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My Top 7 Tips for Managing a Medical Diet

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Depending on your condition, medication, or any combination of factors, you might find yourself on a strict medical diet. If you’re like me, you’ve had several. I can’t even count the amount of times my diet has had to change over the past few years.

Most recently, after undergoing a nissen fundoplication and hiatal hernia repair, I have been dealing with an intense post-surgical diet. I’ve progressed from clear liquids (Jell-O, broth, apple juice) to full liquids (think pudding and smoothies) to soft foods (mashed potatoes, soft bread). Each phase has had its own challenges, and I’ve learned just how much your diet can affect your day-to-day life.

While every diet is different, I have found there are certain similarities between people with special diets or food restrictions. For one, it makes you a lot more aware of what you consume. If you have a severe allergy or reaction to a food, for example, you know to check every single food item you might eat for traces of the offending allergen.

These are my top seven tips I’ve come up with after living with medical dietary restrictions:

1. Find a “treat.” If a new medical diet seems restrictive, look over your list of permissible foods and figure out which of those you really like. For me, that’s been pudding in every variety. Having a food (or drink!) you consider a treat can help when your restrictions are getting to you.

2. Do your research. The internet is a treasure trove of recipes and tips. Most commonly prescribed medical diets have several webpages and blogs dedicated to them. I’ve had fun with soft food recipes on Pinterest for my post-surgical diet.

3. Grocery lists are your friend. If you know ahead of time what you’re going to get, the grocery trip won’t be as frustrating or time-consuming. I’ve spent hours checking ingredients and wandering around various stores trying to put together a suitable grocery haul. If I’ve done my research (see above), then I’ll already know what I’m looking for and it takes away the guesswork.

4. Don’t be embarrassed about your diet. I’ve learned to embrace my coworkers’ comments on my food (especially since my soft diet has me eating like a preschooler: juice boxes, applesauce, pudding packs).

5. Celebrate your progress. If, like me, your diet is progressive, being able to eat a new type of food can really boost your mood. For me, the latest big thing was being able to eat sandwiches. They have to be soft, and I can only eat half, but still. Sandwiches. It’s a big deal.

6. Find joy in other aspects of life besides food. While cooking and eating can be enjoyable activities, when there is a medical aspect it can feel more like a burden. Right when I returned to work after my surgical leave, my lunch breaks were no longer something I looked forward to. Eating cottage cheese or yogurt was not super exciting. Instead, I decided to find other things to enjoy during my breaks, such as a walk when the weather was nice.

7. Remember you are doing what’s best for your body. The goal in treating illnesses is to feel better, and by altering your diet you are doing the same. That being said, if your diet is making you feel worse instead of better, talk to your doctor or dietitian. Everything is a process, and you might have to tweak your diet once (or five times) to figure out what works for you.

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Stock photo by belchonock

Originally published: November 10, 2016
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