If you’re one of the millions of people around the world who helps care for a friend or family member, you know how hard it can be to find time to take care of yourself.
Whether you are helping a loved one recover after a hospitalization or if you are a full-time caregiver for a family member with a chronic condition, it can be difficult to prioritize healthy habits like nutrition and exercise. So it’s no wonder that 1 out of 5 caregivers surveyed by Abbott1 said they sacrificed their own physical health while caring for a loved one.
One of the easiest ways to take care of yourself as you care for others is to make sure you’re eating right. "Nutrition is the foundation of your health—it wards off chronic diseases, helps you manage your weight, and gives you the strength and energy you need to continue doing the things you love and need to do," says Abby Sauer, RD, a dietitian with Abbott.
During November’s National Family Caregivers Month, take some time to start caring for yourself so you can be there for others.
Eat for All-Day Energy
To keep your energy lasting all day long, create meals that are a mix of protein, complex carbs and fat. Your body converts food into energy at different rates, so eating a complete, balanced diet is important.
Another way to keep your energy up is with healthy snacks. Research in the Nutrition Journal found that a protein-filled snack, like yogurt, or nuts, keeps you full longer than high-carb or high-fat options.
For those you are caring for, it’s important to know that your body absorbs protein differently with age. While the typical adult who weighs 150 pounds is recommended to eat 53 grams of protein a day, research shows that older adults need nearly double that amount.
Keep Your Caffeine Consumption in Check
While caffeine in moderation can be a good stress reliever, research in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment found that people who drank an excessive amount of caffeine can have psychiatric symptoms like anxiety. For an afternoon drink, reach for water with a slice of lemon.
Reverse Damage from Stress
Recent research from Johns Hopkins University shows that caregivers are more likely to experience emotional strain. Over time, chronic stress can do a number on your body, including raising inflammation levels, which can actually cause damage your organs.
Certain foods can counteract that stress-related inflammation, such as omega-3-rich fish like salmon and tuna, as well as foods high in antioxidants like dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables and dark berries.
Eating healthy isn’t the only thing you should do to de-stress. Don’t forget to schedule some me time, whether it’s a weekly yoga class, a coffee date with your best friend, or a quiet hour to get lost in a book.
Don’t Forget About Fluids
Water is known to support your overall health, but it can also impact your stress levels. "Your body is made up of 60 percent water,” says Sauer. "So when you’re dehydrated, it affects everything—leading to headaches, fatigue, and poor concentration."
Aim to get six to eight cups of water spread throughout the day.
Be a Meal Planner
Caregivers spend an average of 20 hours a week looking after their loved ones, which doesn’t leave a lot of time for cooking nutritious meals.
One way to avoid the temptation of dining out is to pick your least busy day, and prep meals for you and your loved one. One meal prep idea is chicken breasts, brown rice and roasted veggies. Another good trick for making quick nutritious meals: purchase fresh, already-prepared vegetables so you can easily make a salad or stir-fry for lunch or dinner.
By focusing on your own health, you can keep giving time, energy, and love to those who need you most. For additional ways to improve your nutrition or the nutrition of your loved ones, visit Caregiver Action Network for resources and tips for caregivers: http://caregiveraction.org/family-caregiver-toolbox