Healthy Eating

by Liz McKeon, Dublin City University

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The enjoyment of good health is the key to a good quality of life. In this supplement healthy eating will be highlighted and how this may have a positive effect on you and your well-being. Some of you may already know a lot of this information and some of you may not. Even so it is intended to provide you all with some information that might help you, your family and carers to make informed decisions on what to eat.

Healthy eating is essential for growth and well being, so it is very important that you are aware of what it means to eat a balanced diet—which is a mixture of different foods. The Food Guide Pyramid is one way for people to understand how to eat healthily. It is important to eat more of some foods and less of other foods and the pyramid will help you to know what foods to eat.

We all like to eat some of the foods that are not very healthy— like chips, chocolate, fatty foods and lots of them—as they say in McDonald’s ‘supersize me!’ It is okay to have a treat now and again, but if you eat unhealthy foods too often you put your health at risk. You may put on too much weight and that can have a bad impact on your health. If you put on weight your clothes will not fit and you might find it difficult to move around. Too much weight can cause diabetes or heart problems. You may feel embarrassed or lack confidence if you become overweight, and that might make you feel lonely and isolated.

Not everyone eats too much—some people are at risk of not eating enough food. This is especially so for people who may have feeding difficulties such as a cleft lip and palate, who are unable to chew, suck or swallow and unable to manage their food without enduring distress. You may need some dietary supplements, or, in some cases, you may need to be fed through a peg tube (percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy). It is important that a doctor and dietician advise about the correct amount of food by peg tube so that you do not put on excessive weight, because this could lead to further health complications.
It is important that you get enough calories, nutrients and fluids in what you eat. If you have difficulty in chewing or swallowing your food, then it is important that you don’t become dehydrated or malnourished. This can occur if you are experiencing difficulty in swallowing or if it causes you stress, especially if you are continuously coughing and or feel as if you are choking.

The food you eat and the activities involved in planning, preparing and eating meals are important. These opportunities may be missed by you for several reasons; for example because of your physical disabilities you may not be able to get to the shops, or be involved in preparing and cooking your food. Some of you might not see the importance of healthy eating as being an important aspect of your life. Sometimes you might feel bored or depressed and not very motivated about eating healthily or taking care of yourself in general. If you have difficulty in communicating then this might limit your chances to make choices in what you want to eat.

If you need to make changes to the type of food you usually eat because of eating difficulties (such as fruit, meat, vegetables) you may be at risk of reducing the intake of nutrients and energy. You may also feel anxious and fearful about eating but there are people who can help you. If there is a nurse in the service that you attend you (or a family member or carer) should bring your concerns to him/her. A speech and language therapist can assess and monitor your eating difficulties, and offer advice about eating and ways to reduce your difficulties. A dietician can assess whether you are eating healthily enough, and advise you on improvements. None of these assessments are painful and they will help reduce the stress and anxiety that you may be feeling.

If you have a sore mouth or dentures that do not fit properly, this can interfere with eating. It is important to visit a dentist to deal with any such problems you may have. If you eat very slowly, for whatever reason, you must always have enough time to eat, and as often as you like, with small portion sizes. It is important that you are in a comfortable position when eating, sitting up, with your body supported if necessary. If someone is feeding you they should ensure that they are sitting face-to-face with you.

Mealtimes should be an enjoyable experience for you.

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