How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?


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Working 12-hour night shifts doesn’t leave much time for healthy meal planning or hitting the gym. So how are you expected to lose weight while working these long, tiring hours? 

Losing weight when working 12-hour shifts starts with having a positive attitude, expecting more from yourself and limiting labeling yourself as big or fat. Then it’s about developing a solid sleep routine, making time to prepare nutritious meals and snacks, whilst exercising regularly.

Losing weight and working 12-hour night shifts may seem like an impossible, monstrous task but it’s do-able if you’re aware of the traps and have a positive mindset. We want you to be happy with the person you see in the mirror, so let’s explore how to get there. 

Making Weight Loss While Working 12-Hour Shifts Really Happen

The first thing I wanted to say was this doesn’t have to be a “diet.”

The word diet for some people already tells you – this is going to be hard and you potentially start to doubt yourself before it’s even started.

If you do need to personally say “I am on a diet” to remain focused and to take yourself seriously, then go for it. But if it is making you feel anxious, don’t call it that. 

Think of it as a process where you are trying to establish new rituals for yourself to create a healthier you. This post will show you just how to do that.

I want to kick things off with a little inspiration…

I recently listened to an interesting podcast/video with Tony Robbins that you should check out here. It was all about progression, achieving your goals and how to reach the next level in your life. 

Yeah, pretty heavy stuff at 7.00am while at the gym, but it was a good distraction. 

Here is what I took from it:

To achieve our goals, which in this case is weight loss, we must expect more from ourselves.

We must personally set high standards which we honor, despite the hour and how tired we are.

This really hit home for me.

Do you need the 4 am snack from the vending machine or would a hot peppermint tea do the trick? Despite nobody watching, you are watching (along with your waistline) and that’s the most important factor here. 

Man with hands on his head | How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?

Surround Yourself With Positive People Who Support Your Weight Loss Goals

Take a second to think about the most important people in your life?

Do they eat well and enjoy exercising?

If not, I suggest not to forget about these people all together, but to also find a community or environment which inspire you. These other people will be healthy, fit and motivated or at least working towards these goals.

You can find these people through online forums, Facebook groups, locally in your area or even in the gym.

These people will be the ones you call on for support when you’re looking to exercise after a night shift and you can’t find the motivation. 

women flexing arms with child watching
Save these weight loss tips for after your shift

Focus on Changing Just a Few Things Until You Find Momentum

If you currently eat poorly, sleep horribly and often skip an exercise workout… you can’t change everything at once (if you want it to last anyway, in my experience).

Work on one bite-size piece at a time until the whole puzzle starts to come together. This will make losing weight less daunting and more achievable. 

Think about working towards one thing for a week (or two weeks), then add something new.

If You Define Yourself as “Overweight”, “Fat,” “Big-Boned” Etc…That’s Who You Will Always Be

When did you define who you are? It’s an interesting thought. 

When we first started developing this website to help shift workers, I said to my husband Dan, “I am not a writer, I’m a nurse…”

Even though it took me some time to write some pretty awful posts, I eventually learned the basic skills to write a structured article and construct an email into something I am proud of.

And you can do it too, but it all starts with how you think about yourself.

Insider Tip

If you believe you can be happy and healthy, you can. But it starts with you and what you believe about yourself.

Focus on What You Can Eat and Not What You Can’t

Most “diets” are all about restrictions… “Oh no! You can’t eat that!”

We will dive more into food later on, but just remember as you go through this post and beyond, think about the foods you can eat plenty of and not the ones you should put back or restrict yourself from enjoying.

strong women ready to exercise lose weight 12 hour shifts | How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?
So, how are you going to start defining yourself?

What Time to Eat When Working 12-Hour Night Shifts to Lose Weight

Okay, now we have the lingo and motivational tips down pat, let’s get into why it matters WHEN we eat.

What we eat accounts for about 80% and exercise accounts for the other 20% according to Women’s Health.

So, what we are putting into our mouths is pretty important, especially when working the night shift AND trying to lose weight, despite how hard you workout…

But why are nights more important?

This is a simple maths equation even I can do, and I’m hopeless at math. 

“Too many calories taken in versus not enough expended on any given day, regardless of the time, will lead to weight gain. “(2)

…if you eat crappy foods and too much of it without expending calories, this will be stored as fat and you will never reach your goals.

There is also a lot of talk that your digestion system slows overnight, as your body is normally sleeping at this time. This can disrupt our metabolism and the speed at which our foods are digested. (source).

This is why we often feel horribly bloated and nauseated overnight.

We are very passionate about food timing and wrote an entire post about it here which we really encourage you to check out.

We also recently found a book titled, “Too Tired To Cook” which is written by a seasoned shift worker and trained clinical nutritionist, Audry Starky all about this topic. It’s a fascinating read and I believe a must for all shift workers. Click on this link to see more and where to buy on Amazon.

Too tired to Cook | Night Shift Essentials
Get yours on Amazon here (ad)

Action: Losing Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts

Working out when and what to eat is key (+ a bit of exercise) which is exactly what we will cover in the next few sections. 

So firstly, giving yourself some structure of when you’re going to eat and not approaching each night shift with a random, blase attitude is a great starting point. 

If you skip this step, before too long you’ll be standing in front of the vending machine looking for your next sugar hit.

Below I have four different approaches to eating when working 12-hour night shifts. Some work for me and some didn’t…

Just remember…

Find an eating schedule which best suits you, your goals and your environment. Nobody is the same, so be patient as you figure our what is right for you.

12-Hour Night Shift Eating Options:

Option 1: (Fasting)

We could just not eat, which I know sounds crazy, but it’s actually a strategy some people have adopted to successfully lose weight on night shift.

It’s called “intermittent fasting” and though it can take a few nights to get your head around, it’s do-able if you’re committed.

For the ladies interested in this method though, we need to be careful because our hormones can go a little bonkers.

We are really interested in this topic and wrote an entire post about it which you can check out here.

Option 2: (x2 Meals + Snacks)

The second option is to eat your “main” meal before you go to work then eat your second meal 4-5 hours later (or when it suits you and your workplace). Then “top up” with a snack when feeling hungry.

This was the method I personally used when working 12-hour nights and it worked really well for not only myself but also my marriage as we could share a meal together before the shift.

That was until I really understood how my digestive system functioned overnight and started seeking answers as to why I was so bloated all the time.

In short (because we go over it in a lot of detail here), when the sun has gone down our digestive system “goes to sleep” or at least rests. Therefore, overloading it with a big second meal during the night can lead to negative health implications such as the ones we talk about here – Is Night Shift Bad for You? 11 Truths Uncovered.

This is why I prefer option three…

Option 3: (Main + Snacks)

The third option is to again have the “main” or largest meal of the day before you leave (or early into your shift when the sun is shining) then just have snacks throughout the shift. 

Some people openly prefer this method because they dislike having a heavy meal sitting in their stomach at 2 am which we don’t recommend anyway.

I like this method because you are able to have a heavy-ish meal before you leave for a shift, or early into your night shift, to give you the energy kick you need for the entire shift.

You won’t feel anywhere near as bloated or fatigued either.

Then if, and only if, you get hungry you can top up with filling snacks we suggest here.

Success tip:
Drinking a TON of iced water throughout the shift instead of focusing on eating is an incredibly simple and cheap energy booster.

Option 4: (Main only)

Lastly, this option was adopted by husband Dan when he worked 12+ hour night shifts. 

He didn’t like to eat a big meal before he left the house as it made him feel “sluggish”, which wasn’t a great start to his shift.

Instead, throughout the night he usually ate his “main meal” at around 1 am with very little, if any snacks then enjoyed breakfast when he got home.

Though this option can work, be VERY careful. Your “main meal” should be something easily digestible like a smoothie or SuperGreen TONIK green juice and not a pizza, steak or hamburger. Remember your digestive system is having a time-out and can’t process too much heavy food quickly.

Keto Diet and Night Shift

Eating these meals as part of the keto diet can also work well here too.

This is an entire post we wrote about the keto diet specifically for night shift workers. It’s full of helpful tips specifically for people like us battling weight loss and working 3rd shift. 

Hand holding cone with avocado on pink background

Once you have decided when you are going to eat we need to look at WHAT you’re going to eat… so let’s explore that now.

Food containers | How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?
A diet doesn’t mean you have to miss out on the good stuff

What to Eat When Working 12-Hour Night Shifts to Lose Weight

For me, the key to eating healthy nutritious food while working 12-hour night shifts is choosing items which will keep me full and taste okay. 

I say “okay” because I don’t LOVE them to the point I want to eat the whole bag, but it tastes nice enough to want to graze when I’m hungry.

The other thing I mentioned was keeping me full.

This is important. If I feel full I am less likely to want to keep eating, even if I am bored.

There are two posts I want to tell you about here, the first is being bored on night shift, even without the internet, which you can check out here.

The second is 6 breakfast meal ideas which you could really enjoy at whatever time, but will keep you full!

Here are a few foods that will keep you full to prevent unnecessary, overnight snacking leading to weight gain.

  • Hummus and veggie sticks (carrots, celery, snow peas, peppers)
  • Avocado and tuna on whole-grain crackers
  • Any slow-cooked meal packed with veggies and protein (Crowd Cow is a great website to buy high quality, tasty meat directly from local farmers and is certainly worth exploring)
  • Banana on toast with honey
  • String cheese with a piece of fresh fruit
  • Ham and reduced-fat cheese (or cottage cheese) sandwich on whole-grain bread. Add some avocado and tomato relish to excite the taste buds.
  • Oatmeal with heated frozen berries and chopped up almonds. Adding some chia seeds and yogurt here can also help keep you feeling full.
  • Yogurt, banana, reduced-fat milk and a few oats blended into a smoothie (obviously pre-blended if you don’t have a blender)

We also wrote a post about the 15 best foods for weight loss on night shift which you can check out here or by clicking on the image below.

Chia pudding | How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?
Chia puddings are a great, healthy night shift snack

These recipe books on Amazon also offer some incredible, deliciously healthy snacks and night shift meal ideas. All three are worth a browse.

Exercise, Weight Loss and Working 12-Hour Night Shifts

Now to the other 20% of the equation. Exercise.

I wish I clicked my fingers and said “yep, the workout is over…”

But unfortunately, staying fit when working 12-hour nights takes a little more planning and discipline than that. 

The way I see exercise and 12 hour night shifts is this.

1. Work – Exercise – Sleep:

Exercise after you finish a night shift – Check out this post here for inspiration.

Two women stretching gym equipment bands

2. Work – Sleep – Exercise: 

Come home after a shift, have breakfast and sleep for the recommended 7-9 hours. Then in the mid to late afternoon, make an effort to exercise before your next shift.

This post will help you overcome some common exercise excuses you will probably feel. I use a personal training app called 28 by Sam Wood.

For a low cost, you are spoilt with value. You get daily, delicious meal plans and a full-length 28-minute fitness video you can do anywhere. Plus, access to the most incredible, supportive online community. Find out more here and how to join. You won’t regret it.

3. Exercise During Your Shift:

A quick office circuit can not only help your waistline but boost your productivity and motivation.

This is obviously not suitable for every workplace but it could be exactly what you need to burn a few extra calories. Push-ups at the bathroom vanity, lunges around the office and wall sits can also work great. 

Click here to explore a post we published about improving the health and fitness of those working a desk job on night shift.

4. Work – Work – Day Off – Exercise:

Depending on how many nights you are working in a row, you don’t do any formal exercise and leave this until your day off. 

I know how mentally and physically hard it can be to workout while working night shift. It’s tough.

But it is possible to exercise if you firstly set realistic, achievable goals and secondly, make it a priority. 

If going for a run when you wake up in the afternoon sounds impressive but not really ever achievable… commit to something else.

Yoga, a brisk walk, swimming, bike riding, stair climbing or even jumping rope can all work with your schedule. You just have to make time for it. Remember, set yourself a high standard and don’t cut corners.

If jumping rope does sound like something you could get into, this rope by P2 Sports and FitnessOpens in a new tab. is our favorite type of rope. It’s effective, has comfy handles and is just darn good in my opinion.

[VIDEO] – Best Time To Exercise When Working Night Shift

Insider Tip

Weight training or jumping rope are unbelievably effective workouts if you are short of time but want bang for your buck

Why You May Not Be Losing Weight as a 12-Hour Night Shift Worker

We wanted to quickly point out some common traps for weight gain when working 12-hour night shifts. 

When “dieting” in the past I always thought it was refreshing when somebody pointed out something I could be doing better to reach my goals quicker.

So that’s what I am hoping this section achieves…

Boredom leads to eating as a form of entertainment.

Is this you? Find a hobby or read this post we wrote about being bored at work on the graveyard shift.

Reheating the leftover pizza, digging into a bowl of pasta or finishing off a bag of chips will not help you lose weight but will probably help pass, less than a few minutes…

It’s just not worth it.

Skipping exercise because you are too tired.

Sound familiar? I’ve been there too!

Committing to a class and pre-paying for it is a great, almost backward motivation, but it works a treat! 

You also could buy a dog (yes, it’s possible to manage and work 12-hour shifts, see by clicking on the link) to motivate you to exercise through daily walks or simply find and commit to something you enjoy which makes you feel good and accomplished afterward. 

Relying on the vending machine too often.

Start using the crockpot to cook bulk meals to never leave yourself unprepared.

This post will help you prepare for a night shift if you feel a little stuck. 

This research article spoke about the importance of meal prepping to avoid weight gain when work fatigue took over, often leading to unhealthy meal choices.

This just highlights the importance of designating a few hours or even a full day, if you have the time, to prepare your meals and snacks for the upcoming shifts. Don’t just wing it if you want to lose the weight.

Eating too much despite the meal being healthy.

This is my biggest downfall when trying to lose weight.

Weight loss trick

If you eat too much, simply try using a smaller bowl or container if transporting your meals to work. If the food is not in there, you have nothing else to eat!

Becoming dehydrated.

Dehydration prevents our organs from performing their job properly which includes getting rid of waste and burning fat.

Make a point to never forget your drink bottle at work and put it in a spot you can see it.

We use our Beast Tumbler as it’s great for both hot and cold beverages. See our full, video review here.

I wanted to also touch on energy drinks. These guys may give you an energy hit but most are packed with SO much sugar you may as well eat a chocolate bar.

Stick to Kombucha (which is also good for your gut), tea and even just water. Coffee is not your friend after midnight if you want to sleep later on.

If reading Kombucha got you excited (as it did me) you’ll love this Kombucha Organic Starter KitOpens in a new tab.. It’s incredibly popular with some unbelievable reviews. Check it out on Amazon here.Opens in a new tab.

Related post: What Should I Drink on Night Shift? 10 Energy Boosting Beverages

Being caught eating too many hidden sugars often found in our food.

Always check the label before it hits your basket. Even the foods you thought were healthy like yogurt and muesli. The packaging can be SUPER sneaky, as fat-free doesn’t mean sugar-free…

 Missing out on precious sleep.

Poor sleep has been linked to weight gain. Here are a few posts that you will enjoy:

Being stressed causes our hormones, particularly the public enemy cortisol, to work overtime leading to weight gain and even obesity.

This article has great tips about reducing stress as a shift worker to help you reach your goals on the scales.

Weight Loss Tip

While you’re waiting for the kettle to boil, microwave to finish or stove to heat up, do a few squats, push-ups, lunges or wall sits. Any exercise is good exercise.
Man on Computer | Activating night shift mode actually leads to better sleep

Extras for 12-Hour Shift Workers

Here are a few more posts you will find interesting and motivating to help you reach your weight loss goals:

Recommended Weight Loss Programs/Services

While we recommend treating yourself like a plant… yes with water, healthy, nutritious food, sunlight and even connection to other plants (people) we know some of you struggle with your weight, particularly when you get the munchies at 3am!

Here are a few programs/products I recommend checking out. (#ad)

Summary: How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?

Losing weight while working 12-hour shifts may seem almost impossible, BUT it’s achievable by committing to one thing at a time.

What you eat, when you eat, how you exercise and your quality of sleep are all factors which come into play when trying to lose weight.

But don’t get overwhelmed. You’ve got this.

Cheers,

Emma signature | theothershift.com

Disclosure: This page may contain affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you. Please read our disclosure and privacy statement for more info.

Bowl of fruit and oats
Glass jar of oats and muesli

Emma @ The Other Shift

Hey there! I'm Emma Smith a passionate, Registered Nurse from Australia. Together with my husband Daniel, we run The Other Shift. Our sole aim is to help shift workers and those on unusual schedules find balance between work and life. I understand the challenges of fitting in exercise, maintaining relationships and getting enough quality sleep, but I'm excited to show you that it’s possible to do shift work and still thrive. Read more about us and our story here.

4 thoughts on “How Can I Lose Weight Working 12-Hour Night Shifts?

  1. wondered where the weight was coming from lol. now made a plan using your really helpful advice thanks guys 🙂

    1. We wish you all the best with your goals Chris…. Those few extra kilos happen to the best of us at times. Just keep striving for what you want!

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