Food and diet are individual and subjective, especially when you have a chronic illness and specific dietary requirements. You know your body better than anybody, but today we have a guest post from trained nutritional therapist and blogger, Gillian Francis, about eating for energy. You can find more from Gill on her website!
The food we eat can set the tone for our day. We are all unique, and ideally our food should be tailored to suit that. However, life with an energy-limiting chronic illness can sometimes mean that I have limited mental and physical energy to spend thinking about how to best get the nutrients that will support my body. I’m sure that anybody with a chronic illness will be able to relate to the unpredictable nature of our symptoms, but generally it’s about doing what I can with the energy available to me.
It isn’t always easy, especially alongside managing work, but over the years I have figured out what works best for me. That knowledge has made a profound difference to my quality of life, and I’m passionate about helping others in the chronic illness community to discover that too.
Ensuring that we have the energy to manage our working life is essential, all the more so when you have a long-term illness. Therefore, today I’ll be sharing some tips and strategies that I have learned through my training in nutritional therapy and my personal experiences, that I hope will be helpful for you too.
Preparation and Cooking
The key is identifying nutritious foods that are easy to prepare and making sure you always have these available to you. For example, I always have the ingredients for a number of easy meals on stand-by so I can just throw them together. Have a look at my kitchen staples list to see what might work for you.
A bit of preparation helps so much with saving energy later. I do some preparation on the days I am not working, so that I don’t have to use as much energy on cooking during busier work days. I have also found ways to keep this preparation minimal. I order groceries online to preserve my energy and to make sure I can get everything I need for the week. I buy frozen garlic, onions or veggies which take much less energy to prepare. All the meals I make are flexible in ingredients, so it is generally vegetables, protein (fish/chicken/tofu) and complex carbohydrates (brown rice, rye bread, rice noodles, oat cakes) with some a dressing or sauce (e.g. hummus or soy sauce, sesame oil and tahini). I cook in bulk where I can or buy pre-cooked chicken, turkey and tofu. I roast a batch of veggies such as courgette, red pepper, mushrooms and chickpeas and use them for 3-4 days. I add raw veggies for extra nutrients and texture.
Here are a few suggestions for a small meal to get you started:
– An open-faced sandwich made with some rye/brown bread with chicken or tofu, hummus, cucumber and/or carrots, or any other veggies you like. Pile everything on top and dig in! Aim for a mix of colours on your plate to ensure you’re getting the nutrients in. I also drizzle a bit of chili olive oil over this for some extra flavour and to add healthy fats.
– Mixed vegetables with chicken, salmon or tofu. I often use frozen mixed vegetables or frozen peas that I have taken out the night before or in the morning. These are already cooked so once thawed, they’re ready to go. Drizzle the veggies with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. This helps with the absorption of the nutrients from the greens. I usually add tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) and sesame or olive oil and some salt and pepper. I put it straight on and mix it in with the food or you can mix it in a bowl and then add. One of my favourite dressings is tamari, sesame oil and almond or peanut butter (about a teaspoon of each for one person) with a splash of apple cider vinegar or lime. This is easily tailored to your taste and preferences.
– Soup with brown rice and plenty of veggies. Many pre-prepared soups are both delicious and nutritious. Add a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil after it is cooked to increase healthy fats and nutrient absorption.
The general focus is to eat food that tastes good, is easy to prepare and that supports your body!
Digestion and Blood Sugar Levels
Digestion requires a lot of physical energy, so choosing foods mindfully can be instrumental in how you feel throughout the day. When I’m working I need to make choices especially carefully, otherwise I end up too exhausted to concentrate on my work or even sit at my desk sometimes! If I’m having a particularly challenging day I will focus on soups, fruit and vegetable smoothies and things that don’t take as much energy to chew or digest.
I also make sure I have plenty of healthy snacks nearby, as these can help to stabilise blood sugar throughout the day. Things like oatcakes, mixed unroasted nuts, apples, pears, clementines, and yoghurt can all be good options. Oat cakes with natural peanut butter and an apple is a yummy combination and a particular favourite of mine when I’m taking a break from work!
Food and diet are individual and subjective, but experiment with what works best for you and see how it goes. Generally speaking, getting a blend of protein, carbohydrate and fats is a good place to start. It’s all about the balance on the plate, and most importantly, choosing foods you enjoy that enable you to feel your best. Happy eating!
Thanks for writing for us, Gillian – you can find more from Gill on her website!