Overcoming Eating Challenges - Part 1
Last updated: May 2021
COPD is a challenging condition to live with, so it’s important to make food preparation a straightforward and stress-free process. In the 18 years I have had COPD I have been underweight, overweight, too tired to fix a meal, too sick to eat, too weak to chew, and when I stopped smoking my taste buds changed causing nothing to taste good. When I have experienced each one of these conditions I had to adapt my food intake to accommodate/correct the condition. Six years ago I finally got to the proper weight for my frame and age and with a proper diet and exercise have maintained that weight. Sooner or later, many people with COPD will experience one of those conditions. Many like myself experience all of them at one time or another, and the best thing is to learn to deal with them the best way you can.
One thing I've learned over these many years is: if you want to navigate this disease successfully you need your strength and energy to do so and the only way you're going to get that is by eating the proper kind and amount of food. Too much and you become overweight, too little and you become underweight, not enough or when sick you become too weak to chew. All of which makes it harder to breathe and live anything resembling a normal life. I'm a firm believer that you can get all the nutrition you need from a proper diet. The best way to feel energetic is to eat properly, get enough rest, stay hydrated, and maintain a proper body weight. So often I get questions from people asking for help with these problems. I am going to try to answer some of those questions in a series of articles. In the last part I will give some easy-to-make microwave and Crockpot recipes I use, and a sample of the meals I eat each day.
Too tired to cook
For those of you who haven't the energy to cook or want to make mealtime a little easier, learn the art of microwave cooking. I do 95% of my cooking in a microwave oven. Most people seem to think microwave ovens are only for heating up TV dinners and leftovers, but that is not true. Anything you can cook in a regular oven you can cook in a microwave oven. That's why it's called a microwave oven and not a microwave heat up. When it comes to cooking, for people with COPD a microwave should be your best friend. There are so many different kinds of food available in the supermarkets that can be cooked in a microwave and be ready to eat in five minutes or less. There are not only main courses available but snacks, desserts, diet foods, and low-sodium/sugar foods. Living alone and being a lower stage 4 I have had to prepare my own meals for a long time or not eat. So I started making my own microwave meals by cooking foods in large amounts during my good times. I'm at my best about 3 hours after taking meds, so that is when I do my prep work for food that requires a lot of work and time. I also do all my prep work sitting down. When cooked I freeze it in single portions for later meals. On bad days it's easy to take a homemade frozen meal, put it in the microwave, and in a few minutes, you'll have a nutritious meal to eat.
Crockpot cooking is another good choice, particularly if you have a family. You can cut down preparation time if you buy your vegetables pre-chopped. There are several sites online that have good, easy recipes. I make casseroles when I'm feeling well and freeze them uncooked. If I want I can invite my family or a friend over for dinner and I have my frozen casserole ready to cook in my microwave oven. You can also get pre-made/pre-cooked food (not TV dinners, pizza, or chicken nuggets), in most grocery stores. I get pre-cooked grilled strips of chicken breast, a pack of Alfredo mix and a small can of sweet peas. Put the mix, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, can of peas, and 1/2 bag of chicken in a microwave dish and cook, (you can use any pre-cooked meat, vegetable with rice or noodle mix and vegetable combination you like), and in 8 min you have a meal for 4. These days you can get pre-cooked chicken, beef, shrimp, even mashed potatoes and mac & cheese in the meat department. You can come up with your own quick and easy dishes if you try.
I have not had trouble chewing too often but there are times when chewing became near impossible for me. Like this past February when I was laid up for a month with an infection I caught from a great-granddaughter. My breathing was so labored I had to go back on my Bipap 24/7. At one point I was too weak to get out of bed to even go to the bathroom, and it took more energy to chew food than I received from it. However, the one thing I did know was if I wanted to get better I had to build up my energy to fight the infection. The only way to do that was to consume nourishment. Not having the energy or desire to chew makes it hard, but when you have to lift up a Bipap mask every time you need to take a bite of something I learned the best way to go was liquids and very soft foods. Cream soup, beef, chicken or vegetable broth, juice/nectar, milk, Jell-O, pudding, and strained baby food became my diet.
As I got better, I gradually added harder and harder foods until I was back to a normal diet. That type of diet worked so well for me I lost only two pounds in the month I was bedridden. This has not been the first time I've gone to that type of a diet and I am sure it won't be the last. It works for me and I hope it works for you. Eat a little at a time, every two hours if needed. Try soft cooked vegetables, mashed fruits, and finely chopped, soft cooked meat. If necessary use a food processor to grind or puree foods to make them easier to chew and swallow. All types of juice, smoothies, cream soup, yogurt, Jell-O, pudding, cottage cheese, or ricotta cheese. Bread that has been softened in soup, muffins dipped in milk or decaf coffee. If you still don't have the energy to chew anything I've listed, there is always baby food. If a baby can thrive and get the energy needed for their active lives, so can you. If all else fails, start out with strained baby food and juices every two hours, and slowly add firmer food that you can chew. The more you eat the more energy you will have, and the less weakness you will feel.
You must eat
Whatever your reasons for eating improperly or not eating at all might be, you are going to have to learn to force yourself to eat. If you want to successfully fight and deal with your COPD you must not only eat, but eat enough of the right foods to supply your body with the energy it needs. Not eating enough causes fatigue, and tired people do not feel like making food or eating. If you don't eat you won't have the energy to cook/make meals. If you don't cook/make meals you won't eat and you become fatigued, lacking the energy or desire to cook. It's a vicious cycle you have to learn to break.
The most important thing to remember: if you don't want to be tired, fatigued, SOB, depressed and discouraged because of your COPD, then you need energy. In order to get the energy you need to breathe, no matter how hard it is "YOU MUST EAT." Bon Appetit. Breathe deep and easy.
Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.
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