Diet and nutrition

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on November 04, 2019 # Health

By contributing writer Kristin Beale

The first conversation I had with my boyfriend was about how bad my diet and eating habits are. We met at church during something called Two Minutes to Talk, where we were given a prompt and two minutes to meet people around us. The prompt that Sunday was “What’s something you want to be better at?” and, for whatever reason, I talked to him for two minutes about how bad of an eater I am and how I’d like to be better at cooking. The word “malnourished” might even have come up.

In hindsight, not the best first impression to make. Thank God he’s persistent.

We’ve all heard about the importance of our diet. Between my parents and popular media, there seems to be an unbroken murmur in my background telling me to get more protein, eat my vegetables, and drink more water. In 2005 when a Jet Ski hit me and caused my paralysis, the murmur became a shout and moved to my foreground.

With disability of most kinds, we lose some movement. In my case of being stuck in a wheelchair, I lost the thoughtless exercise that comes with walking around. More specifically and more unfortunate, I lost the ability to walk around my neighborhood and easily raise my heart rate by running around the field at sports practice. I also lost the ability to burn off the calories from the chocolate chip cookie I ate as an after-work snack. Needless to say, my more-sedentary lifestyle in a wheelchair requires a conscious effort if I want to maintain my ladylike figure and healthful body.

My struggle begins with knowing what, how, and when to eat. On the other side of the battle with self-control in my diet is not letting myself go for too many hours without eating. When I graduated from high school, I moved to a dorm at college and lost my accountability in eating. I tried out the Only Eat When You’re Hungry approach, combined with preference-driven trips to the dining hall, and ended up with the worst diet I’ve ever had; my meals were nutritionally imbalanced and, a lot of the time, skipped altogether.

My body felt okay and I was satiated, but here’s what woke me up: my hair started to fall out. More than that, my wounds were taking years to heal, my workouts were wasted, and I pooped like a hamster. Now that I was awake, I needed to educate myself all over again on good nutrition.

The first, and seemingly obvious, lesson I learned is just because I don’t feel hungry, it doesn’t mean my body doesn’t need food. For accountability, I started going to meals with friends; making a conscious effort to eat vegetables and protein; and carrying a water bottle with me to class.

Now that I’m out of school and living on my own, I’ve had to modify the food and fluid hacks I used in school. Drinking enough water has always been an uphill battle, so I drink hot tea and use water-enhancers (like Mio) to stay on top of my bladder health. When I notice indicators of a bad Drinking Day, I’ll force myself to finish a large water bottle of tea, go to the bathroom more often, and bam - problem usually solved.

Like water intake, I was also running uphill when it comes to eating enough protein. In addition to the obvious answer of eating more meat, I made a conscious effort to eat beans, peanut butter, Greek yogurt, and skim milk. There’s a long list of protein-rich foods besides meat, but those are the most appealing and attainable to me. When I’m not having a good eating day or are in a hurry, an easy supplement is a protein drink and spoonful of peanut butter.

The struggle to maintain a healthy diet is real, especially for me. I live on my own without the accountability of my family and no caregiver to cook for me, so it’s a conscious effort to stay on top of my health. Partly due to my disability taking some function and signaling from me, the importance of a nutritionally-sound body is impossible to ignore. I certainly am still a work in progress, but I now realize that my body is a temple and it deserves to be cared for as such. Eating well is easy – you just have to find what works for you. The last thing we need is to add potentially long-term problems to what we already have going on. Or, God forbid, start losing our hair.

Kristin Beale is a native of Richmond, Virginia. She is the author of a book, Greater Things, and a comic book, Date Me. Check them out and read an excerpt at www.kristinbeale.com. Her comics can be found on Instagram @greater.things.comics.