Chronic illness & Nutrition

A chronic disease is a disease that lasts one year or more and requires ongoing medical attention.  There are a lot of chronic diseases with Heart disease, Cancer and Diabetes being the top three.  About half the worlds adult population lives with at least one chronic illness.  Causes of chronic diseases can be.

  • genetic,
  • unhealthy diet and lifestyle,
  • community influences or
  • environmental detriments to health.

As someone who lives with multiple chronic illnesses, I know how difficult it can be to keep on top of your health.  It’s a constant uphill battle, and it can get frustrating watching how easy it can be for other to reach their goals.  If you want to lose weight you are told to exercise more, eat more of this, less of that…. it’s so exhausting!  Especially if you have limited energy.

People with chronic diseases are a lot more vulnerable to be taken advantage of with misleading, unrealistic, and sometimes harmful nutrition and health advice.  You see something that promises to make you feel better, all you must do is x, y and z. 

Believe me, I’ve been there before!  Reading in a petty legit looking book that the reason I have an auto-immune disease is because I eat gluten, which gave me leaky gut syndrome, but it’s ok!  I can cure myself by just cutting out about 80%of the foods I enjoy eating that don ‘t triggers my IBS and replace them with weird foods I’ve never heard of that cost a fortune!  Obviously, this didn’t work.  In fact, it made me miserable.  I now know that the only reason you should be avoiding gluten is if you have Coeliac disease.  I haven’t so I have no need to.

This doesn’t mean you should completely discount nutrition though.  It still pays a big role in your health regardless of your medical condition(s). 

Most of the advice I give is general nutrition advice.  This means it relates to the general public.  Usually if you are seeing a specialist for a specific medical condition, you will also have access to a Dietitian.  They will give you nutrition and diet advice related to you condition.  For most medical condition the advice is to follow a balanced, varied diet.

If you have Diabetes, type 1 or type 2.  You want to base your diet on low GI carbs that won’t cause your blood sugars to shoot up.  So, thinking of high fibre carbs, or combining good protein and fat sources with your carb source to slow down digestion.  Also, if you’re taking insulin injections, you’ll be recommended to eat approximately every 2 hours to prevent hypoglycaemia.

With heart disease you probably want to monitor your saturated fat salt intake.  For saturated fat you want as little as possible.  For salt no more than 6g per day.  You also want to have plenty of fibre, fruit and veg.  Basically, the Mediterranean diet or DASH diet (they are one in the same).

If you have irritable bowel syndrome or other gut related illnesses like Chron’s disease then you’ll want to avoid you own triggers and some other common triggers like spicy food, really fatty food, chewing gum, anything you have an intolerance to.  Try to keep the highly processed foods to a minimum too.

I could go on all day, but you get the picture.  General nutrition advice, with little tweaks. 

The advice I give about pre preparing meals can also be very useful.  There will be days you just don’t feel up to cooking, but you must eat.  Take advantage of days you feel good and bulk cook meals that you can portion and freeze.  That way they are there and all you must do is heat them up!  Also, not all ready meals are bad!  Yes, most of them are full of salt which isn’t great to be eating regularly, but even if you aren’t feeling up to cooking your body still needs nourishment.  They are better than nothing.

If you’re feeling very unwell, and the last thing you feel like doing is eating then make sure you drink…lots!  Water, diluted juice, flat 7up, tea, ice-pops, anything to keep you hydrated.  Flat 7up is good because it contains sugar (if you don’t get the sugar free 7up, then you may as well drink flavoured water).  If you really can’t eat the sugar in the 7up will give you some calories that you’d otherwise be getting from food.  Remember, even if you are lying in bed your body still need calories to burn for energy o keep all your systems going.  If you can manage some food small snacks and often.  Fruit, crackers, toast. 

Keep it simple!  I say this for everyone whether you have a medical condition or not.  If you complicate things by adding in calorie counting or macronutrient measuring.  Cutting out this that or the other, intermittent fasting, Keto, Paleo.  All these diets do is make you obsessive with your food.  The only thing you should focus on is listening to YOUR body’s hunger and fullness cues. 

Be very weary of ‘cure claims’.  If you Google your condition, you’ll probably find hundreds of articles on diets and how they will cure you of your disease.  Some of them might have some useful info about how you can maybe control your disease better, but I’d take it with a pinch of salt.  Especially if they make your stomach drop when you read everything, you’ll be required to do for it to work!  Also, if you can’t find any solid scientific evidence and multiple studies backing up the claims it’s very likely they are bogus ones.

Moving away from food a bit now.  I would highly recommend finding something that can help you switch of and relax, or even fall asleep because sleep can be a very powerful medicine.  Listening to an audio book to fall asleep can be good, I listen to the sleep stories on the Calms app.  I find this works better for me that actual guided meditation because my mind focuses on the story being told and I’m lulled off to sleep.  With guided meditation sometimes if my mind is very active that night it keeps drifting off and focusing on other things which keeps me awake.  Since I started meditating, I can cope better with stress, and let’s face it.  Having a chronic disease is stressful in itself!

Like I said, if you have a chronic disease, you should have a Dietitian who can help guide you if you feel you’d like to make changes to your diet.

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