Saturday, 11 December 2010

LWCI Introduction & Food: Part 1

What is LWCI? I could create a mini competition to have you all guessing what it means, but that would defeat the purpose of this first introductory post.

After explaining a bit more about myself a few posts back here, it dawned on me that there are so many aspects of my life which a lot of people may share. You may not have all of them. I hope most of you don't get any of them. But I'm creating my own Living With Chronic Illness series to post tips that have helped me out, and to try and see if you have any more ideas to help me and other people. 

LWCI: Food Part 1

I don't know how many parts I'll end up having, but I figured I won't remember all that I want to put down today. 

Food is very important in life. We eat to receive nutrients, which help our bodies sustain themselves, heal themselves, and grow. 

What does food have to do with Chronic Illnesses? Simple answer: an awful lot. It's important to eat a healthy, wide varied diet at all times. If you have something wrong with you - even just a simple cold, it is doubly important to eat well. 

This isn't a post about what type of food to eat and how much. Hopefully you can figure that out for yourself. I'm sure there are sites on the web that go into that type of detail. 

This post concerns low appetite and nausea. Now, there can be several causes of those two symptoms. It can be the illness itself. Or it can be medication. For me, it's the medication. I'm on a stronger one, and I'm still getting used to it. It makes me feel rather nauseas. Thanks to anti-emetics (anti-nausea/anti-sickness) tablets, I can usually keep the nausea at a comfortable level (not that it is ever nice, but at least I don't have to spend lots of time in the bathroom). 

To help ease nausea, I used to do the following: 
  • Eat slightly smaller main meals
  • Have fruit/dried crackers/biscuits/nuts/dried fruit as snacks between meals (constantly nibbling) 
  • Suck mints 
  • Drink ginger tea
  • Drink peppermint tea
  • Drink lemonade 
  • Eat ginger/plain biscuits. 
However, ever since a week ago I developed a low appetite. This wasn't good. I love my food! I love eating, and I love having different tastes. I thought it was the after effects of having a particularly bad day where I had to go doze for the whole afternoon because I thought I was going to faint/throw up. But it's stayed with me. I'm not as enthusiastic about food. I eat normal breakfast, and about half the amount of lunch and dinner. I'm not interested in snacking. It's a small battle to get me to eat enough at meal times. 

It's all about timing. Yesterday I had a particularly bad day. I was fine for most of the day at work, but then the nausea grew worse. It got so bad by the evening that after 3 bites of bread I wasn't feeling great. It took about 2 hours to eat two small pieces of bread. Not fun, and not good. However, I worked out that I had made a mistake in the timing of when I take my medication. I used to take it right before I ate my meals, to get it over and done with. 

I think that worked fine when I had an appetite because I always had food in me. Now - well it's not working, and I think I feel the effects of the medication more (even when taken with the anti-emetics) because there isn't anything in my stomach. 

So new plan of action (which so far is working ok): I have my medication after my meals. 

Now about the meals themselves. I'm reducing the portion of what I usually eat. At the moment this isn't a problem (as in I'm not losing weight and I'm getting enough nutrients.) I have to get creative with food. Once again timing is important. Work out which time of day you are hungriest, and your main meal then. This might not be the same time every day. For me, I'm having my main meal at lunch. It is supposed to be better for you at this time (because then you have a lighter meal in the evening, which is at odds with how I used to eat). Also by the evening I'm more tired and less inclined to eat a lot. 

My tips don't stop at timing. What you eat is important. What I do, is bake a staple food mix at the weekend and on my day off (so really cooking something twice a week, which saves a lot of energy). 

Last week I baked the following: 
  • Wholewheat penne with onions, mushrooms and a cheese sauce
  • Swede with fresh ginger (in a jar) and ground black pepper
  • Cabbage cut into small strips, mixed with cumin and coriander. 
I didn't stop there. I layered the food in two containers (one had 2 layers, the other just 1 layer). I froze one container, and kept the other out. 

Okay, so it meant I was eating it for 5-6 days. I didn't mind though. It was tasty, it meant all I had to do was blast it in the microwave and that's all the preparation needed. I didn't have to cook every day. Bulk cooking is handy like this, and I recommend it for when you are up to it. The freezer is my friend. 

Today I have baked the following: 
  • Onion and tomato couscous (packet mix donated by a family member) - to this I added some pan fried onions and mushrooms, about 9-11 olives, a whole head of pretty cauliflower (I can't remember what it is called. I don't like cauliflower - but I can disguise it in tasty food. This cauliflower is absolutely stunning - it looks like a flower or cactus). 
I've got some sardines in the freezer, that have garlic and chilli in/on them. I took one portion out, cooked it, then had half of it in my couscous. I'll have the other half tomorrow. 

Once again I've halved the mixture, putting some in the freezer (and using greaseproof paper to separate the portions). I'm getting more meals out of food because my portions are smaller. But this is okay. It is far better to have small portions that you can eat all of it, rather than trying to eat what used to be normal portions, and leaving/binning some of it. 

I've been given some fabulous advice from people to help with nausea/low appetite

  • Eat ice lollies (this can help with travel sickness) 
  • Eat anything with ginger in it 
  • Eat whatever you fancy - it might not always be 100% healthy, but if you fancy some crisps have them. 
  • Eat when you feel like it. Sometimes this might be at various points in the day. 
  • Drink plain hot water to combat nausea (haven't tried this, but I can see how it would be nicer than cold water).
So to recap, when feeling nauseas and/or having a low appetite, eat small meals, try to balance nutrition, head for mint/ginger food and drink. 

Tips for when you have to eat away from home
  • If you are eating in a restaurant/cafe, pick a starter for a main course (I'm doing this in a week when I have lunch with work colleagues. I nearly cancelled going, but someone reminded me I could have a starter as a main meal. That way I wouldn't feel guilty leaving a lot, because hopefully it would be a smaller portion). 
    • Additionally if you fancy desert, ask your dining companion if they are okay with you having a few bites from theirs. It means you can have a bit, but again no worries about leaving a whole load. 
  • Carry around a container with mints in it wherever you go. 
    • For example at the one off chronic pain lecture on Monday, I sat with a small pot on my lap, having a mint every now and then.
  • Carry a snack pot with you
    • Ever since I felt vaguely nauseas I don't go anywhere without my snack pot. I put some crackers in, dried fruit/nuts and a few chocolate pieces (depending what I've got in the cupboard. I get my snacks from a company called Graze (I'm not being paid to advertise them - if you want to find them, google them), so I get a variety. 
  • Carry drinks with you
    • If you like ginger/peppermint tea, have a pot (if they are loose) or several packets (if they are individually wrapped) in your bag. That way you don't have to worry whether your friend has any. This probably doesn't work if you drink out, but most places have lemonade these days. Also a lot are stocking up on peppermint tea. 
      • When I went to a restaurant the other week, at the end of the meal we were having coffee. I didn't feel great, so asked if they had peppermint tea (thinking that normal tea might be my only option). However, they did, so I was very happy. I think that places may or may not advertise that they have it, but it's worth asking for it. 
General tips 
  • Eat little (and if you can, eat often) 
  • Bulk cook, leaving some in the fridge and some in the freezer to save energy. 
    • You can easily add variety to the meals by adding a different protein each day (beans/fish/egg/cheese), or cooking something relatively plain then playing around with herbs and spices
That's all the tips I have on food for the moment. Oh - I've just remembered something else. If you can, eat food which you really like. 

For example, thanks to a good friend of mine breakfast is a piece of foccacia (and sometimes a little bit of cake too!) Lunch is bread with something - but eat fun foods. Fun foods for me is avocado (I've got it this week - its currently ripening on the radiator), ice cream and chocolate in moderation. I've learnt that quiche isn't the best type of food for me to eat at the moment - there may be a few foods that you can't face eating or that don't necessarily agree with you as well as they normally do. 

I hope this has been helpful/informative to you. If you have any other ideas of good food to bulk cook, what to eat when feeling nauseas, how to deal with a low appetite, then please leave a comment so we can all benefit from the tips. 

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