Intermittent Fasting: How to Start When You Work 12-Hour Shifts

I am so excited about the feedback and questions I received after my posts on Intermittent Fasting! Several of you were interested in learning how I implemented IF while working at the hospital, especially during rotating 12-hour shifts. 

Today I’m sharing more details and answering the most common questions I’ve gotten about Intermittent Fasting since then.

Update: Since this article was written, I’ve gotten several more questions and put my answers in a convenient (and FREE) 8 page PDF download just for you!

Tips to set yourself up for success with Intermittent Fasting: 

I wrote a quick article about my top tips for starting IF. Think of it like the ‘prep work’ before you fully dive into Intermittent Fasting. You don’t wanna miss that post.

Pro Tip: Start small and be consistent. 

Check in with your body: Start consciously noticing how you feel on your days off or on the weekends. Pick a day where you aren’t working or you aren’t bombarded with a million tasks as soon as you wake up. Really tune into what your body is saying, and how it’s responding to your meals, hydration, exercise etc. 

You’ve likely been ignoring or overriding your body’s signals for years. But tuning into your body gets easier with time and practice.

It’s important to notice how you are feeling as soon as you wake up. Are you hungry? It is out of habit that you eat breakfast first thing? Is last night’s dinner still sitting in your stomach?

Write it down! Keep a journal or use the notes section on your phone. Helpful things to keep track of:

How late did you eat last night? What did you eat? Did you have any cocktails or wine with dinner? Did you drink a glass of water before bed?

Take notes what you ate and drank throughout the day too.

How hydrated are you? Are you drinking water before you feel thirsty? Are you mistaking your body’s need for water with thinking it needs food? What ‘cues’ is your body sending and how are you reacting? Think rumbling stomach or excess gas or heartburn etc after a meal.

Fun fact: When we are thirsty or our body needs water (because we aren’t hydrating enough), the body sends signals to the brain that it’s ‘hungry’.

The goal is to increase water intake, so if the body can’t get it from liquid, it attempts to get the needed water from food. Check out this post on how to increase your water intake through food.

Hydrating with food is less efficient than hydrating with water, but it works (in a pinch).

How much water do you need to drink while Intermittent Fasting? 

The standard guideline for hydration is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day.

So, if you are a 120 pound female, you would drink 60 ounces of water a day.

Be sure to add additional water on days you workout or on hot days when you are sweating. (Oh those insensible losses.) If you workout, try to add an extra 16 ounces of water to your hydration goals. Definitely drink more if you feel thirsty.

Side note: If you’ve been under-hydrating, you’ll be making SO many trips to the ladies’ room. It gets better over time and the number of ‘trips to the powder room’ will decrease.

What eating window do you start with? 

I eased into intermittent fasting by starting with a 12-hour eating window. So 12 hours where you can eat and 12 hours of not eating (aka fasting).

Minimize and Streamline: For me, starting with this time-frame was fairly seamless. Because of my shifts at the hospital, I was already used to thinking about things on a 12-hour timeline.

Use a familiar schedule to figure out what works for you (meal spacing, hydration goals, etc) and then slowly remove time from the eating window.

How to adjust the eating/fasting window?

Once you’ve figured out a good rhythm and pattern utilizing the 12-hour window, start to adjust your times.

Tip: I adjusted my window by a half-hour (or sometimes an hour) each week.

Example: if you start eating at 11 am, maybe try to wait until 11:30 am or noon the next week before you ‘break your fast’. Go slow and adjust your times using small increments. Slow and steady changes will prevent a setback and help create lasting habits and results!

I know a lot of information recommends a 16/8 window (fasting for 16 hours and eating in an 8 hour window) but that doesn’t work for everyone.

There are many studies that have shown a 12-hour fasting window just as effective as a 16 hour fast and is enough time to provide health benefits!

Give yourself room to experiment and see what works for you.

How to find that ‘sweet spot’ when Intermittent Fasting? 

In an ideal world, you want to ‘open the window’ and start eating when you are hungry, but not to the point of ‘starving’. Try not to watch the clock or force yourself to eat if you aren’t hungry.

Remember all the work you did in the beginning, to better listen to your body’s signals? Here is where it comes in handy!

You want to make sure your body is primed and ready for food, and sending signals that it’s truly hungry.

I find the ‘exact right time‘ can depend on a variety of factors, like when I closed my eating window the previous day, or what I ate for dinner.

In the beginning you want to wait for your body to signal that it’s hungry and needs food before you open the eating window and start the clock.

Another way to do this, if you are having a hard time listening to your body’s signals, or wanted to skip that step, is to track when you normally finish dinner. This works best if you have dinner at about the same time each day.

Note the time you finish eating and count backwards the number of hours in your eating window, and that will give you the ideal time for breakfast (or your first meal of the day).

No matter how you arrive at your ‘eating time’ just write it down.

If you don’t write down when you started your eating window, you will likely forget. After a while, the days can start to blend together and life gets busy, so get in the habit of writing it down now. Your future self will thank you!

Should I be tracking things when Intermittent Fasting?

Short Answer: Yes. In the initial stages of intermittent fasting and while you are tweaking and adjusting eating windows, I recommend writing down as much as you can. An old journal or the notes section on your phone is perfect for keeping track of times, foods, body signals etc.

This way you can track how your body is reacting to the fasting period, the types of food you are eating, your hydration levels, etc.

Writing things down will help you spot patterns easily. You’ll be able to quickly identify what foods your body is responding to or what foods are upsetting your stomach. It may even clue you into a food sensitivity you didn’t realize you had.

I found I was better able to predict the amount of energy I would have for a workout based on my meals from the previous day.

Writing things down will also help you stay consistent with your eating windows.

A few *too many* times, I forgot when I opened my eating window, so for me, writing it down eliminates any confusion.

Important Reminder: Remember that you aren’t trying to snack continuously during the eating window (whether it’s 12 hours, 8 hours, or even 4 hours). You are simply timing your meals so that you are eating within a specific time slot.

What the heck do I eat?

It’s important to choose healthy, fresh foods as much as possible while you are following intermittent fasting.

A popular saying is “eat close to the ground“.

So what does that mean? Basically, you want to eat foods that are handled or processed very minimally from the time they are picked, plucked, or harvested until the time you consume them.

Another great way to think of it, is to choose foods that still look the way Mother Nature created them. I try to avoid any items that no longer resemble their natural form.

A Cheeto doesn’t really look like anything Mother Nature produced right? Same goes for spray cheese in a can. Both things I secretly love, but have eliminated from my diet. *sigh*

Fresh fruits and vegetables are ideal. Avoid processed and prepackaged food as much as possible.

A super easy, and delicious option:

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No matter what you eat: Check the labels.

I highly recommend reading nutrition labels. You’d be surprised how many so-called healthy snacks and protein bars are actually terrible for you.

(Most ‘health’ bars deserve a post of their own regarding the true impact on health and nutrition…so stay tuned).

What about night shift? 

I am fairly consistent with my eating on the days I do intermittent fasting. I have a schedule that works well during day shift, so when I find myself rotating and working nights, I keep it super simple by just flipping my times.

Simple is best: I look at my eating log and just change the AM time to PM.

For example: I normally have my first meal around 12:30 PM when I am working dayshift, so I try to have my first meal around 12:30 AM (just after midnight) when I’m working night shift.

It’s easier for me to stay on track and keep things organized if I keep my schedule roughly the same no matter what shift I am working. Keeping my eating schedule the same makes shift rotations less disruptive to my life and teeny bit more bearable.

It took a lot of trial and error and writing down So. Many. Things before I settled on this system, but it works and I am committed to it.

Give it a try and see what you think!

Should those who work long shifts bother with IF? 

YES! I absolutely believe that implementing an intermittent fasting protocol is possible for healthcare professionals. It is something simple you can do that will have a direct positive impact on your life and health.

It’s easy to maintain once you get started and the benefits are numerous.

We spend our days taking care of others and putting everyone else’s health first. This is one small way we can ensure we are taking care of ourselves and making our health a priority. 

The first couple of weeks may be a little challenging and may even raise some eyebrows from your coworkers, but you will find a rhythm fairly quickly and your body will respond to IF.

Stick with it and trust the process.

Check out this convenient 8 page PDF download that answers more of your Intermittent Fasting questions! (It’s FREE)

Now it’s your turn!

I hope this post helped answer some questions about how to get started with IF when you work 12 hour shifts.

Do you have more questions about intermittent fasting that I haven’t answered? Do you juggle long shifts or a rotating schedule and have tips to share with others? Join us in the Facebook Community and let’s discuss! 

In wellness,


P.S If you’re curious about how I’ve helped other nurses just like you, banish exhaustion and fight burnout, you can hear it directly from them on the testimonials page!

And if you’re wondering….Who are you & why I should listen to you?

If you’re new to my blog: Welcome! I’m Dee, a Nurse living and working in Boston. I typically work 12-hour shifts, from 7a-7:30p a few days of the week. I also rotate to nights at a different facility 7p-7:30a.

On my days away from the hospital, I’m an advocate for advancing nursing as a profession and focusing on provider health and wellness. I figured out how to make IF work with my busy schedule, so I know you can too!

My goal is to help you get started with Intermittent Fasting no matter what your schedule looks like. If you’re looking for more focused guidance, check out the Intermittent Fasting Guidance in the menu at the top of this website.

I'd love to hear your thoughts!

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