In my previous post, I talked about the problem with obesity throughout the world and how being overweight can make it even harder to breathe when you already have COPD. In this post, you'll learn how to change your lifestyle towards a healthier eating strategy that will enable you to shed pounds and keep them off... and feel better all round.
Before I go on, though, I should mention that people with end-stage COPD may struggle so much to breathe while eating that they have trouble finishing meals and actually become undernourished and underweight. If that's the case for you, be sure to talk with your doctor about whether taking a nutritional supplement might be right for you. Also, the ideas below about eating smaller meals more often, rather than trying to eat 3 larger meals a day can work for you too. Small meals are easier to tolerate and eating more often will help you still to get the nourishment you need to stay healthy. And finally, you may want to think about consulting with a registered dietitian (nutritionist) who can help you figure out your calorie needs and make sure you're getting the right foods into your system.
Either way, following the healthy eating plan I'll outline here will help you get or keep your weight in a healthy range. And that will help you feel your best... even if you have COPD.
The Main Building Blocks of a Healthy Eating Plan
Eating healthy isn't half as hard as people often think it's going to be. But it does take a bit of planning and sometimes a bit more time. As with most things in life, though, taking the easy way isn't necessarily the best way to get where you want to go.
Here are the main components of healthy eating:
- Small portions. One of the big reasons so many of us are overweight is a poor understanding of appropriate portion sizes. "Supersize me" is not a healthy approach to eating. We often eat way too large portions of proteins and grains, in particular. Think fist-sized for protein portions and about a half cup for grains. Smaller portions will also be easier to handle if you find that eating increases your shortness of breath.
- Frequent meals. Hunger is a normal body reaction to blood sugar dropping, but waiting to eat until you feel as though you're "starving" will only lead to overeating. So supplement your meals with small, healthy snacks in between. Stick to vegetables/fruits and proteins whenever possible. For example, celery sticks with peanut butter. Or maybe a handful of almonds with a few baby carrots. Or a sliced apple with 4 oz. of fat free cheese.
- The right balance of food types. Have you heard of the food pyramid? There are different versions of this pyramid, but as a rough guide, you want to make most of your intake vegetables and fruits (4 to 5 servings a day), then proteins (3 servings per day), then grains (2 servings a day) and add a small amount of healthy fat every day. With vegetables and fruits, vary the colors you eat, for the most nutrients. For protein, avoid fatty meats, sticking mostly to skin-free, white meat poultry, lean red meat (no more than 2 times a week), lean pork and fish/seafood.
- Nutrient-dense foods. Some experts talk about foods as being nutrient-dense. That means they are rich in nutrients compared to their calories. Strawberries are a good example, being relatively low in calories, but high in fiber, vitamin C and folate. Whole grain breads and cereals are another example, as is brown rice. You want to avoid "empty calories" like those in sugary foods, soda pop and many "white" foods like rice, white potatoes and white bread. When your diet consists more of nutrient-dense foods, you won't be tempted to eat as much, and that will make mealtimes much more tolerable for you.
- Less salt. When you get too much salt, or sodium, in your diet, you may retain fluid in your body, and that can lead to more difficulty with breathing. So get rid of that salt shaker! Also, eat less processed and canned foods, both of which tend to have high amounts of sodium in them. Start using spices and herbs to season your food instead of salt. They'll actually add a whole lot more flavor and interest than salt will.
- Plenty of fiber. A healthy diet always includes 20 to 35 grams of fiber a day. You get fiber from foods derived from plants, such as vegetables & fruits, whole grains, oats, seeds, nuts and vegetable proteins like pinto beans and other dried beans. Fiber helps with the processing of your food, lowers cholesterol and also helps keep your bowels healthy, which can reduce your energy needs at toilet time.
- 8 glasses of water every day. Water is the great purifier and is one of the best things you can do for your health and your weight. So shoot for 8 eight-ounce glasses of no-calorie liquid each day. Water is best, but green tea (in moderation) or herbal tea are also acceptable. If you don't love water like me, try adding a splash of lime juice and a packet of stevia sweetener or Splenda to it. Tastes almost like limeade, with none of the calories! Keeping well hydrated by drinking water should also keep the mucus in your airways thinner and easier to cough up. (One note: If you have heart problems that have you on a fluid restriction, then follow your doctor's instructions, not this recommendation.)
Keep Track of Your Weight