Shift Work Diet:

If you’ve ever been on a diet before, then I’m sure the words Fat Free, Sugar Free, Weight Watchers or even the Juicing Diet may be familiar to you?

Either way – the options are endless!

Given many shift workers endure ongoing weight fluctuations as a result of a disruption to our appetite regulating hormones ‘leptin’ and ‘ghrelin’, the temptation to sign up for yet “another diet” can almost be too much to resist, particularly if diet number 14 didn’t work!

So is there another one to add to the list?

One which is perfect for those working 24/7, and appropriately called ‘The Shift Worker Diet?’

Well as a Nutritionist, I have to say first and foremost I’m not a fan of diets in any way shape or form.

My dislike for the term “diet” or any type of label stems largely because of its association with feelings of restriction, deprivation and exclusion of certain types of foods, when we really need to redirecting our focus towards including more things into our diet, rather than excluding them.

Most diets want us to remove some type of macronutrient, whether that’s protein, fat or carbohydrate, but our body needs all three. The term “macro” actually means we need to eat a lot of it, but it needs to incorporate a nice balance of all three (together with micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals), in order to maintain optimal health.

Your body is also instinctively designed to ferociously defend weight loss (think survival of the race here), so if you’re not nurturing it with wholesome, nourishing foods you run the risk of becoming deficient in certain nutrients, and your body will hang on to whatever reserves you have.

So let’s forget about the whole weight-loss thing for a minute, and instead focus on nourishing and supporting three key areas of your body which are particularly vulnerable to circadian rhythm dysregulation as a result of working 24/7:

  1. Gastrointestinal system – shift workers are prone to gastrointestinal complaints such as peptic ulcers and leaky gut due to irregular eating habits and circadian misalignment. Foods which provide minimal burden on the digestive system include soups, smoothies, juices, broths and slow-cooked casseroles.
  2. Immune system – sleep deprivation reduces important immunity cells called T-cells, whilst increasing inflammatory cells in our body called cytokines. Protein is an excellent immune boosting nutrient as its needed for our cells to grow and repair. Foods high in protein include eggs, almonds, chicken breast, oats, cottage cheese, Greek yoghurt, lean beef, quinoa and lentils. Low iron status can contribute to anemia and a weakend immune system so foods high in iron such as meat, poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, seeds and cruciferous vegetables can be really beneficial; as are probiotic rich foods such as sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, kimchi and kombucha; citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, capsicums, guavas, broccoli, berries, and papaya; ginger and garlic.
  3. Nervous system – shift workers are in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’, otherwise known as sympathetic nervous system dominance making them much more vulnerable to stress and burnout. Foods to calm and support a frazzled nervous system include asparagus, avocados, berries, cashews, chocolate (yay!), garlic and oatmeal.

So let’s forget about all of the fad diets out there. No matter how amazing they may seem, at the end of the day, they’re just another diet.

Instead, lets focus on supporting your gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems with nourishing, whole foods which is what your sleep deprived body needs the most!

Big shift working hugs,

Audra x


Gunnars, K 2017, ’20 Delicious high-protein foods to eat’, Authority Nutrition.

Bollinger T, Bollinger A, Oster, H, Solbach, W 2009, ‘Sleep, Immunity and Circadian Clocks: A Mechanistic Model’, Gerontology, vol. 56, no. 6, pp. 574-80.

Petre, A 2017, ‘Foods that can boost your immune system’, Authority Nutrition.


  1. Keri

    I like the “weekend immune system” ?It’s true – sometimes it just wants the weekend off!

    • Audra Starkey

      oops! That’s too funny Keri – love it! Shall rectify the incorrect spelling pronto … but then again it’s kind of catchy isn’t it?!


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