Medical Diets

When you’re struggling with your mental health, it can be very difficult to navigate the equally tough world of physical health. Sometimes, you get saddled with complicated medical conditions that require therapeutic diets. Conditions like IBS, diabetes, Chron’s disease, Celiac disease, epilepsy, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and more. These aren’t the diets you hear about in the media, like Atkins, blood type diet, detoxing, juice fasting, etc. I’m not going to go into those. These are diets that are supported by the medical community and are used to treat specific medical conditions.

Some of these diets are the low-FODMAP diet, the gluten-free diet, the Ketogenic diet, the DASH diet, among others. These diets should be closely monitored by a medical professional, as they are treatments for medical conditions. Once again, I am NOT a medical professional. I’m barely qualified to write a blog. Please see your doctor or dietician for advice.

Ok, so, how do you mange these diets when you already have a full plate (lame pun totally intended)? The key is to really rely on prep and proven foods.

For example, I have the unfortunate pleasure of being on the low-FODMAP diet. I have visceral hypersensitivity, which is a very painful condition in which it hurts when organs perform their normal functions. While I don’t have IBS, my doctor thought it would be helpful to go on this diet. I went on the diet once before, and I wound up giving it up because it got too depressing. This time, however, I’m determined to do it right.

So, what did I learn the first time?

1. It takes some planning.
One of the hardest parts about medical diets is that it’s hard to grab food on the fly. There’s no guarantee that a restaurant will have something you can eat, and even if there’s something suitable on the menu, there’s still a risk of cross-contamination (big problem for people with allergies and vegans). This is especially difficult on the low-FODMAP diet, where you can’t have any onions or garlic. Planning might include calling restaurants before you eat there, bringing your own food to a friend’s house, or carry a protein bar with you. Make sure you know exactly what you can and can’t eat. If it’s a long list, it might be helpful to carry it with you.

2. It takes some prep.
Even if you decide to cook at home, it doesn’t ensure you can buy the necessary ingredients. You might have to make your own salad dressings, condiments, baked goods, etc. For example, it’s almost impossible to find low-FODMAP BBQ sauce. So, I make my own, put it into little containers, and freeze it. That way, I don’t have to make BBQ sauce every time a recipe requires it. I also like to stock up on gluten-free pasta, gluten-free breadcrumbs, suitable vegetables, etc. since there’s no guarantee I’ll be able to find the ingredients on short notice.

3. Keep a tally of brand names of products on which you can rely.
This will save you an ENORMOUS amount of time when you shop, especially while you try to get into a routine. While you should continue checking the labels in case they change the formula, your shopping trip doesn’t have to revolve around it. You can make the process easier by guessing and checking, major allergen labeling, and using an app (such as UPC Sanner). Once you’ve built your list, you can send it to family members to make their lives easier as well.

4. Make it easy to differentiate “safe food” in your cabinets.
I like to store my designated products away from stuff I can’t have and then put a sticker on the packages. It might be overkill, but I like fun stickers.

5. Look for food in unexpected places.
In the days of the internet, we now have the ability to order lots of weird crap online! If it’s hard to find specialized food near you, check out Amazon. However, I would recommend only ordering from a trusted retailer. I’ve also had good luck at health food stores and ethnic food markets. If you do go to an ethnic food market (and can’t read the product’s original language), make sure you do some research online first. The labeling isn’t always phenomenal.

6. It’s okay to be pissed.
Seriously. It’s quite the loss, and it’s hard to do. Every time I visit the produce aisle, I still get sad about not being able to have mangoes. No more croissants, no more hummus, no more avocados. It’s difficult to hang out with friends and I hate quizzing the waiters about ingredients. But it does get easier and you’ll get in the groove of it.

Need ideas for easy recipes that accommodate your dietary restrictions? Visit the Clean Brains Pinterest board.

Replacements

One of these has got to fit mine, right?

When you buy an item that requires a replacement part, take a picture of what the replacement part looks like. That way, when you get to the store, you’ll always know the part you need.

Sample items this works for:
Razors
Air/Water filters
Light bulbs
Electric toothbrush heads
Wiper blades
Batteries (for watches, scales, etc)
Vacuum bags
Printer ink
Cords, wires, chargers
Air freshened cartridges
Items in a matching set (flatware, dishes, etc)
Hardware (screws, nails, etc)

Easy Eats

Time to prep a midnight snack.

Time to prep a midnight snack.

Let’s face it- a big part of what we choose to eat is what we see in front of us. Think about it. It’s late at night and a hour after you took your Seroquel. You get that nagging need to eat, so you raid your fridge and pantry looking for something to nom on.

What do you eat? Well, what’s there? Ice cream? Chips?

In general, it’s easier to find unhealthy snacks. They’re shelf stable, easy to package, and all the cooking is done for you. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, are hard. You have to wash them and cut them. Avocados go bad, like, five minutes after you buy them. If you’re not feeling that great or if it’s late at night, your train of thought won’t be, “Oh wow! So happy I grabbed that zucchini! Let’s wash, peel, and slice that sucker. Maybe I’ll pan-fry that bitch in some Himalayan sea salt and olive oil.” Or, if that is your train of thought, I envy you, because mine is: “Are those chips? Are they more than crumbs? How stale are they?” Although, I’d still eat them even if they tasted like cardboard and I had to use a spoon.

So what do you do? Make it easier to eat the healthy option. If you buy fresh vegetables, wash and cut them all at once and toss them in the fridge. I love fresh berries. When I get some, I dump them in my Sistema colander/storage container, wash them with a veggie wash, and stick them in the fridge. You can also find pre-cut and washed apples, carrots, etc in the produce department of your grocery store. Yogurt is a great choice, especially those nifty Siggi’s tubes. And there’s also my old stand-by of hard boiled eggs.

If you need something shelf-stable, try almonds or applesauce. Besides the salt, turkey jerky can be a good choice for protein. Bananas and peanut butter are a good choice.

Once you have a selection of good snacks, make the unhealthy snacks harder to get. You can avoid buying them, have a friend hide them from you, put them in the basement, or keep them in your car. Worst case? Get one of these kitchen timed safes. Make yourself work a little for it.

Two of a Kind

If you tend to forget or lose critical items, try to make duplicates and store them in different locations. For example, I always carry two wallets with me. Each wallet has at least a valid driver’s license and a charge card. If, for some reason, I don’t have one wallet, I at least have a back-up. If you always seem to forget money, buy a few generic gift cards and store them in your backpack, gym bag, at work, etc. It saves you the embarrassment of being unable to pay for a shopping trip or constantly borrowing from friends. This method works with a number of things, such as house keys, hair ties, device chargers, bottle openers, lighters, headphones, lip balm, pens, scissors, etc. For items that come in pairs (e.g. socks, gloves, plastic storage containers), buy several of the same type so they can all match with each other. For example, if you buy all white socks, you don’t have to spend time searching for a lost a lost one’s mate.

Surprise Visitors

Have an emergency box for visitors. Don’t use the contents unless you absolutely must and, if so, replace them. It can be awkward and embarrassing when people drop by and you have to basically tell them, “Sorry, I have nothing to offer you.”

Examples:

  • Samples of good quality tea, both normal and herbal. These can often be picked up at hospitals/hotels, etc. Or, when round at your parents’ or friends’ homes, comment that the tea they served was fantastic and ask if it would be ok to take two or three bags. If they are foil sealed, wonderful. If not, cover in foil or put in zip lock bag.
  • Smallest bottle possible of a decent instant coffee (Starbucks Via isn’t bad, and it looks fancy.)
  • Long life milk/unrefrigerated soy or nut milk.
  • Individual samples. You can generally get these for free at restaurants, coffee shops, etc. Individual packets are generally more shelf-stable so you won’t have to use/throw out a whole bottle of something. I try to find:

 

Sugar/Sweeteners/Honey Ketchup, Mayo, Mustard, Relish
Dipping Sauce (BBQ, Honey Mustard) Dairy Creamers
Salad Dressing Jams/Jellies/Marmalades/Syrups
Hot Sauce Soy Sauce

 

If you don’t want to take these for free, you can pick them up online as well.

  • A nice, clean set of dishes (so you don’t have to scramble to clean anything). You can also get a decent set of disposable dishes as  well.
  • A packet of decent cookies, crackers, or chips
  • Frozen finger food that can be heated within 15 minutes in your disposable oven tray and served up in a disposable bowl. French fries are good for this. If you need something fancier, the Archer Farms brand at Target has some decent frozen appetizers.
  • Another winner is to have a packet of corn tortilla chips, jar of salsa, and shredded cheese (stored in the freezer). Bang it all together on a large disposal plate pop in microwave and within three minutes – simple but delicious nachos. You can always add a tin of jalapeños or canned chili (I like Amy’s brand) for bulk.
  • Microwavable popcorn

Dry Clean? Never!

Go out of your way to buy clothes that don’t need to be dry-cleaned or ironed. If you find an article of clothing you like, buy several of that item in varying colors. If you don’t have the time or space to stock up, you can take a picture of the tag in case you want to buy it later.

Use the infographic below to help you read the cryptic clothing symbols:

 

Frozen

I love frozen fruits, vegetables, and meats. You can buy them at your local grocery store, and they’re generally pretty cheap (vegetables are usually under $1.00 USD). Frozen produce is much healthier than its canned counterparts, and it lasts a long time. This way, you can buy in bulk, and if you change your mind about cooking or can’t bring yourself to eat a full meal, you don’t have to worry about wasting fresh food.

Frozen fruits also make for some good smoothies!

Packing Your Pantry

Pack your pantry and freezer with healthy easy-to-prepare meals. Always go for the least processed option and try to avoid white sugar and especially white flour. Soups, baked beans, etc. are a good start, along with frozen fruits, vegetables, and meat. The priorities here are to get stuff that is non-perishable, easy to prepare with a minimum of effort, and provides decent nutrition. You check the recipes portion of this site for some ideas.

Living with Paper

Get yourself a supply of paper plates, bowls, baking dishes, and cutlery. Biodegradable products are freely available, and the ones made out of strengthened paper can be reused if not soiled. This allows you to eat with some dignity without having to worry about washing them, as you can dispose of everything afterwards. This is not optimal for the environment, but we are looking at temporary hacks while you are unwell.

Likewise, purchase disposal oven trays. Aluminum is fine, but the reinforced paper ones are best, as they come with plastic lids so cooked food can be placed straight into the refrigerator once cool (but don’t wait longer than two hours after it’s cooled!)

Shelf-Stable Food

Amy's Lentil Vegetable SoupHave an emergency supply of self-stable food that will last at least a week. Don’t use these items unless you have to, so if your mental health does decompose you are stocked up. This could include:

  • Brown rice
  • Canned or dried beans
  • Shelf-stable milk and nut milks
  • Protein shakes and bars
  • Cereals
  • Oats
  • Dehydrated potatoes
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Honey, agave, and molasses
  • Canned soups (I really like Amy’s Brand)
  • Canned tuna or chicken
  • Apple sauce
  • Trail mix