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Cooking With a Chronic Illness

When you’re diagnosed with a chronic illness, it can feel as if suddenly your whole world has changed. You may find that your daily regimen is oriented around your illness – how to manage it or, at the very least, how to avoid exacerbating it.

The good news, though, is that while a chronic illness can make you feel as if your life and your body have slipped beyond your control, there are some important measures you can take to get your sense of power and self-mastery back. For many of us, it begins with the foods we eat.

Indeed, ask any informed physician and they’ll tell you what the foodies among us have long understood: that food isn’t just pleasure, it’s also medicine.

So if you’re learning to live a happy, healthy life in the face of a chronic illness, perhaps one of the best places to start is in the kitchen. In this article, we’ll explore ways you can get cooking for health and enjoyment when you have a chronic health condition.

Having a Plan

When you have a chronic illness, you’re likely going to find that you just can’t function in quite the same way that you once did. You are probably going to experience pain, fatigue, and other symptoms that will necessarily impact how and when you get things done.

When it comes to your diet in general and your meal planning in particular, this means that you will need to plan ahead. Learning little tricks to cut down on the stamina required to prepare a healthy meal can mean the difference between enjoying a diet rich in disease-fighting nutrients or forcing your body to go without.

Fortunately, cooking hacks are pretty simple. For instance, you can purchase pre-cut and frozen fruits and vegetables that are often every bit as nutritious as fresh produce.

In addition, you can make use of handy-dandy appliances such as juicers, food processors, and salad spinners to cut down on the prep work and time. This can be especially helpful if you have trouble standing for long periods or are experiencing reduced hand mobility and grip strength. 

Another great strategy is to take advantage of the good days to prepare for those times when you’re not feeling as strong. You can plan small, healthy meals and snacks ahead of time, storing them in the freezer or refrigerator in single-serving resealable bags or containers.

This way, when you’re not quite feeling up to cooking, you can simply pop a healthy meal into the microwave or enjoy a cool, refreshing snack straight from the fridge.

The Right Diet For Your Condition

In addition to getting your meal prep plan down pat, it’s also important to understand how your condition may affect your nutritional needs. Indeed, there’s a vast and growing amount of research to demonstrate the vital role that diet plays in managing chronic illness.

For example, if you have been diagnosed with a chronic digestive disorder, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or Crohn’s disease, you may find that a low-residue, low fiber diet can significantly reduce your symptoms. This plan requires you to significantly reduce or entirely eliminate hard-to-digest dietary fiber from your diet. Though this is a regimen that should only be followed on a short-term basis, it can be highly effective in managing digestive disorders by providing the bowels with intermittent periods of rest.

If you have been diagnosed with a chronic inflammatory disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may also find that a change in diet can yield substantial benefits. For example, the Whole30 diet is predicated on the assumption that many autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, may be attributed, at least in part, to environmental toxins, and particularly to the harmful ingredients found in many highly processed foods. 

The Whole30 diet is highly restrictive, designed to cleanse the body by eliminating everything but the most nutritious whole foods for a period of at least 30 days. While there have as yet been no large-scale studies to test the effects of the Whole30 diet on those with chronic illnesses, anecdotal reports hold that the regimen can reduce RA symptoms, including fatigue, pain, and stiffness, in some people.

In recent years, the keto diet has gotten a lot of press, particularly for its efficacy in promoting weight loss and increasing energy. However, there is also evidence that keto can be highly beneficial in the management of some chronic illnesses. Persons with type II diabetes, for instance, have been shown to benefit from a keto diet. Keto not only helps regulate blood glucose levels but it also helps reduce cholesterol and blood pressure, both of which are of critical importance to persons with type II diabetes, given their highly elevated risk for heart attack and stroke.

The Takeaway

Living with a chronic illness can make you feel powerless sometimes. However, managing your diet can be an important and necessary first step in getting your health, and your power, back. The key is planning ahead, learning the cooking hacks you need to maintain a healthy diet, and understanding how your condition has impacted your nutritional needs.

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