This is the first post in a series from Bailey Ryan of wholekitchensink.com. Bailey is a Whole30’er who changed her life and experienced tons of non-scale victories (and lost more than 120 pounds!), all while working 12-hour, overnight nursing shifts. In this series, she’ll share her story and the strategies that helped her succeed with Whole30 and develop her food freedom.

Believe it or not, I was thrilled to take a 12 hour overnight shift position. I imagined myself using my daytime hours to go to school; I thought that working while everyone slept would help me be more productive.

Four years ago when I first started working night shifts at the hospital, I was unhealthy, overweight, and had no experience cooking. My emotional eating habits ran deep and I frequented the drive-thru often. The hospital had no shortage of late-night delivery menus overflowing from their designated drawer at the nurse’s station, and co-workers were always up for putting in a 1 a.m. order. Those grand ideas I had of using my time off for accomplishing anything quickly dissipated. I fell deeper into unhealthy eating patterns and continued to gain weight.

I heard about the Whole30 program two years into working nights. I threw myself headfirst into the program and soon saw my energy increase, my sleep issues resolve, and night shifts get easier. Two years later, after multiple Whole30s and sticking to my Food Freedom plan in between, I have a strong routine for healthy eating on the nightshift, and I’ve lost 120 pounds. However, it didn’t come without trial-and-error, evaluating, re-evaluating, and making changes where I needed to.

Working overnight shifts is tough, no matter what industry you’re in. Going against your body’s desire to sleep at night and be awake during the day doesn’t create an ideal situation. But then again, waiting for an ideal situation isn’t a reality for anyone, nightshift or not.

Getting Out of the Rut

I shifted my focus from using my job as an easy out. Instead, I worked on habits to prepare me for whatever my work schedule threw at me. I quit saying, “I’m so tired! I’ve been awake for 19 hours!” or, “Working overnights is so hard! I’m going to go to the vending machine to get a Diet Coke and a snack.” I got smarter about meal prepping so that those excuses became unusable. I stopped using my lack of energy to justify my poor habits and started to find ways to make healthy choices despite my schedule, not unhealthy choices because of it.

If you pay attention to your mindset while you’re at work, you may realize that you have little excuses that ultimately add up to sustained unhealthy decisions. Pay close attention during your shift and identify where you find yourself wanting to use the J-O-B excuse to join your co-workers for the 2 a.m “Super Bowl party” potluck or sneak off to the vending machine. Then, identify a few mindsets that will counter any justification you could try to make to yourself.

Here are a few mindsets that have been helpful for me:

  • Reminding myself that it’s only 30 days, I’m committed and strong, and that I’ve had decades of eating pizza, cake, or my favorite hoagie from that sketchy deli that delivers all hours. I can go a few days without it and it will always be there.
  • “Am I about to eat this because I truly want it… or because it’s here, I’m bored, I’m stressed, I’m tired, it’s free, or because everyone else is?”
  • “What did I bring with me that I can have instead? Would that make me feel more in control and benefit my health more than Jessica’s birthday cupcakes will?”

Prepping for a Whole New Lifestyle

Once I removed the excuses, I had to over-prepare while I adjusted to my new lifestyle. I needed to be prepared for the expected and the unexpected. Here are just a few challenges I experienced:

  • Having a meal that was prepped four days ago suddenly looking disgusting at 2 a.m.
  • Staying late to chart.
  • Having a busy assignment and having no more than 10 minutes to stand and eat.

At first, any one of these could have derailed my Whole30. My solution? To bring a few meals and a few snacks for a 12-hour overnight shift. That way, I have options. If 7 hours into a stressful shift I’m just not feelin’ that roasted chicken breast with veggies and my coworkers are ordering pizza, I’m not tempted to join them. Because, I can have the delicious BBQ pulled pork and pineapple coleslaw that I brought as a back-up meal.

Having options will help you to resist temptation in the wee hours of the night. It will also help you steer clear of food boredom and continue to rock your Whole30. Not to mention, your coworkers, like mine, will all be asking what you’re doing and what the HECK smells so good in the break room.

I also bring some foods that are easy and quick to eat without having to heat up. I usually have an avocado and carrots, broccoli or cucumber slices. The avocado is easily mashed for dipping. If I don’t have an avocado, I’ll throw a bottle of Whole30 Approved or compliant salad dressing into my bag. I also have a few different kinds of Whole30 Approved bars handy on night shifts.

Find what works for you. Try different things and be more prepared than you think you’ll need to be. Pack tuna packets or chicken salads, compliant deli turkey with a handful of veggies and other easily accessible foods. Having this kind of a snack with you will come in incredibly useful for a multitude of situations, from needing a crunchy snack if you’re hungry but can’t eat a full meal to having to stay late to finish up after a busy night.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Bailey’s 3-part Whole30 Night Shift series.


Bailey spent the last 2 years changing her relationship with food and herself. She lost 120 pounds while working 12 hour overnight shifts in a Minneapolis hospital and is now living a “whole” new life. She shares it all on her Instagram, @paleobailey and writes about healthy living, easy yet delicious recipes, Whole30 and the ups and downs as she navigates finding overall wellness on her blog  wholekitchensink.com

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