Let’s face it, we can’t live without food! But some foods are our friends, and others might be our enemies. Hopefully, you grew up in a household where someone, maybe your mom, put a healthy meal on the table at least once a day, and maybe more. My mom never let us leave the house in the morning without breakfast, and my brother and I usually ate lunch at school. Dinner was a regular occurrence, and almost always it was a home-cooked meal. We would have roast beef, ham, pork chops, or spaghetti most often. Occasionally there was a salad, though this was not a regular occurrence. There was always bread, and a jar of mayonnaise was a staple condiment! On rare occasions, we had chicken, turkey, or fish, but these were rare because my mom didn’t like cooking them.
My husband and I grew up in the south, where cooks are plentiful and wonderful! Most of my favorite foods are sweet in some way: chicken salad has added sugar, baked beans and spaghetti sauce have brown sugar in significant quantities, and, of course, all those wonderful cakes, pies, and tasty treats! Then there are the drinks served on hot summer days (or all year round…): sweet tea, lemonade, fruit tea, mint juleps, and the like. It’s enough to make almost anyone diabetic! But it’s the culture we were raised in, so it’s all we knew. As adults, we have both struggled with weight issues, mostly because we didn’t know how we should be eating to make food our friend rather than our enemy. Now, to be truthful, God made each one of us differently; to be at our optimal health, our nutritional needs are different from one individual to the next.
Here are a few nutritional concepts you should consider as a family caregiver:
- How does your food make you feel? Do you come away from a meal energized and ready to move? Are you sharp and focused, or are you dragging and tired? Do you need a nap after eating? If these descriptions sound familiar, then what you are eating is not your friend! Try keeping a food journal for a month. Jot down what you are eating, and then set a timer. An hour or two after your meal, ask yourself how you feel, and jot that down. See if any trends emerge. This can build a guide for which foods are your friends, and which are not.
- How often do you eat? If you skip breakfast, grab a quick lunch/brunch at the drive-through, and then order carryout for dinner, you’re probably not getting enough nutritional bang for your bucks! You should eat five to six small meals throughout your day if possible. Instead of eating a little breakfast, a light lunch and a big dinner, try to think of it this way. Consider all the food you eat in your day, and imagine putting it all together, then divide it out into five or six portions. This is about what you should be eating. And whether you are into Atkins or Paleo, Vegan or South Beach, Weight Watchers or another dietary option, every “weight loss” plan out there suggests having regular meals and snacks in between. This is why. If you eat five or six times daily and let every “meal” have some complex carbs, lean protein, and fiber, you will have energy throughout your day!
- Do you eat enough fruits and veggies? That “apple a day” thing really works! You say you don’t like apples? Try some other fruits, or better yet, have a smoothie for breakfast!
- Where do your carbs come from? You should try to limit your simple carbohydrates like bread, cookies, flour-based pasta and bready casseroles. Most of your daily carbs (which give you energy) should come from your fresh or frozen fruits and veggies. Some are better than others, but all have benefits for your health.
- Do you have some lean protein at every meal? Lean protein doesn’t have to be animal protein. There are lots of plant-based proteins that are healthy, lean, and tasty!
- How much water do you drink each day? I cannot say enough about this important concept. Your body is mostly made of water, so a little dehydration can wreak havoc on your health and energy. Try adding a little fresh-squeezed lemon juice if you don’t like the taste of water. Invest in a water filter if your tap water has added chemicals like chlorine (which most municipal water has). But drink up! I shoot for 100 oz. each day and I usually succeed. Of course, there is a side effect of increasing your water intake: you’ll go to the bathroom lots of times throughout the day. But the upside is that you’ll always know where the public restroom is when you need one! The water flushes impurities from your body, helps with digestion, and keeps you regular if you know what I mean…
I could go on and on, but I’m no nutritionist. I’m just a family caregiver who has struggled over the years with being overweight, fatigued, foggy-brained and depressed. When I began to put together how much difference the food I was eating could make on how I felt in the rush of my day, I began to make changes and discovered the power of food in my life!
By the way, when I suggested in #3 above having a smoothie for breakfast, I don’t mean the ones you can pick up at the drive-thru. Those usually have massive amounts of sugar, because Americans think it has to taste sweet if it’s a smoothie. And, if you didn’t already know this, added sugar can leave you feeling foggy-brained, tired, and slow. But if you make your smoothie at home with a good blender, you can start your day (or have lunch) with fresh spinach, kale, berries, pineapple, coconut water or coconut milk, and some hemp hearts for protein. It’s delicious, and you have a complete meal in a glass! Even better, you won’t feel tired or draggy afterward, and it will keep you going for hours! Here’s my go-to website for ideas on great smoothies:
Oh, and I forgot to mention, I can still have the occasional slice of cheesecake. It’s still my guilty pleasure, but it’s an indulgence, not a reward, and not comfort food. My health and energy are too valuable to give cheesecake that kind of power in my life. It’s my energy, my health, and my life, as well as the health and life of those I care for. When I eat friendly foods, I give better care. It’s that simple.
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