Let’s talk about the timing of the foods we eat. I’ve touched on this in previous blogs, but the WHEN we eat is very important for shift workers. I’m a big fan of intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is the mindful practice of eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full, but when you’re working a night shift you can’t trust your hunger hormones (see my previous blog for why).
When it comes to time management of your meals, start with an assessment of your eating window. What time is your first calorie dense meal or drink of the day? And when is the last of the day? If your morning coffee on full cream is at 6am, and your last is a beer at 8:30pm then that means your eating window is 14.5 hours in a 24 hour period. Time restricted eating is changing the eating window to a shorter period of time, by doing this we can limit our total calorie intake, support digestion and lay a foundation for our internal body clock. Time restricted eating can be eating within a period of 6-12 hours depending on your schedule, shifts, and lifestyle.
Sounds like fasting to you? Well yeah, time restricted eating is managing a daily fast. Fasting dietary protocols come in a variety of methods, this is just one of them. I’ll happily talk your ear off about fasting methods another time, for now I’ll give you a night shift example of time restricted eating. Say you’re doing a 12 hour night shift from 7pm – 7am, your normal eating window is 5:30pm – 8am which is 14.5 hours, and your normal sleep time is 9am – 4pm 8 hours. Dropping your eating window to 12 hours will show benefits for your digestive system but we’re going to go a step further and drop it to 10 hours. Aim to eat your main meal before your shift at 5:30pm. This should be a large meal, high in protein. Pack a regular sized meal and wholefood snacks for during your shift. Your last meal of the night should be a regular sized meal which you finish before 3:30am. After that time stick to water or herbal teas without milk. By finishing your last meal at 3:30am that gives you a window 5.5 hours before you go to sleep where your body has already begun to start resting and digesting.
Some flexibility around time restricted eating also needs to be addressed. Just because your eating window is 5:30pm – 3:30am one day doesn’t mean it can also be 4pm – 2am or 7pm – 5am on another. If your eating window is 12 hours 5 days a week, and then 8 hours the other 2 days that is still a controlled method of time restricted eating. For people on a rotating roster shorter eating windows can be used therapeutically on pyjama days. Choose an eating window that aligns with your “daytime”, that is when you are feeling the most alert and awake, this will help you to remain compliant.
Time restricted eating isn’t easy at first, it can take some time to get used to. Restricting our eating windows is a mental challenge as much as it is a physical challenge. If you’re not consuming enough food to sustain your hunger try focusing on portions of quality fat and proteins and avoiding simple carbohydrates like pastry, white rice and pasta. One of my favourite appetite suppressants is a Yerba mate herbal tea. Yerba mate or green tea are great options for outside your eating, but if you’re trying to avoid caffeine, try mint or chamomile tea.
Oh I didn’t even tell you the long term health benefits of time restricted eating. Although there is ongoing research in the dietary and fasting field, time restricted eating is producing beneficial research in cardiovascular health. Current research shows it can help reduce blood pressure, reduce body weight & fat mass, and improve blood sugar control. These are significant risk factors for shift workers. It definitely can’t hurt to give this eating method a try. For nutritional consultation regarding time restricted eating give me a call.