One of the most challenging aspects of chronic illness – autoimmune disease in particular – is that there are often elements of our illnesses that would be significantly easier on us, if we just had the danged energy to do them. Or, in the best case scenario, they may even be practices that help put us into remission. Two of the hardest, in my opinion, are exercise and eating well.
Eating well when you’re exhausted, is not easy. I don’t have the answers. I’m still struggling through this myself. In the last month, I’ve made some attempts to right the ship in terms of my gut health overall. But it’s hard work. If your autoimmune disease is attacking or destroying your gastrointestinal system, hopefully your docs will give you the right combo of meds so that healing can begin. But I believe strongly that what we put into our bodies, is a critical piece of the healing journey.
I’ve always thought this. I just haven’t always had the ability to do it. What I know for sure is that exactly one month ago, I started getting sick every time I ate. I wasn’t particularly nauseous, though I often struggle with nausea. I couldn’t eat anything but extremely bland food. Anything that was “normal” food – just didn’t work. I was sick for a couple of weeks without being able to figure out what was truly going on. I didn’t have the flu – it went on for too long.
So, I went drastic and removed everything in my house that potentially had gluten cross-contamination, anything with “gums” such as xantham or guar gum, almost all processed foods, etc. I removed all dairy. And while I intended to remove all grains, it was gluten free pasta and rice that I seemed to tolerate without getting sick, so I kept those on hand.
Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.Hippocrates
I’ve settled on Paleo as the type of eating I feel may be safest and healthiest for me. The problem is, for the most part, it requires that you cook nearly all of your food at home. I started reading Danielle Walker’s memoir, as I mentioned here and I bought her second cookbook. After reading through the cookbook and based on what I already knew, I came up with a plan.
I bought locally raised meat (which is pricey for me as a single person – but I will do about once a month), mostly organic herbs, vegetables, and fruit. We live in an area that struggles to get everything we need at times, so there were some fresh vegetables I couldn’t get that week. I bought frozen instead (don’t recommend canned).
The cookbook has a meal plan that includes grocery lists and all. It’s super helpful for organizing. I made some simplifications where I could. For example, in the first week’s meal plan, there are chicken ranch wraps. The recipe calls for homemade wraps. I will get to this eventually. But I just didn’t have the strength to deal with that too. What I did know I could find was “coconut wraps” (which I love). I couldn’t get the wraps from Thrive Market in time – so even better, I went to a sort-of local store that sells specialty, organic, vegan, keto, etc., food. The coconut wraps are straight up, simple food without any junk. They’re coconut, salt, and the Thrive brand also uses coconut oil.
Overall that week I made Danielle Walker’s Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, a shredded pork shoulder dish, baked bacon for my “ranch wraps” and my Mom baked up some of the chicken (breasts & thighs) for me. By far, my favorite recipe was the Thai Beef Stew! The beef, from a local farm, is some of the best I’ve had in ages. The stew (linked above) was filled with goodness – carrots, broccoli, coconut milk, fish sauce, red curry, and more. The stew was served over coconut lime cauliflower rice.
If you’re on your own, like I am, this is extremely intimidating. And honestly, it feels next to impossible. My mom came over to help me prep. She helped me with washing and cutting some veggies and helped get my kitchen organized beforehand. Using someone else’s system via the cookbook, helped a lot. I made a list of what I would need to do first and in what order. I highly recommend you doing this if you struggle with organization and memory issues like I do.
I was hopeful though – hopeful that after almost two weeks of getting sick after eating, I was on the right track.
I ended up getting sick that very night. I am not going to lie, I was heartbroken all day Monday. I was also exhausted from shopping for the food (though most of it was just pre-ordered and picked up), and then cooking. I felt defeated the next day. I won’t lie – I have been on a roller coaster ever since. I’ve gotten sick a few times since then. When it happens, I revert back to very bland food for a couple of days and then go right back to eating my delish food.
I did roll back my decision to not eat any processed food or grains. With getting sick so much and feeling so exhausted by it all, I added in some comfort food – like corn tortillas, as an example. They’re gluten free and there’s no junk in them. But my system will probably eventually need a total break from the grains like rice and corn. For now, it is what it is.
If you have to backslide a little, especially if your autoimmune disease isn’t under control, don’t beat yourself up. Do the best you can. I’m a snacker for instance. This new way of eating cuts out my absolute favorite thing to much on – tortilla chips! Last grocery order, I went half way and ordered a blue corn organic chip that had no junk – whatsoever. This order, I don’t have any munchies. Do what you can, when you can. At least that’s what I’m telling myself right now.
Here are a couple of other things I’ve bought or am doing:
– Coconut yogurt from So Delicious (I was so hungry last night before bed and had vanilla coconut yogurt, blueberries, and a tiny smidge of raw honey).
– Smoothies for breakfast
So much of the almond milk out there has junk in it. But you guys – I’m just not at a place where I can make it like I probably should. So for now, I’ll buy the cleanest brands I can (most have the gums in them). While I have tons of fruit, including some that are great for your gut like pineapple or are anti-inflammatory like cherries – this week, I’ve enjoyed the smoothie above:
– 1 Cup of almond milk
– 1 (or 2) Tablespoons of almond butter
– Banana (frozen banana would probably be better)
– I used 1 scoop Ancient Nutrition Chocolate Bone Broth powder
– Any protein or collagen powder would be great
– Avocado is also a great addition – You can find cubed, frozen avocado at Wal Mart too.
– If you don’t have a collagen or protein powder that has a natural sweetener, a teaspoon of raw honey is great. If your bananas are very ripe, you probably don’t need any additional sweetener.
– Add all ingredients to blender and blend until combined.
Tomorrow (a day off work), I’ll be making a beef and pork roast to save for meals throughout the next week or two. I still have chicken from the previous cooking marathon! Next weekend, I’ll order from the local farm again. If you don’t cook your meals after prepping, you can place all ingredients, including the raw meat, in plastic bags and freeze. And then, for those recipes that are crockpot friendly, you’d place in your crockpot before leaving for work for the day.
If you cook and freeze, wait until the food has cooled and divide into freezer bags or glass or plastic containers, to stack in the freezer. The goal is to spend 1-2 days cooking vs requiring the energy to do it each day.
This makes eating well when you’re struggling with exhaustion, just a smidge easier. It made a huge difference over the last couple of weeks to know that I could grab something healthy and homemade from the freezer, without having to think too much. If you’re like me and have to work full time (that’s a whole other post), the last thing you want when you come home exhausted, is to worry about cooking food that’s good for you.
Making a transition like this is not easy. To be honest, I’ve been plenty discouraged. But find time savers where you can. If you can’t make everything from scratch just yet, find specific ways you can make adjustments and go for it. For instance, make 2-3 meat-based dishes that can be used for lunches and dinner and maybe use convenience foods like frozen bags of cauliflower rice (versus trying to make it from scratch), to eat with your main dishes. Find healthy “wraps” for sandwiches or divide up salad mixes into individual containers and add your meat dishes for salads throughout the week.
This is going to be a process. It’s not easy. I’m a foodie. I love cooking and the whole process of deciding on food, wine, or even cocktails to go with meals. I love cooking over the holidays. I mean, I adore it. Finding yourself in a position where you can’t eat what you love, stings. Being so fatigued that simple life tasks are excruciating, doesn’t help.
But if I can do it, with a stressful job, and challenges all around me – you can too. What are some ways you’ve made meal prep or healthy eating a priority or easier on yourself? I would love to hear!