“Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not.” Tokugawa Ieyasu
Slow and steady has never been my style, but after returning home from rehab for my ruptured brain aneurysm, it has become a new way of life. Especially when it comes to my eating and fitness, a slow, gradual return is what is working for me.
I came across a great article last week on Twitter: Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food. It was a great inspiration for today’s post subject: my new emphasis on eating for brain healing.
When I had the aneurysm in March 2015, I was down nearly 75 lbs. from my all-time high. I was still 20 lbs. heavier than I wanted to be and was working toward that goal when I fell ill. Somehow, probably due to muscle loss, I actually lost 10 lbs. while recovering and rehabbing. It wasn’t intentional, nor was it a good healthy loss.
During my rehab from the aneurysm, the doctors just wanted me to eat. I found that my appetite just wasn’t as strong as it had been, so unlike me, they weren’t worried about clean eating. They just wanted me to eat to help fuel my recovery. I didn’t necessarily make bad choices, but I ate what I craved. Some days that included hot dogs and tater tots, other days steak and veggies. They did often bring me nutrition drinks, like Ensure, but I rarely drank them. (Have you ever tried to read the ingredients in those things? It’s crazy and goes against my rule of not eating what I can’t pronounce.)
When I returned home in July, I went back to a nutritionist with hopes of moving closer to my goal weight. I went back to recording my food in My Fitness Pal and monitoring what I ate, trying to stay at 1200 calories. It was extremely difficult to get nutrients I needed at that calorie level, and sadly, that is when I re-introduced processed foods to my menus, Fiber One bars to be exact.
Toward the end of the year, I was increasingly overwhelmed. Apparently, this is common with brain injury survivors. Doctors call it “flooding,” which is a mental overload that occurs because the brain’s filters don’t work as well. Thankfully, this is temporary. The brain filters eventually return to normal working order. I took a break from My Fitness Pal and just tried to eat better. It was nice not being too obsessed with tracking every bite.
At a visit to MUSC for treatment for my c Diff, the doctor recommended that I eat more protein to hasten healing. He reminded me that the brain is still healing for up to two years after the aneurysm. I decided that I would start using MFP again to monitor my nutrition vs. trying to lose weight. It has been a good decision.
I set the calorie level fairly high – 1600 calories – as not to get me caught up in the pattern of eating for calorie allotment vs. nutrition. I’ve really had to monitor my foods, but it hasn’t been too hard to get into a healthier grove again. I have to eat more meat to get protein, and that has been a mental thing for me. I’d gotten to where I was really cutting back on meat. And sometimes I still have to have a protein bar or drink.
When I was working with Traci at Doctors Wellness, I was much more concerned with calories than I am now. She monitored the nutrition part, but it just wasn’t a focus for me. This time, it’s become a little bit of a game, trying to get the right amount of protein and vitamins without having too many carbs and sugars. Now that I’m getting used to eating for the nutrients, it’s starting to come a bit easier. Yesterday, I had a close to perfect nutrition day at only 1400 calories. It was a little exciting because it kinda happened naturally.
On the subject of eating healthy, I’m also back at the gym on a regular basis. My trainer Jarrett is now at Palmetto Wellness Center, and I’m seeing him twice a week. Due to the breathing issues created by the vocal cord immobility, I’m not able to do the heavy cardio I once did. I do the NuStep Cross Trainer, which is like a seated elliptical, at a low level, followed by strength training and balance exercises. (I’m up to 15 minutes at a time, 20 if you count a slow five minute cool down at the end of my strength training.) After five weeks of visits, I’m starting to see some progress, especially in my legs. I feel stronger every day.
Coincidentally, I found a great article via Twitter this morning: Which Type of Exercise is Best for the Brain? The surprising results suggest that going hard may not be the best option for long-term brain health. That makes me feel a little better about having to forgo the sweaty 45-minute elliptical workouts for now.
This “eating for nutrition” and gradual return to fitness has been good. I not only feel better and more in control, it seems like my body and brain are getting better every day as a result. Today, I weigh about the same as I did about a year ago – still about 20 lbs. from my goal weight. I still miss those sweaty workout sessions and size 10 pants, but I’ll get back to those soon enough. For now, my health and healing is key.