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A guide to eating healthy when you have a chronic illness

lollopydaizlollopydaiz Member Posts: 2 Listener
edited June 2020 in Guest blogs

I'm Daisy, I'm a disability history and lifestyle blogger, as well as a fervent tweeter and instagrammer! I live in Bristol and have a vast array of disabilities and chronic illnesses which I have collected over my 27 years in this world.

Things that make eating health difficult

I have long struggled to eat healthily, but the temptation to treat myself a lot is not the only reason I find it hard. Some are obvious, others not so much.

- Pain and fatigue. From actually cooking, going around the supermarket, or even just my body attempting to digest the food. Sometimes the idea that I must move my jaw up and down to chew is outrageous.

- Access. Whether it's getting around the shop without knocking everything over, the journey home or problems in the kitchen itself.

- Money. Why is fruit so expensive?

- Dietary requirements. First, I became lactose intolerance, then coeliac, then developed an inability to digest any beans or pulses. That was annoying.

- Hunger. I don't feel hunger in the same way as a lot of people, sometimes I can be constantly peckish and have a lot of unhealthy snacks, the rest of the time I feel no hunger at all and just have cake instead of lunch.

- Enjoyment. What's the point in preparing a whole healthy meal when I don't end up enjoying it?

A woman with mobility aids looking at the camera

Realising that things needed to change

While I was at university, I wasn't eating very well. It was to be expected as I had become much more ill and was in bed most of the time. All my effort was going into studying. I was known to regularly eat an entire pot of hummus in a day and gained weight.

Because of my dietary requirements, I had to make everything I ate from scratch. I started cooking for myself at home rather than buying ready-made pasta sauces or microwave meals. I usually didn't follow recipes very closely because I wasn't going to buy loads of fancy ingredients to use in just one recipe and I needed to adapt things for my dietary requirements and energy levels.

The hardest thing for me was getting the right portion sizes and having healthy snacks available. I could never commit to stop snacking forever. I would be hungry and end up eating loads extra. I always have snacks in my bag when I go out, I'm well known for it now!

The most important lesson was to not deprive myself of treats. Sometimes after dinner I'm watching TV thinking, you know what would go great with this? Ice cream. So, I have some but pay attention to the recommended portion size rather than the whole tub! And if I have some biscuits, or an entire bag of tortilla chips, that's okay. Before I would think I've failed, so I'd better eat all of it, but now I just start again tomorrow. There's no reason why eating healthily must be miserable, and I can allow myself to have nice things when I fancy them!

It's something I really enjoy now, and I notice when I haven't been eating healthily for a while, like if I've been away and eating only the things I can buy. I'll be sat there dreaming of broccoli!

A woman eating ice cream outside at a cafe

My solutions to healthy eating

It took a lot of trial and error to find out what worked for me, and no two people will be the same, but here is what has worked for me:

- Pre-chopped veg. Begone the people who call this "lazy", it's a godsend and reduces food waste.

- Slow cooker. I got a small one and it's perfect! I can chuck in things gradually during the day which splits up the prep.

- Batch cooking. Most recipes are for 4 portions, I make all of them and freeze the rest for when I can't cook.

- Online deliveries. This can be tricky since some of them have a minimum order amount, but cleaning products (or wine) can be enough to bump it over.

- Freezer. I was lucky enough that a friend knew of someone who was getting rid of an extra one for free. It means I can freeze so much more.

- Aids. From chopping aids to perching stools.

- Prep. On a bad day, if I need to chop something I'll take it on a tray to my comfy chair rather than the kitchen.

- Healthy snacks. Not all diets allow for ready-made snacks, on some diets I have made safe things myself. It's another lot of energy and time to find, but having something safe nearby is so helpful.

- Spice mixes. Sure, they're a bit more expensive but they save a lot of time and energy.

If you want to follow Daisy’s history and lifestyle work, you can find her blog at Daisy the Chronic Invalid.

What tips have you found help you eat healthier? How do you manage cooking? Let us know in the comments below!


  • April2018momApril2018mom Posts: 2,869 Member
    Thanks for this. I agree Becky.

    As my son has open defect spina bifida, I have taken him to see a pediatric dietitian in the past. I found the appointment very helpful and left with a advice sheet. We actively try to avoid constipation at all times too. So no rice dishes anymore. I cook a lot of his food myself now. He eats lots of fresh fruit and vegetables especially. I only prefer to buy organic meat. Non organic meat is out of the question completely.
    When we eat out, I order smaller portions for him. We prefer salad over fast food. Have you ever had a fakeout or fakeaway? I love them. They are a excellent way to sneakily include or hide vegetables or fruit in his food. We also do lots of fun exercise too. I carefully measure out portions before serving. In my flat, I have a mini pantry shelf. It includes the basic food items like eggs, bread, cheese and so on. I find a lot of recipes in magazines and online. Additionally I have a small number of cookbooks from my local bookshop and Amazon as well. It is all about making informed choices really. 
  • newbornnewborn Member Posts: 720 Pioneering
    Daisy a lot of what you say would apply to many others.   If you haven't researched  FODMAPs,  please  do. It is approved by NICE, led by Kings.

    April you identity an  overlooked dietary requirement.  Organic is best for the planet. It gives best profit for farmers.  It avoids the worst animal welfare issues of intensive farming.  It is best for human bodies, and often found necessary for cancer survivors, and for many with a range of health and digestive problems.

    But, if you are imprisoned in an n.h.s. hospital bed, you cannot find anything organic (or anything above lowest pigswill standards), even by offering to pay a Kings ransom for something suitable for you to eat

    You cannot get ready prepared , or ready made, organic food.  In fact, prepared but single portion single ingredients would be best,  far better  than ready meals,  because ready meals by their nature mean that some chef has chucked together a load of items he thinks taste good together.  That's  no good to customer one, who avoids gluten, or the next customer, who must at all costs avoid garlic, or the next, who likes the look of the meal, but realises it contains  pulses, which he cannot digest, and so on.   

     There's a whole unserved market out here.  Often, there are gluts of organic produce going to waste.  Will they freeze it, or powder it, or peel and chop it?  No, they prefer to waste it, give it away, or sell it without the premium it deserves.   It seems strange that powdered potatoes have  been around for about half a century,  and are a great staple for even the weakest hands to prepare,  but there has never yet been a packet of  powdered organic potato, sweet potato, swede, and so on.  It wouldn't be dire tasting, either, because organic food has more intense flavour and higher nutrition.

    Daisy makes a good point on menus. What fantasy world do these people live in, where everyone merrily leaps round kitchens brandishing lethally sharp, heavy, chefs knives, hurling together a sprinkling of finely chopped this and that, an ounce of fine slivers of something, three egg yolks,  two ounces of whipped this, with half an ounce of melted that, and so on through twenty ingredients,  five heavy pans, a dirty grill and oven., and no staff of attendants to lift it all, let alone  scrub it all clean?   Not everyone has a dishwasher,  nor does it save the planet if every single person's  single meal takes hours to prepare for, cook, and clean  up after, as well as throwing out unused food .  
    People  live in single room flats, not fitted with walk-in fridge freezers.
  • thespicemanthespiceman Member Posts: 6,408 Disability Gamechanger
    edited March 2020
    Hello @lollopydaiz   Pleased to meet you.

    Thank you for your post.

    I have a lot of knowledge and experience being interested in diets and nutrition as had addiction.

    Offer advice, guidance and information to the community.

    Please if I can give the following links if you have these sorry but some of these are helpful, informative and useful.

    I know struggling with various ailments, conditions and illness never easy.

    I am always here for advice, some support as I do know it can be difficult to find an equal balance of nutrition and good health.

    Helpline 0333 332 2033

    Helpline  01332 619898

    Has relevant information on gluten intolerance .

    This gives lots of the foods you can choose and eat safely.

    This last one is Doctor Ian Marber a renown consultant and specialist in coeliac and food intolerances.

    His books and programmes informative.

    Coeliac disease gluten intolerance there are foods you can eat.

    Vegetables, fruit, salads.

    Mentioned fruit buy frozen lot cheaper I rarely eat fresh. Apples but these can be bought diced up and add Honey, Cinnamon.

    To a pan becomes a compote softens then .  Serve with Soya based Yoghurts should be OK or Soya based Ice Cream.

    Rice, Potatoes, Lean Meat, Fish.

    You can buy fish frozen into Oven baking tray.

    Or fish poached already done for you.

    Eggs is one can be useful to include use poached or scrambled omelettes .

    You know your own body mind just some suggestions for you.

    You know what to avoid.  Use a food diary.

    I think you doing some great ideas a lot I do.

    Always have a menu and a plan to eat healthily.

    Include three vegetable dishes a week.

    Two Fish dishes, can be used either tinned or smoked or frozen, occasionally fresh a treat.

    I use the basis of The Mediterranean diet and Paleo done this now for since coming off addiction.

    Two meals a day and always breakfast, brunch and good evening meal.

    In between if hungry eat Peanut Butter or Soup vegetable based.

    Rarely though may have  Bread before a meal and during and after before bedtime.

    Never eaten sweets, cakes, biscuits .

    Fruit yoghurt lots of it and well my Pasta, Pulses, Beans, all whole wheat and organic if I can get them.

    Small portions make enough to freeze helps.

    Always plenty of vegetables or pulses, beans in a bowl.

    Never use a plate. Plates means big portions deceiving the eyes, so use Pasta Bowls.

    Eat when hungry, eat when need to, drink plenty of water. 

    Pad out the meals had started eating meal around 5pm finished around 7pm sort of do this helps with digestion, and never get hungry.

    Snack attacks have on suggestion for you smoothies use frozen fruit, blender.  Soya yoghurts or those suitable for your conditions.

    Please if I can help with anything please contact me.

    Please take care.


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • thespicemanthespiceman Member Posts: 6,408 Disability Gamechanger
    Hello @April2018mom   Mentioned constipation excluding rice.

    Rice is a source of fibre buy the whole grain varieties .

    Do not want to use Rice use Couscous, Bulgar wheat easy to use can be used  as a Salad grain .

    Pasta, Rice, Beans, Pulses.  Bread.

    Include dairy yoghurts good for constipations, bowel issues.

    Any underlying bowel issues constipation can be treated by eating lots of vegetables frozen fine and fruit frozen as well.

    Porridge oats milk water with diced Apples and Yoghurt helps a lot.

    Small amounts of Prunes with Yoghurts Greek or Natural with a touch of honey, Cinnamon.

    Would help.

    Organic meat is the right way to go but is expensive and has a high price tag.

    Unfortunately in this country .

    In my opinion if can afford that, use free range look on the label red tractor.  Or look on line, many Butchers sell to the public big trays of meat to freeze.

    Example are One tray costing around £30 plus delivery comes in a ice box carrier next day.

    Includes Chicken Breasts, Pork Shoulder Joint, Sausages, Beef Mince, Gammon, Bacon,  Chicken  thighs.

    Excellent quality and worth the price.

    Used to go to Leeds market wow all I can say.

    Any one ever been knows what I am talking about.

    My neighbours where I lived used to go down with me . Cool boxes, ice blocks and cash, buy multiple offers discounted around the meat avenue.

    So good so fantastic twice to three times a year visit.

    Fill the neighbours van up and fill our freezers.

    A wonderful experience for any one, also bought lots from the deli avenue and stall holder. Italian any Pasta, tins beans and everything .

    Spices, herbs and seasonings.

    Please consider looking at food fairs and markets other options to use.


    Community Champion
    SCOPE Volunteer Award Engaging Communities 2019
    Mental Health advice, guidance and information to all members
    Nutrition, Diet, Wellbeing, Addiction.
  • lollopydaizlollopydaiz Member Posts: 2 Listener
    Hi everyone, thanks for the tips! 
    It's alway good to have extra ideas in the back pocket, especially now when we need all the help we can get to stay healthy!

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