7 Challenges of Eating Healthy When You're Chronically Ill
Whether you are facing a long-term mental or physical health condition, doing what the doctor says by eating healthy is not always an easy option. While it may appear as simple as going to the store and buying generic fruits and vegetables, modifying your food intake can have incredible challenges if you live with a chronic condition. Finding a way to reduce inflammatory or symptom provoking selections from your diet is vital in maintaining your overall health, despite already having a condition that you live with daily. The challenges that can make eating healthy feel nearly impossible are:
1. Expenses: With food becoming more expensive, it is more affordable to buy cheap junk food to stifle your hunger than it is to grab an assortment of meat, fish, fruits, or vegetables for a well-rounded meal. The cost of two peanut butter sandwiches pales in comparison to a meal consisting of haddock, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, and squash. Many people with chronic disabilities are unable to work full-time, if at all, which means the funding for food that will nourish isn’t in the budget.
2. Grocery Trips: The frequency of grocery trips may increase as you recognize that a lot of healthy foods cannot be stored for later. People with certain mental health of physical concerns may find it difficult to leave the house, which adds increased anxiety to the task- especially if your method of transportation is also limited.
3. Decomposition: Prepackaged meals provide leniency in how long you can store them before they need to be thrown out. Natural foods aren’t loaded with the same amounts of preservatives needed to ensure that they last for ages. This leads to moldy food within a week or two (if you’re lucky), which then needs to be removed from the home via compost, which requires more work for someone who has limitations in their mobility.
4. Preparation and Time: Fast food can be a life-saver if you’ve had a long day and need to relax, but too much can lead to additional health issues. As a huge fan of microwaveable foods, I know all it takes to make a meal is to open food from a frozen box and heat it up. Two minutes later, I can have two pizza pockets ready for ingestion. Or, eight hours later, I can have a slow-cooked meal waiting for me at the end of the day. While the latter sounds and tastes amazing, the meat in it must be continuously strained, plus it takes time to wash, peel, and cut the vegetables. If you want to grate cheese or make your own bread to go with it instead of relying on high-calorie store bought bread, it adds to the work the person must do and the time it takes.
5. Energy: Most chronic illnesses come with lingering symptoms – most notably, chronic fatigue. Whether your mind is racing from daily intrusive thoughts from obsessive compulsive disorder, or your body is exhausted from becoming more sedentary than it was before an injury, it takes a lot of work to muster the energy to tackle the minor requirements of eating healthy. When given the internal decision to make something in less than five minutes or spend hours preparing a full meal with the recommended food groups, it is easier to save your spoons for another task you may need to do throughout the day, such as showering.
6. Clean Up: With more variety in your meals, there will be an increase in dishes. Instead of having to deal with a knife and plate for a sandwich, there would now be pots, pans, and a plethora of utensils to clean and put away – sometimes with the added struggle of having to scrape food off of them. This requires more time and energy to complete along with the stamina and ability of being able to maintain it regularly in order to have a healthy diet.
7. Vice: Many of us are attracted to delicious foods that aren’t the best for us, whether they consist of heaps of cheese, chocolate, sugar, salt, carbohydrates… or all of the above. When you have a chronic condition, the stresses that come along with it can be hard to manage. A person with chronic pain is negatively affected by the condition itself, along with the limitations it brings such as mobility, socializing, and strength. Someone with depression may have thoughts of inadequacy, confidence, and hope. Stimulating foods can be a temporary escape from the issue you have, which is why it can be hard to make better choices for ourselves.
However, this doesn’t mean it’s impossible! Asking for help may be difficult, but in the long run, it helps you in managing your condition while balancing out healthier options for food. If you have someone you can ask to clean up the dishes, it may save you the energy to do strength-building exercises if your body requires it. For the time it takes to wash and peel an assortment of carrots and potatoes, asking a partner, friend, or family member to do it instead may give you time to sweep, clean, or even rest instead of being overburdened by everything you have to do and the little time or energy it feels you have to do it in.
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