- Roger is so worn-out by caring for his wife who has dementia that hot dogs or canned soup are about all he can put on the table for dinner.
- Sandy stops by to make dinner for her disabled parents after work each night, but usually skips dinner when she gets home.
- Lois is so stressed by her husband’s stroke that her weight has shot up and she can’t seem to control her diabetes with diet like she used to do.
How about you? Are the chronic stresses of caregiving leading you to skip meals, eat more junk food, and lose or gain weight? When a caregiver focuses on a loved one’s needs, there seems to be less and less time for healthy self-care. Neglecting health-promoting behaviors is unhealthy, and can lead to physical and emotional problems. Fortunately, these negative consequences can be addressed with some resilience-building strategies that don’t take much time and energy. Good nutrition is one of them.
How Good Nutrition Helps Caregivers
Nutritious eating promotes good health, building strength and stamina needed for providing care. It helps decrease a caregiver’s risk for developing minor ailments or more serious chronic illnesses. And good nutrition strengthens the immune system’s ability fight those illnesses that do arise.
Poor nutrition leads to fatigue and illness, increasing the risk for serious health problems. It leads to longer recovery times, increased risk of infections and greater risk of falls. Choosing nutritious food is one of the most powerful things a caregiver can do to stay healthy, build resilience and continue caring. A resilient caregiver eats a healthy diet. (For more: http://www.weightandwellness.com/resources/articles-and-videos/articles-about-other-health-conditions/nutrition-the-foundation-of-self-care-for-caregivers/ )
Nutritional Strategies that Work
Research shows that good nutrition for caregivers is based on healthful food choices and eating behaviors. Take these three steps toward better nutrition:
1. Eat a Balanced Diet: A well balanced diet provides the energy and nutrients your body needs to function, remain healthy, and grow. Guidelines on www.ChooseMyPlate.gov emphasize:
- Choosing colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean fish and poultry, low-fat dairy products
- Limiting red meat, sugar, salt or saturated fats like butter
- Controlling portion size, sugary drinks, and the quantity of snacks or comfort foods.
- The Mayo Clinic adds that drinking at least eight 8-ounce glasses of fluid a day is another important part of a healthy diet.
In The National Institutes of Health’s e-book, What’s on Your Plate: Smart Food Choices for Healthy Aging, you can learn all the basics about food types, recommended daily calories, portion size, sample menus, and overcoming roadblocks to healthy eating.
2. Select Healthy Snacks: Though often discouraged, eating between meals can actually be good for holding off hunger and keeping energy high. The trick is to choose wisely and eat in moderation. Look for foods that are proteins, fresh fruits or vegetables, whole grains or low-fat dairy, rather than simple starches, refined sugars or processed foods. The American Heart Association recommends selecting nutrient-rich foods like these:
- Apples and Breadsticks
- Carrot and celery sticks
- Green pepper sticks
- Zucchini circles
- Broccoli spears
- Unsalted rice cakes
- Fat-free milk
- Unsweetened juices
- Low-sodium tomato or mixed vegetable juice
- Unsalted sunflower seeds
- Whole-grain breads or toast
- Cherry or grape tomatoes
- Low-fat or fat-free cheese
- Plain, low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- Unsalted almonds, walnuts and other nuts
- Unsweetened canned fruit
- Thin slice of angel food cake
- Baked apple
- Dried fruit gelatin gems
- Frozen bananas
- Frozen grapes
- Fresh fruit
- Low-fat or fat-free unsweetened
- fruit yogurt
When snacking, limit calorie intake; it’s a snack, not another meal! For some ideas on low-cal choices, check out these links:
3. Overcome Barriers to Healthy Eating: At some time all of us make unwise eating choices. Which of these barriers apply to you?
- Overindulging: Processed foods, sweets, salty snacks, high fat foods; frequent fast-food meals or restaurant meals
- Under-selecting: Too few fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, not drinking enough water, skipping meals
- Lack of self-control: Binge eating, overeating to point of being stuffed, frequent snacking
- Emotional eating: When anxious, depressed, lonely, angry, frustrated or bored
- Not preparing healthy food: No time, too tired, too busy, too expensive, don’t know how, family/friends won’t eat healthy food if I prepare it
Replacing these choices and behaviors with more nutritious ones will improve your health, increase your resilience and sustain your energy for caregiving. Check-out these links for some ways to overcome your barriers to healthy eating:
Healthy Nutrition for Resilient Caregivers
None of these ideas are difficult, but choosing them can be. Disciplined, healthy eating patterns are an important way to build your strength and stamina. Protecting your wellbeing benefits both you and those in your care. Use these nutritional strategies to boost your resilience and preserve your capacity to care.