Working overnights and pulling long night shifts is no easy feat. Trying to do a Whole30 at the same time can add another layer of difficulty to this new way of eating, but it’s not impossible! I perfected my night shift routine while working 12 hours in the hospital, and with these tips, you’ll find working overnights and healthy eating to be much more do-able, and even enjoyable!
No matter what industry you’re in, night shifts are hard. You’re going against your body’s natural rhythm, and not only is your job probably adding stress to your day, but the unnatural sleeping schedule is too. For years I only made that stress on my body worse by eating junk all through the night, not having a healthy overnight shift routine, and using my job as an excuse. It only made the long hours even harder on me. Starting a Whole30 working overnights seemed like something I’d need extreme willpower to do while working 12 hour overnight shifts in a hospital which often became 14 or 16 hour days. Turns out, my shifts actually got easier once I got into the groove!
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My mindset at first was that my night shifts were the problem, not me. My behavior was because of the hours I was working and I used that excuse quite a bit to justify why I couldn’t do a Whole30, why I needed to have all the treats in the break room or why I couldn’t make better choices. I realized that I needed to take back the power and decide that I’m the one that gets to be in control.
I started to change how I thought about eating, myself and my work schedule by reminding myself it’s just 30 days and I’ve had countless break room potluck meals at 2am, I can go without for a few days. I would ask myself why I’m wanting these foods. Do I want them because I’m bored, getting sleepy or because everyone else is having a cupcake? What did I bring instead that would make me feel better after eating it?
What to Pack
One thing that was crucial to my Whole30 success on the night shift was brining food that worked for the job I was doing every single shift. That meant that I was bringing my meals, but I was also bringing things that I didn’t need to sit down to eat, things I didn’t need to go to the break room to microwave, and things that didn’t need utensils. Understanding the nature of your work and how, especially in a hospital, every night is different and things can change in an instant is important.
My usual mini-haul I brought to work included carrot sticks, sliced cucumbers or sliced radishes and guacamole so I could easily dip and eat without much effort. I would bring almond butter and apple slices. Meat sticks and compliant bars were always in my bag for real emergencies too. At the start of my 3 shifts in a row, I always had a ZÜPA NOMA soup to put in the fridge. I knew at some point in my stretch of days, I was going to be busy and not going to have time to sit down long enough to eat when I was hungry.
ZÜPA NOMA soups are portable, Whole30 Approved Certified Organic soups made from whole veggies and nothing else. Because they use the whole vegetable, they’re high in fiber – meaning you stay full longer. Which is ideal for when I’m not sure when I’m going to have a break to eat. These are just the perfect Whole30 on the go mini-meal for my hospital shifts that I could have with me, not just in the break room. A few of their products are Whole30 collaborations, and even contain collagen protein! That added protein plus the veggies is a huge perk for busy days!
I feel my best when I’m fueling my body with an abundance of veggies, and ZÜPA NOMA is a way I can make sure I’m doing that when working long overnights back to back. Our schedules obviously get all wonky when we’re only home for 10 hours during the day and then back to work. That time for me was better spent sleeping, and drinking my ZÜPA NOMA at work helped me know for sure that I was getting in the veggies I needed to for my Whole30.
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I also made sure I was eating on a schedule that made sense when I could. I reframed my meal times so that when I woke up, even if it was at 4:30 pm, that was my breakfast. This helped me set the “day” (aka night) in the right mindset for when to eat. One of the biggest mistakes I saw my coworkers make was only bringing one meal to eat and eating it in the middle of their shift. I did this too for a really long time when I first started my Whole30 journey until I was getting cranky, hungry, and realizing this just wasn’t enough food.
Think about it this way – a person who works day shifts or 8-hour shifts is typically eating a meal every 4-5 hours. Breakfast before work say at 8 am, lunch at work at 12:30, and dinner when they get home at 5:30 pm. When we go to work at 7 pm and only bring one meal, we’re eating “breakfast” at 5 pm, lunch at 2:30 am and then many of us skip the next meal or eat it at 8 am before going to bed. That’s almost EIGHT hours between meals, assuming we’re not filling up on snacks from the break room. But maybe we are always so tempted by break room treats because we’re just not eating enough!
I started bringing two meals to work, plus my ZÜPA NOMA mini meals, sliced veggies and guac and my snacks. My coworkers thought I was weird at first for eating at 10 pm when that was so early into the shift, but really, it wasn’t early at all. It was 5 hours after I had eaten my last meal! Then I would have another meal around 3am and then go home and go to bed. Almost immediately after starting this new eating schedule I felt immensely better. I had SO much energy all through the night, and each shift I felt like I could run circles around my coworkers who were half asleep and complaining about how tired they were while they were drinking their Mountain Dew from the vending machine.
I had to use my 15-minute breaks to get in one of the meals, and of course, even those are unpredictable in the hospital setting, so that’s why I learned early on that it’s key to have things I can have without having to be off the unit, like the ZÜPA NOMA soups which are super filling, the guac which is also filling and high protein options. That way, if I wasn’t able to get to one of the meals, I know I still can stick to that schedule! When I didn’t eat one of the meals, I would just keep it in the fridge and have it the next night instead of carrying it back and forth.
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Now, speaking of meals, let’s talk about meal prepping! Meal prepping is KEY for Whole30 when you’re working long hours with little wiggle room in between shifts. I would eat “normally” the day I went back to a nightshift schedule. Meaning, I ate breakfast like a normal person, lunch and then something around 5pm. Then, I would start in with the schedule listed above.
The day before I went back to work for my stretch of shifts, or even the day I went back, I would make sure all of my “ducks” were in a row and I had everything I needed so there was as little thinking or work to do as possible during my stretch of shifts. When you’re tired, both physically and mentally, it’s much easier to just dive head first into a box of your kid’s goldfish after a 12 hour shift. By meal prepping as much as I could, I made it so that I didn’t have a reason to not eat what I’d already spent time making.
One of the biggest tips I have for Whole30 meal prepping for overnights is to prep for one more day beyond your stretch of work days (nights). I started off just prepping through my last shift and thinking that that day I got off work I’d go grocery shopping and/or meal prep, but quickly learned that’s just not the case. There’s no hangover quite like the “I just worked 40 hours all through the night in 3 days”. Waking up from that, for me, meant that I was drained and when my fridge was bare bones I ended up saying “screw it” and opting for delivery, some weird thing in the freezer, or basically any other option I could find in the pantry that was quick.
I found that it wasn’t the actual overnights where I was most likely to “ruin” my Whole30 round, but it was the day after. By meal prepping for that day too, I at least had something I could microwave as I recovered and relaxed before having to be on the move again to rush out to the grocery store to cook and do dishes.. which was basically the last thing I wanted to do, especially after emotional or exhausting work weeks. This is another time where having ready-made ZÜPA NOMA comes in handy because I don’t have to make any real decisions when I’m exhausted and want to stick to my Whole30.
It took me a while to experiment and adjust how much food I needed to meal prep, and ultimately found the right amount for me and my needs. It usually looked like prepping things to make easy breakfasts before work, and 2-3 recipes that made at least 4 servings, having my veggies, fruit that didn’t need to be prepped like apples, grapes or bananas, my ZÜPA, and my meat sticks.
Sleep and Healthy Movement
Sleep needs to be a priority even when you’re not working overnights and doing a Whole30, so of course, it makes it that much more important when you are! I used to have a hard time falling asleep when I got off work when my mind was racing through everything from my shift, the sun was pouring into my windows and I would keep looking at the clock calculating how many hours until I needed to get up and do it again. Trust me when I say this, eating Whole30 actually helped me sleep better between shifts because I wasn’t pumping my body full of sugar, soda and junk all night anymore.
I got myself some blackout curtains, started sleeping with my phone across the room and naturally through the Whole30 had cut down on my caffeine intake. Those things, coupled with the fact that I was eating to fuel my body and not taking in tons of added sugar through the food I was eating on my overnights, helped me to get much more quality sleep. It’s one of the benefits people who don’t work overnights cite from their rounds of Whole30, and I’m here to tell you the same is true for us nocturnal folks!
Healthy movement on overnights is another thing that took some experimenting to find what I best enjoyed and worked for my work schedule. You shouldn’t ever do exercise you hate, and doing it on limited time can change what you’re capable of getting accomplished. For me, I tried many things like working out before work, after work, going to the gym or doing it at home until I found what worked best.
My post on how to exercise and work overnights goes into step-by-step of how I found that routine!
Overall, working overnights and doing a Whole30 IS possible for you and you totally can do it! It takes a bit of tweaking to make it work best for you and your work routine, and your coworkers might poke fun at you for eating a meat stick and a drinkable soup at 3:30 am. But soon they’ll be asking what you’re doing because you always have so much energy, and you look and feel great! I was able to give so much more to my patients, my coworkers and my family at home once I started taking care of myself first, and the Whole30 is a really great way to do that when your schedule is crazy! It’s 100% worth the effort it takes to create that new routine but it quickly becomes the new norm.
If you have questions on working the nightshift and doing Whole30, please let me know!