2 of the Best Diet Plans for Nurses with a Hectic Schedule


By Adela Ellis, RN, BSN

In theory, dieting seems like an easy concept: After all, it’s simply a process of eating less and exercising more to achieve a calorie deficit that allows us to reduce body fat, right? Anyone who has dieted, however, will tell you just how challenging it is to stick to that seemingly simple plan and, for nurses, adhering to a diet on a hectic schedule can seem nearly impossible.

For nurses, finding the time for regular meals on alternating night and day shifts can be a hassle. With 12-hour shifts, you get busy, end up exhausted, and eat whatever is available whenever you have the chance. This can be a reality that is seemingly impossible to overcome. But it doesn’t have to be! When many of us think of dieting, we think of harsh, impossible to follow restrictions that are doomed to fail, leading to yo-yo dieting and repeated unsuccessful attempts.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to make radical changes to begin losing weight: You simply need to stick to a series of small ones. A healthy diet plan can teach you to reconsider how you eat, not only what you eat. The following diet plans can help nurses develop a new lifestyle while boosting metabolism, energy, and weight loss for overall well-being and a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Plant-Based Diet

There are many plant-based diets to choose from, and all emphasize consuming foods that are known for their heart-health benefits, including veggies, whole grains, fruits, legumes, nuts, and oils. Based on the consumption of foods that are found in Italy and Greece, such as fish and seafood, extra virgin olive oil and olives, vegetables, fruits, seeds, and nuts, the Mediterranean Diet is renowned as heart-healthy and waistline-friendly lifestyle, and is another healthy choice, though not entirely plant-based. It is one of several types of flexitarian diets you could try.

Plant-based diets are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. They are also known for their ability to reduce the risk of diabetes and help an individual maintain a healthy weight. Diets that are based on consuming nutrient-rich plant-based foods are particularly suited to the hectic lifestyle of nurses because they are based on a relatively simple concept of eating that encourages lifelong healthy eating habits.

To follow a plant-based diet, adopt more plants, fruits, veggies, and healthy fats into your diet and lower your consumption or eliminate completely any animal foods, including red meat, cold cuts and processed meats, poultry, fish and seafood, and animal-based milks and cheeses. Look for plant-based milks and cheeses in your supermarket or health-food store.

When composing a plant-based meal, half of your plate should be covered in colourful fruit and a variety of veggies. The other half should be divided between healthy proteins, such as nuts and seeds and beans and whole grains, including brown rice and whole grain bread. There are many plant-based protein products available in most supermarkets, and more on the way, so be on the lookout for them. Remember, the types of plant foods you choose matter.

Limit Avoid Choose Instead
Butter Trans fats Olive oil, canola oil, plant-milk-based butters
Animal-produced milk, juice Soda Water, tea, plant-based milks like soy, oat, or almond
White rice, white bread Sugary bread Whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta
All meats, animal milk cheese Bacon, cold cuts, processed meats Beans, nuts, seeds, nut cheeses, vegetable-based protein products

Meal Prep Tip: For an easy plant-based diet meal, try your hand at Vietnamese spring rolls with tofu. Traditional spring rolls are made of rice roll skins and filled with mint leaves, lettuce, prawns, rice noodles, strips of carrot and cucumber and accompanied with a peanut dipping sauce, but the above recipe substitutes crispy tofu for the prawns. However, you can try any variation of veggies, lean vegetable-based proteins, whole grain rice, spices, and herbs for an easy make-ahead meal that is healthy, refreshing, and delicious and will have your favorite pair of scrubs fitting a little more comfortably.

Carb Cycling

Carbohydrate cycling diet plans have been used in the bodybuilding world for years as an easy way to monitor carbohydrate intake to build muscle while shedding fat. The basic principle behind carb cycling involved altering your carbohydrate intake according to your needs that week, month, or year. This revolves around the concept that, when your body consumes a limited number of carbs, it uses the body’s stored fat as its fuel source, which can boost fat loss and revamp the metabolism.

By strategically eating carbs according to when you need them, you can more efficiently use them rather than storing them on your body as fat. Carb cycling is an excellent choice for nurses because, just like a professional weight trainer, your schedule and energy needs vary throughout the week. For “on days,” your body requires more carbs for energy and for “off days,” it requires less. The beauty of carb cycling for nurses is that it is entirely customizable according to your schedule. For example, say you work three night shifts per week. Your meals for those three days should be high in healthy carbohydrates while your calories on the four remaining days should come from plant and other protein sources.

On high carb days, try to ensure you are getting about 60% of your calories from complex carbs. With carb cycling, it is important to remember that quality matters: high-carb does not equate to pizza and French fries. In fact, on low-carb days, it is particularly important to choose fiber-packed carbohydrate sources, as achieving adequate fiber consumption every day is still essential.

High Carb Days

Avoid Choose Instead
French fries Sweet potatoes
Sugary cereals Oatmeal
White rice, white bread Whole-wheat bread, whole-wheat pasta, quinoa
Soda drinks, sports drinks Fruits

Low Carb Days

Avoid Choose Instead
Fruits Lean proteins
Starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn Leafy greens, eggplant, tomatoes, broccoli, peppers, avocados
Trans fats Olive oil, nuts, seeds, fatty fishes

Meal Prep Tip: For an easy, high-carb breakfast in the morning, prepare some overnight oats in a mason jar containing oats, almond milk, cinnamon, flax seeds, honey, and apples. Conversely, for low-carb breakfasts, make muffin pan egg omelettes that can be reheated in the morning containing eggs, peppers, shredded chicken, avocados, and a sprinkling of cheese.

Don’t be afraid to change things up if your diet is not working for you. Part of finding a healthy and sustainable diet is finding the right mix of both habits and foods that contribute to your overall health and well-being, and that process is sure to involve trial and error. Developing a healthy lifestyle as a nurse may seem challenging, but it can be done. In a few months, your new diet will be so routine that you’ll only wonder why you didn’t start sooner.


Adela Ellis is a full-time nurse and part-time ambassador for Infinity Scrubs. Adela attended the University of Arizona and has been a travel nurse for the last 6 years. She enjoys working with different doctors, nurses, and patients from all over the country and blogging about her experiences. In her free time, she loves true-crime podcasts and cooking for friends and family.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

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