Even though nurses are on their feet a lot moving from patient to patient, they can still struggle with maintaining a healthy weight.
Schedules consisting of long shifts, often at odd hours, can make eating healthy and exercising a challenge.
Here are some top weight loss tips busy nurses use to lose weight and keep it off.
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Weight Loss Tips for Nurses
Avoid Processed Foods and Fast Food
The life of a nurse is a busy one. You might feel too tired to cook after working a 12-hour shift and want to resort to something quick to fill you up. Quick foods are often full of added fat, sugar, and artificial flavors and colors (source).
- Nuts like almonds, pistachios, and cashews
- Carrot and celery sticks with hummus
- Other vegetables like bell pepper, cucumber, grape tomatoes, and broccoli served with ranch dip
- Greek yogurt with fruit and granola
- Cottage cheese
- Cheese sticks
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Protein shakes
2. You can also set aside a few hours each week to prepare healthy freezer meals that can be placed in the slow cooker before a shift and are ready-to-eat when you get home.
3. Meal prepping is another excellent way to stay on target with your weight loss goals. Set aside time at the beginning of the week to portion out healthy meal options into containers that can be grabbed on-the-go.
Always Eat Three Meals a Day
If you work the night shift, it can seem like a daunting task to get in three meals a day. Your body's schedule is thrown off entirely and you may not be hungry at times that seem “normal” to the rest of the world.
Even though you're working odd hours, it's still important to eat three meals a day.
They don't have to be breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but eating regularly helps maintain the blood sugars in the body so you're less likely to reach for unhealthy snacks because of hunger (source).
Night-shift nurses are 40% more likely to be overweight or obese than nurses that work during the daytime hours.
This is largely due to the fact that they're turning to fast meals that contain large amounts of added fat and sugars (source).
4. Sticking with a regular eating schedule can decrease the chances of a night-shift nurse gaining weight. A sample eating schedule should include:
- Meal 1- eat prior to your shift and have protein to give you energy and keep you full.
- Meal 2- can be broken up into three small snacks throughout your shift or eaten as one larger meal; it should include a mix of protein, fruits/vegetables, and healthy carbohydrates.
- Meal 3- after your shift, eat a meal high in healthy carbohydrates like whole grains to help you stay full while you sleep.
Stay Away from Fad Diets
Fad diets like keto, paleo, and Atkins may seem like a good choice for busy nurses, but it can be difficult to stay on track when you're always on the go. You're more likely to fall off the diet and may actually end up gaining weight (source).
5. A good alternative to a fad diet is downloading a fitness app that helps you track your activity level and calorie intake.
Losing weight and keeping it off involves making a lifestyle change, and the only way to do that is to stay consistent.
Fitness apps give you tips on what types of foods to eat and how to fit in exercise throughout the day.
Since you always have your phone handy, it's easy to follow making you more likely to be successful on your weight-loss journey.
6. One of the best fitness apps for busy nurses is MyFitnessPal. It tracks your calorie intake, provides tips on how to stay active, and gives you the ability to share your progress with family and friends so you stay motivated.
Fit in Fitness Where You Can
Finding time to work out maybe the biggest challenge for nurses that work odd hours. While others are at the gym first thing in the morning, you're probably just getting off work and preparing to fall asleep.
7. If you do choose to join a gym, find one that's open 24 hours or that offers long hours. This will allow you to go either prior to or after your shift, no matter what time that shift may start.
8. Working out doesn't have to take place in a gym. You can workout anywhere- even at work. Some simple exercises to do right at your desk include (source):
- Leg Lift- sitting in your chair with one leg bent and the other extended, slowly raise the extended leg and hold for 2 seconds. Lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side. Perform 15 repetitions on each side.
- Desk Pushup- stand up with both hands on the desk and walk backward until you are in a pushup position. Lower yourself down towards your desk and come back up. Repeat this move 15-20 times.
- Isometric Chair Crunch- sitting upright in your chair, tighten your abdominal muscles while you continue to breathe. Hold your abdominal muscles tight for 30 to 60 seconds and release. Repeat this move 10-15 times.
9. Take advantage of your work breaks to get outside and enjoy some fresh air. Taking a short walk is great exercise and also helps relax the mind so you're ready to tackle the rest of your shift.
If the weather outside isn't cooperating, you can walk the halls or do a few sets of stairs to get your heart pumping.
Drinking plenty of water is important for anyone, but for nurses who are working long shifts where they are very active, it's especially important. Dehydration can lead to a whole host of medical problems, one of which includes weight gain (source).
10. Drink at least eight 8-oz glasses of water each day. Cold water is best because it helps boost the metabolism and it also tastes better (source).
11. By replacing sugary drinks like soda and juice with water, you could save yourself thousands of calories each year. Drinking water is a simple way to lose weight that also saves you money because it's free.
12. Drinking water prior to a meal helps you feel fuller, faster, thus allowing you to consume fewer calories.
Adding a cut-up lemon to your water makes it taste better and the pectin in the lemon aids in weight loss because it reduces cravings for sugary foods.
13. As an added bonus, drinking enough water hydrates the skin, leading to a youthful glow that might be taken away once the long hours of working the night shift start catching up to you.
Be Consistent When You're Not Working
Now that we've established how to lose weight while you're working, let's talk about how to stay on track on your days off. It can be easy to fall for the idea that a “cheat day” is okay here and there.
While it's true that having a rich meal from time to time won't totally throw off your weight-loss journey, an entire day of indulging can pack on the pounds.
14. Allow yourself one “cheat meal” per week. This cheat meal can be whatever you want- a rich dessert, heavy breakfast, or carbohydrate-packed lunch or dinner. Whatever cheat meal you consume, stick to only one meal per week.
Falling into the pattern of allowing yourself an entire day to consume unhealthy foods could undo all the progress you've made on your journey to a healthier you.
15. Cheat days can lead to binge eating, especially for those who have suffered from an eating disorder in the past (source). Cheat meals are less likely to cause this effect if you're only indulging in one meal per week instead of an entire day of it.
It's also important to stay active on your days off. While you may have established a regular workout routine during the work week, it may be tougher to get to the gym on your days off when all you want to do is relax.
16. Make exercise fun on your days off. Instead of heading to the gym or popping in a workout DVD, get outside and do something adventurous. A few ideas include:
- Taking a hike
- Rock climbing
- Mountain bike riding
- Playing a sport like basketball, football, soccer, baseball, hockey, or tennis
Losing weight and staying fit is possible for busy nurses when they utilize the proper tools.
Consistency and dedication are key for anyone currently on a weight loss journey.
As a nurse, you know the importance of staying healthy, so try these tips to keep yourself motivated and on track.