Eating well with a chronic illness
Eating well with a chronic health condition can be challenging. Chronic pain, nausea and fatigue are just some common symptoms which can affect our food intake. When you're feeling unwell, food might be the last thing on your mind. However, it's important to continue to eat well to provide your body with adequate nutrition. What's more, our diet can help with symptom management and sustaining our energy levels. With some small tweaks, it really is possible to eat well with a chronic illness. This article gives some practical tips for getting started.
Eating well with chronic pain
There's some limited evidence to suggest that antioxidants and omega 3 fatty acids may help in reducing inflammation. We should all be aiming for at least five portions of fruit and veg per day and oily fish at least once per week.
If the pain keeps you awake at night, a dietitian may be able to suggest some useful tips to help you sleep better. These might include reducing alcohol and caffeine intake or having a hot drink before bed.
Chronic pain can affect a person's mood, and there's some strong evidence to suggest that a diet rich in legumes (i.e. chickpeas and lentils), pulses (i.e. beans), oily fish and fruit and veg can help to improve your mood. If you find it difficult to leave your home, it might be worth taking a daily vitamin D supplement due to your limited exposure to the sun. Low levels of vitamin D are common in the UK and are linked to bone conditions like rickets. Take a supplement which contains at least 10 micrograms of vitamin D.
Body weight is a difficult topic as your doctor may suggest that losing weight will help to reduce your pain. However, if you are in pain, it can be difficult to exercise. A dietitian would be able to help you find some alternative ways around this.
Lack of appetite
- Try to understand the cause. If it's an ongoing issue, you may need to speak to your GP to rule out serious underlying conditions.
- Address the underlying cause. If you're in pain, speak to your doctor about your pain meds and timing of doses prior to meals.
- Try to eat little and often. Aim for five to six small meals or snacks per day.
- Normally our body gives us cues to eat (i.e. a grumbling stomach). Some people with chronic illnesses don't experience these cues. Therefore, it's important to remind yourself to eat regularly. I set an alarm on my watch at lunchtime to remind me to eat sometimes!
- Have an easy supply of snacks available. I like popcorn, toast, crackers and cheese, carrot and cucumber batons with hummus and peanut butter and sliced apple.
- Go with your cravings - any food is better than none! Some people find fluids easier to tolerate. (try smoothies, soups or hot chocolate.)
Eating with nausea
1. Choose plain and bland foods like pasta, rice, dry toast, plain biscuits or crackers. Starchy fruit and veg like bananas and potatoes can also help.
2. Avoid greasy or fried foods (i.e. take away or pizza or creamy dishes) and herbs or spices. Keep your windows open when cooking to eliminate strong odours.
3. Some patients say that ginger helps with reducing nausea, however, there isn't much evidence for this. You could try ginger tea or biscuits.
4. Sip on cool and refreshing drinks. Try adding some ice or a slice of lemon. Avoid high levels of caffeine, alcohol or fizzy drinks as these could irritate your tummy.
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