Diet therapy

Care for “the carers” during family illness

When family members are sick or hospitalised it can be very challenging to find the time to exercise and maintain a healthy diet for yourself. Particularly if you are working, caring for children, or trying to complete a course of study.

When you try to squeeze hospital visits into lunch hours or after work, there is less time to exercise.

Snack foods from hospital vending machines or the local bakery can soon become your main source of nutrition. You can also become dehydrated. With all the extra rushing around or sitting in a centrally heated hospital, your increased need for fluids can go unnoticed.

The nutritional impact on others

The nutritional well-being of the rest of your family may also change. When children are hospitalized and parents share the visiting they may feel like ships passing in the night with little time and energy to put into their own relationship and the stress builds up.

With less time to shop wisely or to plan and cook healthy meals, takeaways can become an easy option. This might help to relieve the tension at work and home, and you can console yourself that at least the other children are kept happy. You may also resolve to worry about your own diet when things get back to normal. However the old “normal” may be a long time coming leaving you with poorer health yourself.

Managing nutrition during times of grief

When we lose someone dear to us, eating is less important. Daily activities can be exhausting. Every mouthful of food tastes just the same as the last.

Weight loss occurs, tiredness sets in and there is no thought of exercise.

The funeral needs to be arranged with extra food and alcohol, and then there is all the food given by well-meaning neighbours and relatives. It can all be quite overwhelming.

During such times of emotional stress, weight loss issues aren’t important from an aesthetic point of view.

You don’t care about looks or cholesterol levels during time so grief.

But it is the loss of food energy to cope with each day that’s important.
A healthy diet aids mood, memory and decision-making, providing strength for the days ahead.

Helpful tips

If you know someone coping with illness or the loss of a loved one, you can do practical things to help maintain their energy levels.

  • Encourage them to take time out for exercise. Not only does this improve appetite, but it also provides the opportunity for personal space.
  • Keep an eye on their fluid intake to help them reduce fatigue. Adults require two litres a day. If weight loss is evident, encourage them to drink meal replacements such as Complan® or Sustagen® or to make milkshakes or fruit smoothies.
  • If making casseroles, use meat that is fresh rather than frozen. If they receive more than once casserole, they can freeze the food for another day.
  • If offering baking, keep fat levels low by making scones, muffins or pikelets rather than cakes, pastry, slices or biscuits.The first ones also freeze well.
  • Offer daily meal accompaniments such as coleslaw, salads, soups, breads, fruit or milk puddings.
  • Be very careful to prevent contamination when transporting food.
  • Keep food  well covered and either very cold or very hot. Warm food attracts harmful bacteria.

If you are the one doing the caring then take care of yourself.

  • If you can keep a regular meal pattern.
  • Keep drinking plenty of non-alcoholic fluids.
  • Take a break for a short walk each day, you’ll find that you can cope better, mentally and physically with the stress.
  • If you need personal help during times of stress contact us for more information.

About the author View all

Lea Stening

Lea is one of New Zealand’s leading paediatric dietitians and also specialises in Sports Nutrition. She has specialised in Paediatric Nutrition for 31 years and in 1985 was the first paediatric dietitian to enter private practice in New Zealand. Lea helps families through her private consultations, public lectures, newspaper and magazine articles as well as television and radio interviews. Read more »

View all posts by Lea Stening »


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