to working as a full-time nurse I was shocked at how low my energy was even on my days off. All I wanted to do was sleep. Part of the impetus for getting healthier was to increase my energy so I could enjoy both my job and free time more. Being overweight and out of shape was hard on my self-concept, my relationship, and just generally didn't feel like me. I'd been dealing with issues of significant weight gain and weight loss throughout my whole life really and something just came over me that said, "It's time to move on". It's exciting to be getting closer to putting it behind me.
I have struggled with my weight my whole adult life. Almost 5 months ago my marriage ended and I now had the time and energy to spend towards myself. While my husband didn't mind the extra weight he wasnt overly helpful in my quest to be healthier. As a thin person he didnt understand my struggle. I struggle with excersise as it is something I don't overly enjoy yet several months ago I saw the advertisement for BDHQ Biggest Winners and thought this may be the way for me. Before the end of my marriage I struggled with spending money on myself even tho I was the major bread winner of my family. Once my marriage ended I knew I could put me first so I once again saw the advertisement and took the plunge. Food has always been another struggle for me cause I LOVE IT! I needed a more healthy and realistic approach to food that would be easy for me to follow.
Since starting your weight loss journey how have you changed your behavior to enable yourself to be successful?
I integrate exercise into daily life as much as possible. I don't own a car so I walk or cycle nearly everywhere (it helps to live in a temperate climate). I used to take the bus all the time but now I realize that I can bike most places far more quickly than taking the bus. And I plan food in advance unlike I used to. I plan to freeze meals and I write out grocery lists as I find recipes I like. I don't allow myself to just pick something up at work -- the cafeteria and vending machine are out of bounds for me now which is a huge change from before.
My behavior towards me has changed. I now put me first! Biggest Winners has given me the tools and now it is up to me to incorporate them into my life. Surprisingly it has not been as difficult as I had imagined. I think this is because they make sense.
When you are working overnight shifts do you change how you eat in any way?
I struggle with how to eat best for my body and for my weight loss overnight. I aim for frequent, small meals but in reality I eat when I am given a break to eat which comes at sporadic hours. I crave fruit so I always bring a huge container of fruit salad from home and try to get my protein in with it by eating almonds and greek yogurt. Bringing homemade bean spreads or hummus also tend to appeal and I eat those with rice cakes or raw veggies. I try to keep things light and simple because I know I can easily overeat on night shift.
When I am working I find sticking to the 5 to 6 meals a day easier then when I am at home. Working night shifts I make sure I plan ahead and prepare my meals. I have found I now have healthy food staples in my fridge at all times. This includes 0% Fat Greek Yogurt, 1% Fat Cottage Cheese, fruit, and avocado. The following is a typical meal plan for my 12hr night shift. Supper before I go to work is usually a lean protein of chicken, fish, beef, pork, lamb or bison with a heaping portion of veggies such as asparagus or a salad. My next meal 3hrs later is usually a small tortilla wrap with dijon mustard, sometimes cheese, a lean lunch meat such at turkey breast and a bunch of spinach. My next meal 3hrs later is usually 180g of 1% cottage cheese with 1/2 an avocado. My next meal 3hrs later is usually 1 slice of whole grain bread toasted and 1-2 hard boiled eggs. My next meal 3hrs later is usually 175g of Greek Yogurt with fruit (pear, apple or 1c frozen blueberries).
What key piece of advice would you give to other shift workers who are trying to lead healthier lives but are struggling with incorporating it into their schedule?
Bring your cookbooks to work to read on your break and make your shopping list from them. Bring several different types of food to work because at night you may crave (or not be able to tolerate) different foods than you'd expected when you put things together two days before. It's ok to bring a bunch of that food home again - you'll just bring it the next day or give it away at home or on shift. Bring treats -- I don't mean clean "cheat" foods though. I mean honest, clean, eating-for-weight-loss foods that are treats for you because you really love them. Treats for me are homemade burger patties done on the BBQ, high protein spreads (egg, tuna, bean, lentil) for my rice cakes or veggies, and fresh fruits like the perfect peach or a mango. And get your exercise anyway even though you have no motivation. Just get it over with. On the way home or on the way to work - there has got to be 30 minutes on one side or both that you can squeeze a good sweat into. And finally, every time a well-meaning patient, client or colleague brings in a huge plate of fudge or cinnamon buns to brighten your long, dark and exhausting 12 hour night, tell yourself out loud how damaging those things are. Working night shifts wreaks enough havoc on my body and well-being that I don't need harmful "food" to hurt me more. Drink your water and walk away.
It is a struggle to keep healthy while working shift work. Putting yourself first and making you a priority is key. I find that meal planning is the best thing to do. I always have the food I need in my fridge and so then there is no excuse to not eat healthy. Eating 5 - 6 meals a day has made a huge difference. I am never hungry; in fact my body tells me to feed it every 3 hrs. Fitting in exercise is also a struggle but if it is made a priority then it becomes less of a struggle. I have never enjoyed exercising yet I also realized many years ago that I don't like to do it alone. BDHQ Biggest Winners has given me a way to exercise with others and in a manner that is conducive to weight-loss and over the long run a way to incorporate it into my life long-term. I love to exercise now. I love how my energy level has increased. I love how much stronger I feel and how my body keeps changing. Every workout is different so the boredom factor is not there. Along with leading a more healthy life I have become happier. I am not as tired or as grumpy.
Thank you Shawna and Laura for sharing with me and everyone else some great insight and advice. I think we can all relate to those plates of fudge or cookies in the work place, regardless of if you are working shift work or not. I see it every day in my office and it is a constant mind game to walk away. Well said Laura, "Drink your water and walk away". I am so impressed with both of your dedication to not only Biggest Winners but also your own health and well being. You have both made such amazing transformations and are getting stronger every day. I'm sure you inspire your co-workers with your shrinking selves.