Canada is ranked as one of the best countries in the world to live because of the quality of life we enjoy (and yes, we still have problems to solve so that all Canadians enjoy the same quality life), but have you heard of “nutrition quality of life?”
Nutrition and chronic health conditions
Nutrition quality of life refers to how a person is affected (mentally, physically, spiritually, socially, and culturally) when they have to change their way of eating because of a chronic health condition like:
- Celiac disease
- Food allergies
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel syndrome
- Kidney disease
- Swallowing problems
- …the list goes on
Food can go from being a pleasure, to a source of worry and concern. As dietitians, we often have people come to us, asking in desperation, “what can I eat?!?”
Changing my way of eating
I developed an intolerance to dairy foods later in life and had to start avoiding many foods I loved, like ice cream, cheese, and chocolate — need I say more!?! This affected my nutrition quality of life in a number of ways:
- Missing my comfort foods — I love ice cream. I’ve got great memories of going to Dairy Queen as a kid and watching as they dispensed the soft ice cream from the machine and pilled it high on the flat-bottomed cones. Or stopping on a family road trip at a little ice cream shop with flavours like Tiger Tail – something I’d never had anywhere else. What a great licorice flavour! As I write this I am transported back to those moments and can still feel the excitement! I miss being able to spontaneously buy ice cream with my family and re-live some of those good memories.
- Missing out socially — We gather around food, a lot! Food is a great way to connect, but when you have a food intolerance you have to decline a lot of the food people offer. It can feel uncomfortable because you don’t want to appear “fussy” or hard to please. Sometimes the discomfort may lead me to not participate in events that are centred around food.
- I’m spending more of my time thinking about food — Because of my condition, I spend extra time meal planning, reading food labels, grocery shopping, and cooking and freezing meals. Having safe food to eat takes time, but this means I have less time to do other things I enjoy, like relaxing and being in nature.
I’ve developed a few strategies that have helped me improve my nutrition quality of life:
- Finding the positives — I try not to think of my food intolerance as a restriction. As soon as my brain says, “you can’t eat that!” I get frustrated, angry even. Instead, I see it as a choice. I’m choosing foods that will help me feel better, that help me cope with the limitation. In the long run, I know cooking from scratch will likely be a good thing. I also find purpose in helping others with food intolerances by sharing recipe ideas, strategies on cooking ahead, and where to shop.
- Practicing self-compassion — No one can do this like the textbook tells you to – I’m not always going to plan ahead, and cook and freeze meals. Sometimes I’ll eat very processed non-dairy foods, knowing it’s not the “best” food quality, but I don’t worry about it. I understand that my condition is difficult to manage at times. There is no “perfect” when it comes to eating and life!
Finding support — For me, support from others – my family, friends, and online communities – has been the biggest help for living well. Sharing the burden of the day-to-day challenges is helpful, but finding support is not always easy. If you feel alone and need extra support, why not ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian? BC residents can also access Dietitian Services at HealthLink BC, or by calling 8-1-1 (or 604-215-8110 in some areas) and asking to speak with a dietitian.