Looking after a friend or relative can be hugely rewarding, but it is important to not forget about your own needs.
Carers often put their own needs last, and whilst this may appear the only practical option it can also be tiring and stressful at times. Eating a varied, balanced diet is really important to help provide good nutrition to support you, too.
Barriers to eating well
We all know that eating a balanced diet is an essential part of overall health, but carers are often tasked with providing healthful meals for both their loved one and themselves.
Preparing and eating healthy meals can be difficult. Some of the common reasons why carers may fall short on eating well include:
- As a carer, your lifestyle can be busy and demanding. This may mean there's little time left over in a day to prepare nutritious, well balanced meals. Some carers may rely too much on ready-to-eat food choices high in calories which can lead to weight gain. For others, skipping meals due to other commitments mean they don't eat enough, and so lose weight.
- A carer's lifestyle can come with psychological duress, which may mean you don't feel like eating, so fill up on less healthy snack foods as a quick and easy option. It's not uncommon to feel too tired to prepare your own meals, especially if you become ill as well.
- Being a carer often means grabbing whatever comes to hand, without considering its nutritional content and your own nutritional needs. Loss of income may also mean less money than usual to spend on your weekly shop.
Consequences of not eating well
Not eating well can affect virtually every aspect of your life and wellbeing.
Not getting the right kind or amount of nutrition can lead to weight loss, reduce muscle strength, and increase your risk of infection, too. Making time to consider your own health and dietary needs will help keep you well whilst you care for others.
Whether you don't have an appetite or are just too tired or stressed to plan a meal, you run the risk of unintentional weight loss. Consuming less calories than your body needs can lead to involuntary weight loss. If you realise you're losing weight without trying to it's important to prioritise yourself and book an appointment to speak to your GP.
Let's face it – junk food and snacks are much easier to grab on the go and provide a quick energy fix when you're busy. The unfortunate reality is that these foods and drinks are high in calories and low in nutrients, which can lead to weight gain. Gaining too much weight will have negative implications for your health.
Put your nutrition needs first
Not taking good care of yourself means you can't take best care of the person you're looking after. So put yourself first sometimes when it comes to mealtimes and meal choices. There's nothing as disappointing as spending time preparing and cooking a meal that isn't eaten. Having a ready-to-cook oven or microwave meal occasionally will give you some 'time out'. Add a portion or two of cooked frozen vegetables or a side salad to make it even more nutritious. It's not uncommon for carers to miss out on meals they used to enjoy because their patient doesn't enjoy particular foods whilst ill. Ready prepared meals allow you to cook two different dishes so you can continue to enjoy your food, too.
If you have health problems of your own it may be difficult to achieve a balanced diet with sufficient energy and protein for your health needs. Take time to look after yourself, if you are concerned about your own weight follow this useful link to assess your nutrition risk: http://www.malnutritionselfscreening.org
If you have any questions or concerns about unintentional weight loss and how to improve your nutritional intake, speak to your healthcare professional. A checklist which may help you discuss your concerns can be found at: http://www.patients-association.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/The-Patients-Association-Nutrition-Checklist.pdf
For more information about nutrition and advice how to care for others, visit http://www.carersuk.org. Lots of helpful factsheets on nutrition can be found at http://www.carersuk.org/help-and-advice/health/nutrition