Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue
Health & Wellness

Fat Loss on Shift Work

Okay, I hear you! No one wants to think about fat loss over the holiday season. January is right around the corner, so this article aims to give you tips that work for fat loss on shift BEFORE resolutions start. With hopes of preventing reactive purchases of detoxes, fat burners, a protein shake diet, or another bogus program as soon as 2024 hits!

The Secret? Sleep!

24-hour shifts with unpredictable calls wreak havoc on sleep and stress levels. Poor sleep can impact your food choices by affecting your hormones. One night of bad sleep can lead to an 18% reduction in leptin (an appetite-suppressing hormone) and a 28% increase in ghrelin (an appetite-stimulating hormone), resulting in a 24% increase in hunger1. Poor sleep also impacts food choices and may make you reach for sweeter and saltier foods

Firefighters are at a high risk for sleep disorders. One study found that out of 7,000+ firefighters, 37% had a sleep disorder and 80% of those with a disorder did not know it2. If you regularly get under 6 hours of sleep and typically toss and turn, it may be time for a sleep study. Sleep studies can be done at home or in a lab. The initial consult is often a 30-minute call with a physician. Correcting a sleep disorder can lead to better food choices, less sugar cravings, and more motivation to workout. Sleeping better can make fat loss and making healthy choices significantly easier.

For more on sleep, check out the “Energy Boosters” article (

What is on the Counter Matters

Fire stations are notorious for the treats and donuts on the counters dropped off by grateful community members. However, grabbing a quarter of a donut multiple times on shift adds up! Hiding the treats in a pantry or cabinet can make a big difference in your food choices. 

A preliminary study by Dr. Jill Joyce from OSU found that firefighters who kept healthier options on the counter ate an additional 1 pound of produce per shift. Dr. Joyce donated fruit, veggies with hummus, nuts, trail mix, and granola bars; with the condition that only her food was allowed on the counters. Treats could stay, but they had to be hidden away. 

Talk to your shift about hiding treats away. If overtime snack donations are a tradition, consider bringing in healthier options. Yes, it might come with some jokes or backlash, but it can impact the shifts food choices.

Focus on a Protein and a Plant at Each Meal

If you can get a protein and a plant at each meal, you are doing better than 90% of your colleagues. Protein is important for muscle maintenance during a fat-loss phase and is ideally a lean choice like chicken, turkey, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and soy. The plant contributes water and fiber to keep you full. Any fruit or veggie counts! Including canned, fresh, or frozen. Of course, carbs and fat will help round out the meal. Focusing on protein and plants helps fill common gaps in most first-responder diets. This also helps with fat loss by keeping you fuller on lower-calorie choices. 

Fat loss comes down to portion control and a calorie deficit. It is a simple concept but challenging to execute on shift work. Hopefully, the tips above will help make the execution a bit easier! 


  1. Sharma S, Kavuru M. Sleep and metabolism: an overview. Int J Endocrinol. 2010;2010:270832. doi: 10.1155/2010/270832. Epub 2010 Aug 2. PMID: 20811596; PMCID: PMC2929498.
  2. Barger LK, Rajaratnam SM, Wang W, O’Brien CS, Sullivan JP, Qadri S, Lockley SW, Czeisler CA; Harvard Work Hours Health and Safety Group. Common sleep disorders increase risk of motor vehicle crashes and adverse health outcomes in firefighters. J Clin Sleep Med. 2015 Mar 15;11(3):233-40. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4534. PMID: 25580602; PMCID: PMC4346644.
Megan Lautz, MS, RD, CSCS, TSAC-F

Megan is a Registered Dietitian and coach who specializes in firefighter nutrition. Megan’s mission is to help firefighters perform better, recover faster, and enjoy long, healthy retirements. Megan is the owner of RescueRD LLC, which provides nutrition seminars and coaching for tactical athletes across the country. Check out @Rescue.RD on Facebook and Instagram.

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