Making Cooking Easier When You’re Chronically Ill

 

A healthy, balanced diet is vital for everyone. It provides your body and mind with the fuel they need to function optimally. However, when you live with a chronic illness, it becomes even more important to ensure you’re eating well. That’s often a lot tougher than it sounds. 

Why a balanced diet is important

It’s important to note that when we’re talking about diet, we simply mean the foods we choose to eat, rather than any type of food restriction. As well as the usual health benefits of eating well, there are many reasons a balanced diet is important for those with chronic illness. Firstly, fatigue is a common and debilitating symptom of many chronic illnesses. Therefore, giving your body as much energy as you can help to set you up for success and enables you to tackle fatigue as much as possible. 


Often those who are chronically ill have a weakened immune system. Eating a healthy diet can help to combat this by providing your body with the nutrients it needs to fight off illness. The right diet also helps our body to heal and repair itself and promotes stronger bones. 


A healthy diet can help you to maintain a healthy weight, which becomes even more important if you have joint problems. More weight on your joints with conditions such as arthritis, often makes movement mobility more challenging. When you live with chronic pain,  your stress levels are often high. These prolonged stress levels can cause other physical issues (such as problems with your heart), which a healthy diet can help to combat.


Many of us who live with chronic illness struggle with cognitive issues. For example, I live with fibromyalgia and struggle with ‘fibro fog’, which makes memory, concentration, and thinking clearly challenging. Eating a healthy diet helps your mind to function properly and plays a part in tackling cognitive issues. 


Eating the right balance of foods can help to combat inflammation. This is particularly useful for those with chronic pain because inflammation can cause and worsen pain. Lastly, chronic illness can sometimes make you more susceptible to developing other health issues: a healthy diet plays a part in preventing this.

Easier said than done.

Knowing all of this is great, but it’s so much easier said than done! When you live with chronic illness, so much of your time is spent surviving, managing your symptoms, and doing your best to function. It’s hard enough to cope without trying to add extra tasks to your list. 

If you've heard of the spoon theory, you’ll know that we only have so much energy in a day. If you’re a spoonie yourself, you’ll already know how draining just living is! It’s hard to dedicate much of our energy to cooking and preparing food, when you have other priorities. Taking the time to regularly cook homemade meals can feel like climbing a mountain, and is often simply not realistic. 

Tips to make cooking easier 

Thankfully there are ways to do the cooking and eating a healthy diet more realistic and manageable. Let’s take a look at some tips:


Shopping online

Going out to get your food shopping can take up so much energy. You can save those spoons for other tasks. Instead, shopping online can be so much easier. You can do it on your sofa or your bed. It allows you to take your time to think about what you want to buy (instead of grabbing for less healthy alternatives). 


Best of all, your shopping gets delivered to your door. Don’t be afraid to ask the delivery driver to bring your bags right into your kitchen for you, and even to set them on the counter to save you from bending down. You can always ask a loved one to help you unpack your shopping. If you don’t have help, start with putting away your frozen and fridge stuff and then you can take your time after that. Allow yourself to take breaks and cheer yourself on. 


Buy pre-prepared foods

There are so many supermarkets which have pre-prepared packets of food. This isn’t referring to ready meals (although these can be helpful too at times), but rather pre-prepared ingredients. For example, you can buy chopped, peeled and washed vegetables, or ready chopped fruit. This saves so much time and energy! 


Depending on where you shop, you might also be able to buy pre-prepared meat which is seasoned and chopped. These options allow you to just open the packet and start cooking, which can be much more manageable.




Batch cook

If you get a burst of energy, it’s important not to overdo things, but it’s a great idea to utilize your ‘good days’. It can be useful to cook healthy meals in batches which you can put in the fridge or freezer. That way when you’re having a hard day, you just have to quickly heat them up. This stops you reaching for unhealthy options, but is still convenient and quick. 


Use kitchen gadgets

Don’t be afraid to use kitchen gadgets: they can make life easier and aren’t always very expensive. A great option is a slow cooker. This allows you to put in all of your ingredients and simply leave it to cook for the day. At the end of the day, you have a warm, healthy meal just ready to serve. There are lots of great simple recipes online, or you can experiment. Depending on the size of your slow cooker, you can even use it to cook in batches.


Another useful cooking device is a steamer. You can pop fish, vegetables, meat, and all sorts of other ingredients in there and leave it to cook. It cooks quickly, and is very healthy as you’re not using any oils or fats to cook with. 


There are lots of other helpful gadgets you might find, such as an electric can opener (this can save energy and be great if you struggle with pain in your arms and wrists). There are also plenty of easy-grip options for knives and other utensils. 


Sit down

When possible, sit down to do your cooking. No rule says you need to be standing in the kitchen. You may even be able to buy higher stools to allow you to sit at the right height for your kitchen counter if stools are comfortable for you.


Keep meals simple

Healthy eating doesn’t mean that things have to be complicated or fancy. Choose simple meals with few ingredients to minimize the time and effort you need to put in. This also tends to reduce cost. Simple meals can be just as tasty, filling, and healthy. 


Ask for help

Asking for help can be really tough in any area of life. Sometimes chronic illness can feel as though it has taken a lot of your independence away from you. There are a lot of emotions which can come along with asking for assistance. However, learning to ask for help when you need it can be really beneficial.


You could ask loved ones to help you batch cook or pre-prepared meals so that you just have to heat them up. If you’re having a tough time, you could ask them to cook some meals for you. Remember that there’s no shame in allowing others to be there for you.

Cooking is achievable 

Although it can be tough to prioritize cooking and eating well, it really can make a difference and is so beneficial for your health. There are ways to have tasty healthy meals without it costing a fortune or taking up all of your energy for the day. By making things easier for yourself, cooking healthy meals can be an achievable goal!


Lastly, remember not to be too hard on yourself. If you don’t have the energy to cook this week, take a rest instead. If you order a takeaway, enjoy it guilt-free! If you have a treat, don’t be harsh with yourself. Life with a chronic illness is hard enough: you deserve a treat now and then. You’re doing your best, and that is more than good enough. Be kind to yourself and encourage yourself. 


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