Getting back routine & flexibility with your food
Give your brain a screen rest by listening to this post!
Before your brain injury, your agenda was packed. You had your regular work hours or school schedule. You had your chauffeur duties to get your kids to their extra curriculars. Then there was taking the dog on their walks, getting to the gym yourself, going grocery shopping on the weekends, and your dinner dates. The momentum of your weekly routine made the days fly by.
But after your brain injury, the days seem to crawl. Because of your low energy, being unable to work, and your sleep troubles, it’s hard to tell the days of the week apart. You feel isolated and lost not knowing what to do, or even what you will be able to do each day. Even your best laid plans can be foiled by a frustrating setback. Momentum is nonexistent. You feel like a routine is just not possible.
So it’s not completely surprising that making your weekly meal plan now is overwhelming. You would love to have a meal routine. But with the unpredictability of your brain symptoms, a fixed plan just does not seem for you. You want the flexibility to change things up based on your needs and wants. After all, taking the joy out of food by eating the same thing every day might literally add insult to injury…
As a dietitian, many people think that my job is to make detailed meal plans. I admit, when I went to study nutrition, I myself even thought that this was going to be a big part of my day-to-day work. But I can tell you, with the utmost certainty, that meticulously calculated meal plans fail you. Instead, I have found it better to give you empowering tools that allow you both routine & flexibility. And with the challenges of your brain injury, you need these tools in your tool belt to get you organized in a way that doesn’t overstimulate.
I have been working with my clients to help them simplify their meals and snacks, build a routine that both satisfies their appetite and is flexible with their brain symptoms, while also offering new food ideas that are fun instead of overwhelming. I myself had struggled through this part of my recovery. And so, both personally and professionally I have learned some tips that I am sharing here with you today 🙂
Four tips for routine and flexibility in your meal planning
#1 Make a list of your favourite meals to have as options throughout the week.
It’s hard choosing what to eat. Many people when working on their nutrition, often start by looking up new recipes with new ingredients and new cooking methods they have never tried before. The result? Overwhelm.
What actually works is building off of what you already do. Plus your brain is low energy. Why give it all that extra work to think up completely new meal ideas? Make a list of your go-to meals. Ask for help. Then post this list somewhere visible in the kitchen. When you are stuck with decision fatigue about what to eat, just go to this list. After all, you wrote it so everything on it you will like and you will know how to make 🙂
#2 At the start of your day, choose just one food priority.
I am as much of a Type A personality as anyone else with a drive to succeed to the max 🙂 My first instinct when trying to reach a goal, is to throw myself in fully and completely. I try to do all the things at once. And the result? Burn out.
Even when you consider a neurotypical brain, at most they might be able to achieve five priorities in one day. Do yourself a favour. Do the compassionate thing. Give yourself one food and nutrition priority to work at once. Just one. Focus on doing that one thing the best you can. And by the end of the week, you will be seven steps ahead instead of struggling to achieve seven priorities all at the same time.
#3 Develop muscle memory in the kitchen by cooking with another person.
Ok, let’s do a sports analogy. Imagine you are learning to play golf. Imagine if you had rarely seen the sport. Then out of nowhere you were handed some golf clubs and some balls. Yeah, you could figure some stuff out yourself. But your learning and abilities playing golf would exponentially increase the moment you got on a golf course with another person who plays. Two brains are better than one, especially when one or both are low energy.
The same extends to your kitchen. When you cook with others, you learn to use different foods in different ways. This learning by experience will make it easier for you to choose meals going forward, because you’ll have the muscle memory to cook up the foods you have in different ways.
#4 Stop searching. Start doing.
Tell me if you identify with this…
The other day I was searching for some recipe inspiration. For my clients, I was looking for different types of energy bites that support brain recovery, help with digestion, and are also excessively easy to make. That was my starting goal. But once I got into it, I started seeing all sorts of recipes and articles on other topics… I ended up down a rabbit hole on the Internet, bookmarking all sorts of pages, cross referencing my cookbooks, and looking up new info that had nothing to do with my starting goal.
Even though I found pretty much what I was looking for within 5 minutes, I just kept searching. I know you’ve been there. We all have. And, the more you do that, the more you build a routine of SEARCHING, the less you get into a habit of DOING.
So stop the endless scrolling, the infinite Google searches, and mass pinning of recipe pages… in the time you spent looking for a perfect recipe that doesn’t exist, you could have made four or five 😉 . Doing is more important than getting it perfect. Doing is actually achievable, whereas perfection is not.
Your take away message
Deep down I think you know that ‘past you’ was doing far too much. You’ve likely come to realize that the agenda of ‘past you’ could’ve had more empty spaces for you to just relax, and reflect. Take that wisdom going forward. And apply it to your meal planning. Your food doesn’t have to be Instagram worthy. It doesn’t have to make the cover of Chatelaine. But it has to be there. And it will serve you better if it’s enjoyed 🙂
With so little that you can do in a day compared to before, let meal planning and eating be one of the wonderful pleasures in your day. You absolutely deserve it ❤️
Best in brain health and food love for all,
Krystal Merrells registered dietitian
P.S. If planning your meals is something you are still struggling with on your own, send me a message or book your free 45-minute Tele-Help call. I’d be happy to help you get back some routine and flexibility in your day 🙂