Is Your Waist Circumference Sabotaging Your Immune System?

This week I’m talking about something called Central Adiposity, or the more fancy term being “Belly Fat”.

Why is this important?  

Well, just like high blood pressure, obesity has an inflammatory component which means it can interfere with the immune response and vice versa.

In a review published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2012), researchers stated:

Obesity, like other states of malnutrition, is known to impair the immune function, altering leukocyte counts as well as cell-mediated immune responses. In addition, evidence has arisen that an altered immune function contributes to the pathogenesis of obesity. 

When we’re carrying extra weight, especially around the middle, it shifts our biology out of balance because fat cells release pro-inflammatory proteins called cytokines.

In other words, fat cells are a living breathing thing. They’re not stagnant that just sit there and do nothing!

They’re actually endocrine cells because of their ability to secrete hormones and influence cells in other parts of the body, that in many cases, can lead to further weight gain.

Sorry, not exactly the rosiest of scenarios but it’s important that I tell it as it is!


HSW 93 – Weight Loss Study for Shift Workers with Professor Maxine Bonham

Are you struggling to lose weight whilst working 24/7?  If so, this episode is for you!

Today I’m talking with Associate Professor Maxine Bonham who is a registered nutritionist and research academic at Monash University in the Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food here in Australia.  Maxine is currently involved in research examining some of the adverse health effects associated with sleep debt, poor dietary habits and misalignment of circadian rhythms in shift workers.  All super relevant for anyone working 24/7.

Maxine and I discuss how alternating our mealtime or food intake can conflict with our natural body clock or circadian rhythms, and how this can negatively impact on our health including our weight, along with her latest research – a world-first study trialling weight-loss interventions for those working night shift.

Links mentioned on the podcast:

The Swift Study open to night shift workers based in Melbourne or Adelaide –

Shifting the Risk – A study investigating meal timing and heart health in shift workers –

Weight Loss: Why It’s Not All About The Food That You Eat.

As we close the door on yet another year (seriously how fast did 2017 go!), and head into a brand spanking new one, it’s only fitting that we become inundated with a never-ending plethora of “diets” that promise to help shed those unwanted kilo’s once and for all in 2018!

But weight loss is not all about the food that we eat – particularly if you work 24/7.

If you’re like most people, you probably won’t even make it past the 8th of January before dropping the ball, and throwing in the towel on yet another diet that didn’t work for you.

Bang!  There goes that New Year’s Resolution “I’m gonna lose the weight this year!”

So why is this?

Well first and foremost, I want to re-iterate that it’s not your fault.

This is because so many diets out there focus entirely on the food that we eat, without taking into consideration anything else that may be going on, which just sets people up for failure before they’ve even begun.

Weight loss (or more importantly, having a healthy body) is not all about counting calories, running yourself ragged on the treadmill and following a restrictive diet after being told you “can’t eat this” and “can’t have that”.

I mean let’s face it – restricting ourselves from certain foods is no fun at all!

In fact, it can actually drive us a little crazy because we become so focussed on what we can and cannot have, that it only elevates our stress and cortisol levels even more, which can contribute to our weight gain.

On the other hand, prioritising your sleep even when working 24/7 can have a huge influence on your weight loss.

This is because lack of sleep leads to:

  • Poor food choices and decision making – when we’re sleep deprived, we tend to crave the naughty stuff, the sweets and greasy chips because sleep deprivation impairs the frontal lobe region of the brain which oversees complex decision making, whilst at the same time, increasing activity in the deeper region of the brain called the amygdala, which is involved in reward seeking behaviour.
  • A disruption in our appetite regulating hormones – leptin and ghrelin.  Sleep deprivation is essentially a type of hormone disruptor as it disrupts our finely tuned endocrine or hormonal system, which in turn, can cause havoc on our waistlines.   When working correctly, leptin sends signals to the brain telling us when we’re full, whilst ghrelin let’s us know when we’re feeling hungry.  The trouble for shift workers (and anyone else who may be struggling with insomnia), is these hormones don’t function as they should when we’re running on limited sleep.
  • A greater likelihood of eating bigger portion sizes – due to the disruption of these hunger hormones we’re more likely to overeat, and overeat on all of the bad stuff!  This was illustrated in a study of over 1000 sleep-deprived subjects where disruption to appetite hormones equated to an increase in food consumption equivalent to 350-500 k/cal per day, most notably in the form of snacks made from carbohydrates.

So instead of feeling extra paranoid about what you’re eating in 2018, and boarding the weight loss/weight gain roller coaster ride all over again, why not step outside the box a little and give the following a go:

  1. Make it your absolutely NUMBER 1 priority in 2018 to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep.  Whilst quantity can be a little more challenging, particularly if you’ve been blessed with some not-so-friendly rosters, quality is something that each and every one of us can work on improving.  Fundamentally, getting good quality sleep is going to help regulate your appetite and control body weight through healthy food selection, as opposed to rash impulsivity that occurs whenever our sleep tanks are running close to empty.
  2. Include more real, whole foods into your diet.  Upping the intake of your veggies is going to have a profound impact on your gut health, weight AND sleep, as important neurotransmitters necessary to instigate sleep (such as serotonin and melatonin) are found in the gut.
  3. Become a self-care Ninja!  Working shift work is tough, really tough, and so many of us put the care of others before ourselves, even when we’re functioning on depleted batteries thanks to ongoing sleep disruption.  2018 needs to be the year you finally PUT YOURSELF FIRST, because when you do, you will find that you will become so much happier in yourself, and will be in a way better position to take care of others anyway.  This may mean allocating a time (every day) for yourself when you do absolutely n.o.t.h.i.n.g.  Yep!  Whether that’s sitting outside under your favourite tree with a good book, going for a swim or taking a yoga class, your overall health (including your waistline) is going to be much more open to recalibrating itself when you’re feeling way less stressed.

So why not do things differently this year, and NOT go on another diet.

Not only will your workmates be extremely jealous as you proudly share your New Year’s Resolution to “not go on another diet”, just knowing that you’re not locked into some kind of restrictive eating pattern for the next few weeks, months etc. is going to lift an enormous weight off your shoulders and set you up for a much healthy and happier shift working existence in 2018.

Audra x



Broussard, J, Kulkus, J, Delebecque, F, Abraham, V, Day, A, Whitmore, H & Tasali, E 2016, ‘Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction’, Obesity, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 132-138.

Fung, J 2016, The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss, Scribe Publications, Brunswick.

Greer, S, Goldstein, A & Walker, M 2013, ‘The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain’, Nature Communications, vol. 4, no. 2259, pp. 1-19.

Harvard School of Public Health 2017, ‘Carbohydrates and Blood Sugar’.

School of Medicine and Public Health 2013, ‘How the tired brain directs junk-food binges’, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

HSW 39 – Weight Gain, Food Timing and Chrononutrition.

Healthy Shift Worker Podcast Episode:

This week I chat about my all time favourite topic – Food Timing, or the more fancier, scientific way to describe it is Chrononutrition.

Chrononutrition involves the study of how nutrition impacts on our metabolism, via our internal body clock, which includes meal regularity (or in the case of a shift worker, meal irregularity), frequency and clock time.

Eating out of sync to our body’s natural circadian clock is very common in those who work 24/7 (thanks to some pretty crazy rosters), however this can disrupt our metabolism leading to weight gain as our body is not geared up for night-time energy and nutrient consumption.

Over time, it can also contribute to gut disturbances and various chronic diseases such as peptic ulcer disease and type 2 diabetes, both of which are quite prevalent in the shift working population.

So tune in to hear my biggest tip in helping to overcome weight gain whilst working 24/7, and why as weird as it sounds, we need to be thinking of ourselves as walking clocks … because as human beings, that’s exactly what we are – finely tuned walking clocks.

Audra x


Resources mentioned on the podcast:

The Obesity Code, by Dr Jason Fung available through Amazon

To book a Healthy Shift Worker Consultation with Audra Click Here.

Weight Loss and Shift Work:

Why It's So Hard To Achieve When Working 24/7.

doctor is showing clock and fruit to patient to change eating habits know

As we say goodbye to another year and welcome in the arrival of a new one, the words “New Years Resolution” and “Weight Loss” seem to go hand in hand with one another … each and every year.

But why is it that so many people struggle to lose weight when working 24/7?

Is it because we have little motivation to get up and exercise?  Or perhaps it’s because we lack the energy to cook our own meals and become reliant on quick and easy processed foods, takeaways and anything else that is loaded with sugar?  Or maybe it’s because we’re awake for much longer which leads to us eating more?

All of these are certainly valid possibilities given sleep deprivation forms such a huge part of a shift worker’s existence.

But what if there was another reason?

What if there was something else going on inside our body that has nothing to do with willpower, but everything to do with sleep deprivation throwing our ‘hunger hormones’ out of balance?

Because this is exactly what every shift worker knowingly (or un-knowningly) has to face when working 24/7.

Sleep deprivation is essentially a type of endocrine or hormone disruptor which if we’re not careful, can cause havoc on our waistlines.  Whilst there’s a lot of emphasis in the media about environmental toxins such as bisphenol A or BPA, along with phthalates found in plastic containers being hormone disruptors (and rightly so given they can cause havoc on our oestrogen levels), little attention is given to how sleep deprivation can also alter our finely tuned endocrine system.

Two of the hormones which become impacted as a result of lack of sleep include leptin and ghrelin which play a huge role in appetite-regulation.  When working correctly, leptin sends signals to the brain telling us when we’re full, whilst ghrelin let’s us know when we’re feeling hungry.

The trouble for shift workers (and anyone else who may be struggling with insomnia), is these hormones don’t function as they should when we’re running on limited sleep which can lead to overeating and subsequent weight gain.

This was illustrated in a study of over 1000 sleep-deprived subjects where disruption to appetite hormones equated to an increase in food consumption equivalent to 350-500 k/cal per day, most notably in the form of snacks made from carbohydrates.

In other words, we’re more likely to consume calorie-dense foods like cake, pasta, bread, potatoes and pizza when we’re running on little sleep, making it somewhat challenging for anyone who is trying to lose weight.

But I want you to know that it doesn’t mean you’re destined to become overweight, just because you work 24/7.  If this was so, then every single person who works shift work would be overweight which is not the case.

Sure, it definitely makes it harder knowing that your body is “playing tricks” on you by sending skewed appetite signals, but you can avoid becoming another weight-gain-statistic by simply implementing the following strategies:

  1. Understand that your hunger hormones will occasionally send you “skewed appetite signals” – in other words, telling you that you’re hungry when in fact, you’ve had sufficient amount of food to eat.  More often then not, you’re probably dehydrated so always reach for a glass of water first before tucking into some food.  If after drinking a full glass of water you’re still hungry then, and only then, have something small to eat.
  2. Watch the timing of your food intake.  Our digestive system is essentially “sleeping” between midnight and 6am, meaning the pancreas secretes less insulin and gastric emptying slows right down so food intake should be kept to an absolute minimum during this time frame.
  3. Constipation is one of the leading causes of weight gain, so make sure you include plenty of high-fibre foods in your diet such as fresh fruit and vegetables, beans, legumes, nuts, grains and seeds.  Fibre, along with adequate water intake helps to ensure toxins and waste products are removed from the body thereby preventing inflammation which is a major contributor to chronic disease – one of which includes obesity.
  4. Increase your intake of high-protein foods as they help to keep you feeling fuller for longer.  For example, grass-fed beef, organic free range eggs, cottage cheese, wild fish and organic chicken can help to prevent overeating and may even help you lose weight.
  5. Increase your intake of healthy fats as they take longer to digest, thereby leaving you feeling fuller for longer.  For example avocado, full-fat yoghurt, nuts and seeds such as chia, coconut oil and salmon.
  6. And last but not least – always, always, always have healthy snacks on hand when on shift so that you don’t succumb to the magnetic spell of the vending machine which as we know, can often be our nemesis when working 24/7!

So here’s to fighting the shift work bulge the healthy way in 2017 by nourishing our body instead of depriving it, and being one step ahead of our hunger hormones so we don’t fall victim to their skewed signalling!

Happy New Years everyone!

Audra x



Broussard, J, Kulkus, J, Delebecque, F, Abraham, V, Day, A, Whitmore, H & Tasali, E 2016, ‘Elevated ghrelin predicts food intake during experimental sleep restriction’, Obesity, vol. 24, no. 1, pp. 132-138.

Cagampang, F & Bruce, K 2012, ‘The role of the circadian clock system in nutrition and metabolism’, British Journal of Nutrition, vol. 108, pp. 381-392.

Laposky, A,  Bass, J, Kohsaka, A & Turek, F 2008, ‘Sleep and circadian rhythms: key components in the regulation of energy metabolism’, FEBS Letters, vol. 582, no. 1, pp. 142–151.

Ulhôa, M, Marqueze, E, Burgos, L & Moreno, C 2015, ‘Shift work and endocrine disorders’, International Journal of Endocrinology, vol. 2015, pp. 1-11.