One thing you may not realise about a life-limiting illness is how much it can affect your relationship with food and eating. Why is it so important to eat well? How do you overcome this and learn to enjoy eating again?
It may be due to the physical symptoms that often accompany the illness, such as nausea, aches and tiredness, or a change in taste perception because of medication. It could be due to feelings of anxiety which can lead to a lack of appetite in general. Of course, we know that eating something will ultimately help to make us feel better, but all too often patients may find a whole day has passed and they’ve only managed to nibble the corner of a bit of dry toast.
Many carers not only worry about whether the person is eating enough, but are they eating the right food? How can they best support them to eat well, and help them want to eat again?
The physical and psychological stresses this brings can cause worry and frustration, not just for the patient but for those caring for them, bringing more tension into a relationship already trying to cope with the uncertain change that a life-limiting illness can bring. As the carer worries about the health of their loved one, they become frustrated with the carer’s constant “nagging”.
Beryl Budd cares for her husband Rob, who attends Rowans Living Well Centre to participate in the Gentle Chair Exercise class. As his carer, Beryl had been living with this worry. “He wasn’t eating very much, and I had no idea whether what I was cooking was giving him what he needed. It was a struggle to be honest, and I didn’t know how to get help” Beryl explained.
The aim of this course is to help people like Rob to enjoy food again, to improve their quality of life and sense of well-being by maximising energy levels and keeping their strength up through optimal nutrition. What’s more, it can help you to enjoy eating again by making the food you need to eat fit with what you like to eat.
You can now have the most nutritious diet possible using the simplest tools and techniques
Importantly, whether you are a patient, carer or family member, the course can demonstrate how to manage your own particular circumstances to ensure that you can now have the most nutritious diet possible using the simplest tools and techniques. This can help people to cope better and be more robust against the often fluctuating daily routines and changing needs that come with a life-limiting illness.
So, how has it changed things for Beryl? “Firstly, I’ve lost weight and feel much more positive about our diet!” she exclaims. “They showed me ideal portion sizes, and by sticking to the ‘5-2-2-5 model‘, Rob and I have a much more balanced diet”.
Beryl feels much more equipped to support Rob
One element Beryl found particularly relevant was the second week of the course, which looks at conditions that can be affected by diet, such as heart disease and diabetes. Due to the fact that Rob also lives with diabetes, it’s important that his sugar levels are regulated, and Beryl feels much more equipped to support him. “I’ve found the suggested menus really helpful, as I can prepare ‘proper food’ and help keep Rob’s sugar levels much more steady”.
Another key element of the course is to look at weight management, including looking at stopping unwanted weight loss and how to support people with a poor appetite. It’s very important for people to be able to maximise their nutritional intake without having to do too much chopping and chewing, especially when energy levels and motivation to eat can be very low.
I’m now worrying much less about what he eats and whether he’ll eat
Beryl continues, “Rob really enjoyed the ‘muffins in a mug’ that I can prepare and cook quickly in the microwave and he enjoys the smoothies – they aren’t too difficult for him to eat when he’s not feeling up to a full meal. They’re so full of goodness too, that I’m now worrying much less about what he’s eating and whether he’ll eat – he’s been enjoying food a lot more with the ideas I have taken home”.
You could tell a lot of work had gone into the course and they understand what we’re all going through
“I’ve come away with all sorts of recipes and handouts to take home – you could tell a lot of work had gone into the preparation for the course and they understand what we’re all going through. What I liked especially was that the approach was flexible and the planning tips cover the moments when all dinner plans are abandoned”.
Rob’s outlook is also more positive because he’s eaten well – it’s amazing what a good meal does for your mind.
Coming to Rowans Living Well Centre will also offer social support, reducing isolation for some and enabling all that attend to engage with others in similar circumstances. The peer to peer support can help people see they are not alone in their situation, and they can become an ongoing source of support for each other. Beryl has certainly found a good group of friends at Rowans Living Well Centre who share similar experiences, and now that Rob feels better about food and eating “his outlook is also more positive because he’s eaten well – it’s amazing what a good meal does for your mind. Home is so much more relaxed, that we can spend more time doing what we enjoy together”.
The next Enjoying Eating course runs for 4 weeks from 25 August to 15 September. There are up to 20 places available, which you can book by calling Rowans Living Well Centre on 023 9223 7011 or popping in to the Centre between 10am and 4pm, Monday to Friday. Find out more about the course here.
All the courses and services offered at Rowans Living Well Centre are free of charge, and are instead funded by grants and donations, and by those who volunteer their time to run them.
This course has been made possible thanks to a grant of just over £5,800 from the Kenwood Community Fund, which is helping to fund the course and provided us with a blender to help prepare smoothies.
Rowans Living Well Centre offers a number of therapeutic groups on themes from managing symptoms and gentle exercise, to pottery and gardening! There are also many other groups and services to help you that run throughout the week. See more about Rowans Living Well Centre here.