Eating Well When You’re Too Exhausted to Cook

Eating well when you're exhausted, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos, autoimmune disease, paleo

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.

Crockpot Thai Beef Stew, Danielle Walker, Elaina Avalos, Elaina M. Avalos

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

healthy smoothies, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

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!

Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

Dr. Rick Hanson, Being Well, Wellness, Elaina Avalos, Overcome Your Limiting Beliefs

If you’re pursuing wellness, particularly wellness as it pertains to your mental health, this is a great podcast to check out. While I don’t agree with everything I hear on the podcast (some doesn’t fit certain areas of my faith), I have found that much of what Dr. Hanson (and his son Forrest) discuss on the podcast, is immensely helpful. What I think is most helpful is what I have come to see as Dr. Hanson’s emphasis on our ability to control and impact our well-being, thinking, and ultimately emotions. This is a great episode. Click HERE to check it out. This podcast is one of my favorite things.

Wooden Saints & Pluff Mud

beaufort south carolina, elaina m. avalos, parris island, lowcountry,
Marsh sunsets

I drove south, about 250 miles, this afternoon. Though I’ve lived near the coast of North Carolina (aka Eastern North Carolina) for most of the last 20 years (with a few detours along the way), I saw country this afternoon I’ve never seen before. No matter how many times I encounter these backroads swamps, corn fields, or sweet potatoes – stretching out forever – nestled between thick pine forest, it still catches this city girl by surprise. It’s always a delight.

I’m in South Carolina’s Lowcountry now, staying at a sweet little Airbnb. My room – with a view of the marsh, is nothing compared to the gift of sitting on this quiet front porch this evening. Blessed quiet. I can’t tell you the joy of not being in an apartment today. The fan is whirring, I have a glass of wine, and I’m currently listening to Ray LaMontagne’s “Such a Simple Thing,” from this playlist:




I don’t know what the days ahead hold for me. I mean, who does, really? But sometimes we have these sweet breaks. Moments of pure joy & delight in the midst of the unknown. And today/tomorrow is one of those breaks for me.

I write about the places I know (California, D.C., and the lovely North Carolina coast). They are featured heavily in my fiction. But outside of Nicholas Sparks, there aren’t many traditionally published writers based in and writing about North Carolina – the coast in particular. There are books set in places such as the Outer Banks. But they’re not “North Carolina writers” and place isn’t something they’re truly intimately connected to. There are exceptions. They are out there. But, those writing about the Lowcountry of South Carolina are a whole other story, however. There are so many. Some of my favorites write about the Lowcountry. I crossed the Edisto River this afternoon, and though I’ve never been here, it’s a name I know well – as if it was an old friend.

For blog readers that aren’t familiar with the area, I’m about an hour and twenty minutes from Charleston, SC and about 50-ish minutes from Savannah, Georgia. The thing about Lowcountry writers is that they write these marshes, pluff mud creeks, palmetto tree, low-tide, and high-tide rivers and creeks, and sea turtle – places, as if the place itself is an actual being. The place is a character in the book. No one else, except maybe North Carolina’s Sarah Addison Allen (who writes magical realism – set mostly in western NC), does this. I can be corrected. Feel free to prove me wrong. But Sparks, though he writes of roads and places and events (New Bern’s Ghost Walk for instance) I know well – his novels don’t make the place a character. The places are written well. But they’re not living and breathing beings. The closest he gets to this is a A Bend in the Road (set in my beloved downtown New Bern – where I once lived).

beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island

Low County writers write this place as if it is a living and breathing being – as if the creeks, rivers, and marshes will rise up and chat with you – if only you would sit still long enough. My favorite book (one of my favorite of all-time) that does this is Sweetwater Creek by Ann Rivers Siddons. It may not be the most critically acclaimed novel I’ve ever read (though a bestseller), but I will tell you this right now, Ms. Siddons writes these marshes and creeks in a way that made me long for them as a home, though I’d never been here before.

Maybe one of the most famous Lowcountry writers is the Pat Conroy. Conroy had an ability to write just about anything in a way that made me want to read more. My favorite book of his, isn’t a novel, however. It’s My Reading Life – a sort of autobiography – only it’s through the lens of the impact of the most significant books he’d read in his lifetime. Though I wished to go to the Pat Conroy Literary Center while I was here, they’re not open until Thursday (insert sad face here). I will make it eventually.

“When I started out as a kid in Beaufort who wanted to be a writer I didn’t have the slightest notion how to become one…. My home state has given me a million stories and no writer who ever lived had such riches to choose from. What I owe South Carolina is not repayable.” ~Pat Conroy.

Eventually, I will make my way back up the coast, tomorrow. I may take the long route – but I’ll eventually find myself back in Eastern North Carolina. For how long, I’m not exactly sure. But I do know that this brief break in the pace of my every day life, is a kindhearted reminder, that I can’t lose sight of the main thing.

I’ve spent nearly twenty years of my life making my job the thing. It’s not that it’s not important. I would not trade these years. Maybe. I may not find myself outside of working for the federal government for quite some time. Who knows? I certainly do not. But I do know that I’m learning every dang day, to keep the main thing, the main thing. And the job just ain’t it. As I get ready to turn in for the night, I’m reminded of the pursuit of this thing that makes me who I am. The dream I laid down? It was for a worthy cause, surely. But sometimes comfort become a habit, one we’re meant to throw off.

Sometimes the place you’re used to, is not the place you belong. – Unknown


In the quiet of this cute little brick, ranch house – with its ticking clocks and wooden saints in the window – I’m reminded of the way I was formed and the way I grew. I remember the hard and rocky roads that brought me here. It’s all led to the words I was meant to write. There is redemption and restoration there in those hard places. There is restoration in the words I’m writing now.

elaina m. avalos, beaufort south carolina, beaufort, parris island


When you speak for a person (in your professional life), you can possibly (as I have) become uncomfortable with the push and pull between public vs. private. Even more so when your name is not easily lost in the Jennifer Smiths of the vast interwebs. When the vulnerability you know is required in your writing, exposes you to those you’d rather not be exposed to, you could (I did) shrink back, lessen your words, shrink what you once believed possible, and grow too comfortable with what was.

When I stood at the kitchen sink, in this quiet airbnb this evening, and looked into the yard, past the saint in the window, I remembered what it was like to learn from the artists I knew best (mostly my Grandmother) growing up. If I’m not writing “clear and hard about what hurts” (Ernest Hemingway), I will always miss the mark. I have been missing the mark for quite some time.

For friends still reading this far – here’s what I want you to do:

1. Keep writing (clear and hard) about what hurts (or gives you joy or sets you free or lights a fire in your heart).
2. Don’t hold back.
3. Chase (hard) after those things you know (in your soul) you’re meant to do and be. It may not happen over night – getting to this place you know you’re meant to be. But nothing meant for you will pass you by. Of this I am certain. So keep at it. Keep pressing. Keep waiting – but actively waiting with expectation and hope.
4. And then, keep waiting, hoping, & working.

I don’t know where the path is taking me, but I know what I’m called to do – wherever it leads. I think you know, too – friend.

Hope, Faith, & Ho’oponopono

viktor frankl, stimulus quote, elaina avalos, elaina m. avalos

When I posted on Monday, I was a little down in the dumps. My heart is a little beat up and on top of it all, Tuesday morning, I took an early morning phone call, while getting ready for work. A former colleague has passed away. I felt like a zombie all day Tuesday. I made stupid mistakes, I was all over the place. Tuesday afternoon, I took the dog to the vet. She’s got some powerful meds to help get her through an infection and some inflammation. I hope this will put her on the right track. But she’s “old” and I worry about losing her. By last night, I just wasn’t okay. It has been one thing after another, you know?

The thing about this former colleague is that it not only broke my heart – but it drove home – how short our time on earth, actually is. It is just a mere blip. I just saw this person a few weeks ago at work. Initially, I felt a weight in the grief of it all. I had a good long cry last night. But as this loss settles in, I think it’s a far more powerful tribute to the impact this person made in my professional community, to doggedly live this wild life I know is waiting for me. Maybe the word, wild throws you off. I’ll have to write about that someday. But one of the things I mean by that is that I want to live counter to a culture that celebrates things and titles and live in the moment tasting and experiencing life and all it offers us. There’s a richness and beauty to life, but it’s often lost in the pursuit of everything else. But it’s not just that! I think we often lose out on the life we are meant to live – the life we want to live – as these painful moments rear their head, because we won’t face them.

The temptation for me & I’m sure for many others, is to shrink back in our moments of loss, pain, grief, etc. But I’ve decided this is exactly when I need to turn the dial up on my commitment to myself to chase dreams and live fully – each day. What I’m now learning (and leaning to accept) is that I can’t get there without facing the losses, pain, and grief. My words for 2021 were hope & faith. In these moments when I most want to pull the cover over my head and escape the sadness of it all, I’d rather choose hope and faith. I love joy. I love the simple things in life. In the weight of loss, it’s easy to lose track of that. I’m choosing hope & faith – against appearances. But I can’t get there without first facing the other stuff, head on.

In a slightly related and possibly also unrelated note (I’m sure that makes perfect sense to everyone), I read an article yesterday, on Elephant Journal, about the concept of HO’OPONOPONO. The article on Elephant Journal doesn’t do the concept justice – in my opinion. But I’m so glad I saw it. That article led me to do some more reading and then I found this article & video. I found it far more helpful. It’s essentially an ancient Hawaiian practice used to resolve conflicts within family units. But was used later by a therapist Dr. Ihaleakala Hew Len and others.

The thing about HO’OPONOPONO, in what I’ve read so far, is that I think its beauty and the healing concepts, come – as you choose acceptance for what is – for wrong done to you or that you’ve done, for that matter. You’re not focusing on changing the person who has hurt you, or who you need to forgive, or the situation, for that matter. You are, however, working on your perception of the situation. The result is forgiveness, love, and comfort, too. This is all a lot to add to this post. Especially when I just read about it for the first time yesterday. But the way it ties together for me, is that my perception of what’s happening, is often what is pulling me out into the current – further from hope & faith. The balance that is gained (or I guess I should say regained) can open the door to that restoration of your hope and faith – because you’re no longer tied down by unforgiveness and the painful emotions.

I’m rambling now. The bottom line is that I’m learning all around me – from people like Brene (in this post), my therapist, and in unlikely places too – that facing the stuff head on is actually the route to hope, healing, and light in the dark places. So in this season of loss, added to the season before it, I’ve made that commitment to myself this evening. I’ll keep facing it. And through that, I’m certain I’ll get closer and closer to living this dream I’ve been chasing so long.

*The Viktor Frankl quote above was given to me today, by my therapist. It’s perfect.

And honestly, it’s kind of freeing, in my opinion.*

Steadying Yourself in the Waves

Roaring Rivers Vineyard and Winery, Roaring Rivers Vineyards, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Roaring Rivers Vineyard – our third stop tomorrow!

Do you know what I am? I am beat. It has been the longest two years of my life. I know everyone was sick of 2020 and pandemic life. It has been hard. I’m emotionally beat down and exhausted. I sometimes can’t see past the craziness that has been all around me at every turn. I don’t share much here about my professional life. But between what happened with my {foster} son, his family, and the last year at work, I am burned out.

One of the things therapy has been reminding me is that I can steady myself in the waves, even though it sometimes seems impossible. What I really want is for the waves to stop – to give me a chance to recover between the hits. They just don’t. That’s not life, friends. If you read here much, you may have noticed I love the ocean. What is true of the sea is that the waves don’t stop. They’re constant. This is comforting in many ways. But when thinking about them as problems or struggles in life, it can feel a little overwhelming. I can’t stop them from coming. And if I try, I’m going to be extremely disappointed to say the least. The key is to figure out how to steady myself in the waves as they come.

I’m working on it. I’m getting better and better at it all of the time. But some of it requires me simply shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Sorry. I can’t do that right now.” Or, in my head, while dealing with a toxic sort of soul, let him think and do what he will. He can control many things – but he can’t control my reactions. Other ways I’m dealing with the crazy: taking vacation days, having “I think I’m going to . . . ” kind of days – where I just do the little things that give me joy, writing, and staying in bed on days when it seems like I can’t eek out another minute in all this toxic craziness. These are all life giving to me.

Shelton Vineyard and Winery, Shelton winery, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Shelton Vineyards – Our first stop!

So . . . this trip is a little impractical due to what I’ll call a work project. But I need it. Have you ever just needed something or someone and you just . . . you just gotta go for it? That’s me these days. So while the waves keep coming, I’m finding the ways to steady myself. And I’m going after what I want. I mean, if I don’t go for it – for my life – who will?

I am looking forward to my little weekend getaway. But more than just the weekend itself, I’m considering this the start to an amazing year.

grassy creek vineyard, bailey batten photography, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Stop numero dos – Grassy Creek Vineyard & Winery (they have some trails I want to check out too).

What are the ways you steady yourself in the waves? I share because I know there are others struggling and there’s no point to going through hard times if we can’t share our experiences with others.