Did my job make me gain 30lbs in a year?

Answered on January 01, 2014
Created December 27, 2013 at 6:45 PM

Oh, Boy. Here we go.

Last year was awesome. With a 9-5 M-F job, I was at the gym 3-5x days /week , lost 10lbs, gained more in muscle, changed my habits, and was on a paleo-roll.

Then I lost my job and caught pneumonia. When I final got a job RIGHT at the new year, it was an extremely unstable and sporadic schedule. Morning shift, night shift, graveyards, mid shift, etc all in one week. The inability to get even 6-8 hours of sleep a night if I had went to the gym,kept me from going. So most of this last year I worked various shifts, slept, ate "well" maybe 30% of the time, and was stressed a lot of the time.

Finally I went to the scale and there it was! Up 30lbs! Horrible.

And now that I'm back on the job hunt, I'm wondering if I should be picky and opt for that M-F 9-5 that seems to accommodate a healthier schedule, or if it doesn't matter and really, the blame is me? I know it's me, but I wonder what else contributes.

F, 25yo, 135 to 165lbs, 5'4"

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on December 27, 2013
at 07:02 PM

That's true. I didn't know how to handle a sporadic schedule. I'm sure it also didn't help that I almost never exercised. Ridiculous!

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8 Answers


on January 01, 2014
at 10:01 PM

I've been through the same thing twice.

For half a dozen years in my early 20's, random crazy shifts, little or no sleep at night: constantly craving food. I didn't put on weight because I could not afford to eat every day, and the jobs I was doing were extremely physically demanding, but boy, was I tired. I also kept injuring myself (ankles, knees, wrists, shoulders, lower back) and never seemed to be without a cold or sore throat or otitis or blocked sinuses.

Repeat experience in my 30's, 8-6 job during the day, then p/t studying or p/t job-hunting and accommodation/hunting well into the night. I could afford to eat (cheap food) and was craving sugary foods, not meat and vegs, so I stuffed myself with bread and biscuits, put on 8 kilos in 3 months, and developed IBS like symptoms. I spent several years doing yoyo while stuck in that job. I eventually found another job and went back down to my previous healthy weight... gradually over 2 years. Running or going to the gym several hours a week and eating paleo were huge helps, but losing the weight was much more difficult than putting it on, with lots of relapses.

What helped me spot the patterns was to keep several logs (on spreadsheets): one for food and sleep; another for gym attendance (hours, type of exercises, estimation of calories burnt)/running; another for my weight, muscle mass and body fat. I now have data for 2 whole years and can produce graphs, and it is really easy to spot the patterns: stop going to the gym for 1 month, increase in weight, weight only starts to go down again 1 month after resuming exercise; eat a couple of pizzas every week for a fortnight (exam period, no time to cook), sluggishness and diminution of performance at the gym, bad sleep quality, reappearance of cravings during the day etc. I still keep those logs as they really help me to see I'm on the right track.

I would say go for the 9-5 job and start going to the gym again. Shift work might pay more, but if you sacrifice your health, you could end up with a big medical bill, and being unable to earn a living for some time. You will also have to put in a lot of effort to get your health and weight back under control (as I'm sure you saw from that 30lb weight gain experience): it is much easier to preserve your current health capital than to regain your health after you've become unwell, and both money and time wise, remaining healthy is a good investment for your future.

I see quite a lot of 'workaholics' who have obesity problems, diabetes, etc. and don't have a very good quality of life despite their high incomes. I've seen people who got diagnosed with lifestyle cancers in their 30's or 40's, lost their jobs, and then found out nobody wanted to employ them in case they relapse! Chronic diseases which don't immediately threaten your life expectancy are not much better: developing kidney failure because of diabetes, and having to go on dialysis, is a slight impediment to remaining in work/finding a new role. Back in the 80's, my next door neighbour, a high shot director for a multinational company, developed kidney failure (he was in his 40's). He was laid off and never found another job. Even if people who don't make time to look after their health make it 'disease free' to retirement age, it catches up with them. I know a few 50 something, still in work, who are not doing too well cognitively (on top of the weight problems, diabetes, 'I get out of breath if I walk up 2 flights of stairs', 'I can't commute by train as I feel faint if I stand for too long' etc.) and look like they might be in the early stages of Alzheimer's: I really feel like I'm working in a care home at times!

Don't blame yourself either. One of my uncles commanded tankers, which is a job with lots of stress, constantly changing shifts, and very little sleep at night. Despite sticking to a healthy diet, being physically active and doing intermittent fasting or going on vegetarian diets when he was on holiday, he became overweight in his 50's and eventually developed type 2 diabetes when in his late 60's. My father used to muse it must be because of the decades my uncle spent on these ships with alarm bells ringing off all the time, as he was the only person in the family ever to develop those diseases. My other male relatives, including my father, also worked in the Army or the Navy, and sometimes went through WW1 or WW2. They were 'retired' to less demanding roles by their 30's or 40's so they were only exposed to high levels of stress and sleep deprivation for 10-20 years.

It is not really worth it. People on very high incomes (think £100K + for someone with no dependants) can afford to work long hours, because they have staff who do the cleaning, the supermarket shopping, and cook the meals (they can be so irritating as they don't have a clue how long it takes to peel and mince vegs, or to do the supermarket run). They can use the saved time for physical exercise: my gastroenterologist goes swimming 1 hour every day (until his 50's he was running but stopped to preserve his joints), no matter how busy his schedule is (it helps that he works near an expensive private swimming pool which is open from 6am to 10pm 6 days a week). Alternatively, you could 'binge work' for a while, and then rest and go to the gym while looking for another job, but periods of 'inactivity' don't look too good on your CV, especially as you're only 25.

Good luck for the jobhunting and best wishes for 2014!


on December 30, 2013
at 09:26 AM

Ideally, you'd want a life with low stress, great sleep, great food and some exercise. Probably in that order.

So I would definitely find a schedule that allows you to maintain a proper circadian rhythm, even before eating Paleo. Sleep is essential for good health and a huge factor in managing your weight.

Instead of solely blaming yourself or lack of willpower, consider that poor sleep and high stress will drive almost anyone to make unhealthy food choices.


on December 29, 2013
at 06:35 PM

As others have noted, stress can play a major role in how the body behaves. I doubt it was your sleep/work schedules.

Also, be honest with yourself, how did your eating habits change? Once a body is healthy or on the healthy track, good eating habits alone should able to maintain that weight.



on December 29, 2013
at 05:34 PM

Short answer: yes. Random sleep schedules influence your ability to be insulin sensitive. Something like 2 nights of poor sleep will make you as insulin resistant as a type II diabetic.

Medium avatar

on December 27, 2013
at 11:33 PM

Your old schedule doesn't sound healthy as well. With a weird shift schedule and therefore no established sleep pattern, I'm sure your circadian rhythm was way off base. In addition, it doesn't sound like it was the most stress-free job in the world.

That being said, if you can find a 9-5 job that you love, go for it! It sounds like you know how to succeed when you have that pattern, so why not set your self up for success? But if you can't find a 9-5 job, then make a plan. Prioritize your time. Meal prep on weekends so that if you're in a rush, you can grab a healthy option out of the fridge before you grab something unhealthy. Things like that.

Medium avatar


on December 27, 2013
at 11:30 PM

You should be able to maintain a fairly stable weight with minimal exercise. I lost 30+ pounds in my initial months of Paleo/primal with a very sedentary schedule. Odd sleeping patterns will certainly cause bad eating. Try and limit yourself to true Paleo foods - no cheating.


on December 27, 2013
at 09:21 PM

Remember stress plays a pivotal role in how are body's function but elevated cortisol did not cause a 30lb weight gain in a year. How much did your eating habits change?



on December 27, 2013
at 06:57 PM

Up 30 pounds means you overate quite a bit. We all like to blame things out of our control, but weight is almost entirely in our control. You didn't adapt to your new "schedule", that's essential.

Medium avatar

on December 27, 2013
at 07:02 PM

That's true. I didn't know how to handle a sporadic schedule. I'm sure it also didn't help that I almost never exercised. Ridiculous!

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