Healthy lifestyle practices such as daily exercise and getting enough rest are important for everyone, but even more so for prosthetic users. If you are facing a recent amputation, it may be challenging to adjust to this lifestyle where movement is limited and more difficult, and depression more common. However, nutrition can be a powerful ally, helping to fuel you mentally and physically for the challenges of living with an amputation. It is important to make nutrition work for you and you may need to adjust your healthy living practices to your new lifestyle. Here are some suggestions to help keep you eating and performing well.
First of all, determine your calorie needs. One of the biggest adjustments you may need to make after your amputation is your calorie intake. It is important to balance your need for healing with decreased activity and muscle mass. Calorie needs vary depending on where you are in the recovery process, how much activity you are doing, and your current medical issues. Just as with the able-bodied person, calorie needs are individual, and they may vary day to day or month to month.
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Secondly, a common nutrition issue facing amputees is weight gain. There are many different reasons why you may gain weight after an amputation: less physical activity, depression, side effects of medication, and adjusting to a new lifestyle, including difficulty preparing and shopping for food. It is important to acknowledge that you probably need fewer calories to maintain your weight than you did before your amputation. Choose smaller portions, eat fewer snacks, and cut back on packaged and processed foods to decrease your overall intake.
Also, be mindful of why you eat. Do you reach for food when you’re stressed, upset, or in pain? If so, pause and think about what else you could do: call a friend, do some deep breathing, or get some fresh air. Pay attention to portions. Even if your plate is perfectly balanced, you may be eating more than you need. Take less; you can always go back for more if you are still hungry. Pay attention to your body’s signals that you are full. If you eat slower, you give your body a chance to catch up and provide these signals little closer to real time. And stay hydrated; you can sometimes mistake thirst for hunger. Water is the best source of hydration.
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Next, the big question is “So, what should I eat then?” Healthy eating for amputees is similar in many ways to healthy eating for able-bodied people. Nutrition is very critical to maintaining a healthy weight, encouraging wound healing, decreasing your risk of chronic disease, and fueling your exercise and recovery. The types of food, combinations of food, and portions all matter. If you have difficulty consuming meals that are balanced and diverse, speak to your healthcare provider, as you may need supplements. My biggest advice is to eat real food or what’s known as “whole foods.” This sounds simple, but it can be difficult when you’re surrounded by convenience food, fast food, and packaged food. Choose unprocessed, whole foods most of the time. Aim for balanced meals, which means you should fill half your plate with fruit and vegetables, a quarter of your plate with protein from lean meats, beans/lentils, or low-fat dairy products, and a quarter with grains and starches that are high in fiber; whole grains are your best bet. Include small portions of heart-healthy fats such as those in fish, olive oil, avocado, and nuts/seeds.
Finally, food preparation plays an important role. The thought of eating a healthy meal may sound good, but does the idea of planning, shopping, and preparing such a meal overwhelm you? The ability to prepare foods may be more difficult after an amputation due to physical barriers, limited time given to medical appointments, and decreased motivation because of depression, pain, and fatigue. The good news is that there are lots of ways to improve your access to healthy food.
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For one, plan ahead. We tend to stick with healthy choices when they are easy and convenient. Plan your meals ahead of time. This way you know you have the ingredients for a healthy, balanced meal at home, and fast food won’t be so tempting. And make a grocery list before you head to the store. It helps you save time and money and curbs impulse buying. On that note, always shop with full stomach. You are more likely to stick to your list and avoid additional impulse buying. Another good idea is to keep nutrient-rich foods on hand. Stock your freezer with frozen fruit, vegetables, and individual cuts of fish, chicken, and lean beef. Fill your pantry with canned beans, packets of tuna, nuts, seeds, peanut or almond butter, dried fruit, whole-wheat pasta, and whole grains such as brown rice, and barley. Lastly, cook in batches. When you, family members, or friends do cook, divide the food into individual portions that you can freeze. When you’re low on time or energy to cook, just heat and eat for a quick and healthy meal.
As mentioned above, weight gain is a common issue for amputees. It can increase your risk of infection, pressure ulcers, osteoarthritis, and cardiovascular disease. Start healthy habits now by eating real food, balancing your plate and planning ahead.