THE BLOG
10/16/2014 06:08 pm ET Updated Dec 16, 2014

Ask JJ: Can a Low-Carb Diet or Night Shift Stall Fat Loss?

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Dear JJ: I work nights and do not plan on going back to dayshift for another couple of years. I've recently stopped smoking and have been on a low-carb diet for three months, yet I've only managed to lose 5 pounds. I'm frustrated. Any suggestions?

First things first: The metabolic deck's stacked against you working night shift. One study published in the journal Work involving 466 nurses found night workers experience more weight gain than day workers.

Impaired sleep patterns can definitely challenge fast, lasting fat loss. I've discussed seven fat-burning hormones that can become out of whack with even one night's poor sleep. You awake tired, cranky, and reaching for a java jolt that keeps your stress hormone cortisol jacked up when it should taper.

That doesn't mean you're doomed. As best as possible, create a consistent schedule with seven to nine hours of high quality, uninterrupted sleep every night (or day in your situation).

Quality sleep can help you better manage stress levels, which tend to run high among night shift workers. Stress management becomes crucial for fat loss and optimal health. That might mean meditation, yoga, deep breathing, or walking your terrier around the block.

Meal timing also proves important when you work erratic hours. I recommend breakfast within an hour of waking up (a protein shake makes this easy), then eating every four to six hours. Focus your meals on lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber starches. Steady blood sugar levels mean sustained energy so you feel and perform your best.

Planning ahead makes this easier. On your off days, pre-prep ingredients and ensure you've got enough healthy foods on your night shifts. Turkey rolled with sliced avocado, protein shakes, and low roasted or dehydrated almonds make easy grab-and-go snacks and meals when you're short on time.

You mention hitting a roadblock doing a low-carb diet. Consider other obstacles besides sleep and stress that could stall fat loss. Adrenal fatigue, toxicity, and food intolerances are among the many often-overlooked weight loss resistance culprits.

I've found people who go too low-carb eventually experience energy crashes and fat loss plateaus. Don't be afraid to add low-sugar impact starches like quinoa and legumes into your meals. These slow-release, high-fiber carbs add variety into your meals without the spike-and-crash of faster-releasing carbs.

Finally, make sure you get optimal nutrients your food might not provide. A good multivitamin/ mineral, fish oil, a probiotic, and optimal vitamin D and magnesium are foundation nutrients and your best dietary insurance.

If you've attempted or succeeded on a low-carb diet, did you hit any plateaus along the way? Share yours and how you overcame it below. I love getting your questions and enjoy reading every one, so keep them coming at AskJJ@jjvirgin.com.