From Night shift Nurse To WBFF Pro & Fitness Model
I wasn’t sure where to start, so I just made a move: I signed up for a fitness competition where I would be “forced” to adhere to a strict workout regimen and diet given that I would be stepping on stage in a bikini in front of hundreds of people in just 14 weeks. So I got a regular gym membership 2 miles from my house, a fitness coach and started my journey. My coach told me I was going to have to eat my meals every 2-3hours a day (5-6 meals a day). I learned pretty quickly the only way to eat my prescribed meals daily, was if I had “meal prepped” prior (cooking large batches of chicken/fish, sweet potatoes, veggies, quinoa, couscous, etc) and packaging them in Tupperware, storing them in the fridge with date labels, and packing them with me for work. Since I worked 3 12-hour night shifts, I decided to divide my day up strategically, on how to get all 5 or 6 of these meals eaten. I usually set my alarm for 3-4pm (if I had worked night shift prior), Ate meal 1, went to the gym, weight trained for 1.5 hours, came home, showered, changed, ate meal 2, packed meals 3-5 with me, and headed off to work the night shift. Most nurses are allotted two “15 minute” breaks, one “lunch” or 30 minute break; but we all know how little of that time we actually get to ourselves. I decided to give myself several options: Since all of my meals were packed, all I had to do was heat one up and eat it, which never took more than 15 minutes. I didn’t always eat exactly 3 hours apart, but the main goal was to get the meals in, so I made time to eat my meals while charting, one meal on my lunch break, eat another while charting later, or on my “15 minute” break.
Because it was crucial to achieving my body composition goals (increased lean muscle mass and decreased body fat) and I noticed how the small frequent meals started to give me so much energy, so I stuck religiously to this schedule. Mind you, I was doing all of this while working as a “float” RN. I had to carry my 3 meals across the hospital to various units, and learn each unit’s dynamic or break “policy” but I made sure to get my meals in when convenient, and my work was done at the same time. I did not want the excuse “I was too busy” to prevent me from reaching my own personal health goals.
I noticed my co-workers who also worked night shift, many of them didn’t eat at all, or if they did, maybe one small or large meal at night. I totally understand this, as the body’s natural circadian rhythm is not chemically inducing eating during nighttime. However, the body is also incredibly good at adapting for survival and will adapt to alternative healthy choices. Small frequent meals (especially with the proper percentages of fats to carbs to proteins) can significantly help reduce insulin spikes, sugar highs and lows, and lead to a more energetic feeling. Another poor decision I noticed was how my coworkers only survived off of coffee. They seemed to thrive off the caffeine to get through the 3am hours and the long shift in general. Caffeine stimulates the adrenal glands to release adrenaline to spike the nervous system into overdrive. Too much caffeine too often overstimulates the adrenal glands, the heart and other chemicals in the body. This can lead to adrenal fatigue where you don’t even “feel” your coffee anymore. In fact, you drink it hoping for an effect, when your metabolism is starting to slow down. Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, green tea, and the effect when needed, but I also know it is not the only way to generate an energetic feeling, and I don’t want to feel addicted or in need of it to survive especially if it could damage my metabolism.
I started to notice how the nursing environment led to several struggles along the way. As I was trying to stick to my healthy meal prep, the nurse’s break room became my enemy. Every day, donuts, pastries, leftovers, cookies, take-out and cake were found in the break room. Very rarely did I cave to the cravings or pressure to eat the sweets, but when I did, I felt guilty, ashamed, and it restarted my addiction for sugar/sweets. While on my meal prep, my cravings for sugar went down significantly, anytime you break the cycle and eat sweets; you reset your body’s cravings to eat more sugar.
I remember several times I was tempted to eat the pastries left in the break room. I avoided it all night, and for some reason seeing it, made me want it. The temptations grew stronger seeing everyone else ordering food to the unit, or indulging in the sweets, and I occasionally caved to the pressure. The guilt was overwhelming. Several times, I found myself forcing myself to throw up the sweets, feeling guilty for succumbing to the pressure. As long as I didn’t see or have access to the “bad food,” I was doing so well with my meals, my weight loss, and my diet. As soon as someone brought in bad food, which was EVERYDAY, I felt obsessed with wanting to eat it. I had NEVER before binged or purged, but the long hours circling around these treats caused me to either angrily avoid it, or cave to the craving, and feel the need to purge. After about 3 or 4 times of this unhealthy pattern I had only developed at work, I knew I had to stop this cycle. The shame and guilt began to eat at me, so I devised a plan to keep me on track. I started bringing in my own healthy snacks (like quest bars and protein chips) so that every time I saw others eating cheat foods, I could safely indulge in my own healthy sweets.
Another struggle I noticed, was how some of my coworkers would mock me or make fun of me. I almost always ate the same thing everyday: chicken/fish, veggies, and sweet potatoes. Sometimes I varied the carbs but everyone saw me eat three meals a day that consisted of about the same ingredients. I got mocked for how bad my broccoli or fish made the break room smell. I got asked why do I always eat the same meal everyday. I was asked why am I still doing this when I have already lost enough weight. Coworkers would oftentimes tempt me to indulge in their tasty meals. I know their intentions were kind, but it was hard when I just wanted to stay on track with my healthy progress and not take steps backward.