Cut the Veggies, Not your Energy!
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Profile photo of Asha LeRay, MS, OTR/L

In our society, we constantly hear about how nutrition plays a vital role in our overall health.  However, for those of us who live with chronic pain, meal preparation can sometimes feel like running a marathon.  Nutritious meals provide us with energy for our busy lives, but first we must use energy to create them.  If we eat well, then chances are we feel better.  If we do not eat well, then…you know the rest of the story.

There are ways to cut down the amount of energy exerted when preparing meals.  Best part, most of tips in this article will cost you nothing but a little change of routine.

KEEP IT SHARP.

First, almost all meals require cutting.  Make sure your knives are sharp!  It seems like such an obvious suggestion but think about it, when is the last time you sharpened your knives?  Chances are dull knives are making you use more energy as well as giving your joints an extra ounce of wear and tear that they do not need.  If you don’t have a knife sharpener, I would suggest investing in one.

For harder to cut root vegetables like butternut squash, it might even be worth it to just buy ones that are already cut up.  Catch them on sale and take advantage!  That way you’re still cooking from scratch, but you are getting help with the preparation stage.  After all, you’ll most likely eat a more nutritious meal than if you run out of energy and end up eating a fast food or take out meal.

A food processor can also lend some help by providing an easy way to chop your veggies without hurting your hands.  Of course, if you are going for a gourmet appearance, you will want to chop them by hand, but for those meals that are just for you and your loved ones, take shortcuts.  They will eat it regardless of how the ingredients were cut up.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

Second, all meals require items stored in your cabinets or pantry.  This requires reaching!  If you are anything like me, you probably have not realized that you have been reaching far above your height to obtain the every day items.  Instead, move the most used items to be the closest to your reach.  Another category of items that you want in lowest possible places is heavy items (i.e. large jars, cans, etc.).

If you buy in bulk, items such as oils are stored in large bottles.  Pour a smaller amount into a small bottle for daily use.  Therefore, you are only lifting the large container when you refill the small bottle rather than on a daily basis.

KEEP IT SAFE.

“I forget I have RA until I have a joint issue,” is my own overused quote when people ask me about my disease process.  Until I do something haphazardly – such as cutting veggies using a dull knife or overexert myself by trying to prepare too many things at once, I have no complaints about my RA.  However, by the time the pain or fatigue occur then there is no avoiding it, I just have to be with it until it subsides.

It is important to keep yourself safe by protecting your joints using good body mechanics in the kitchen.  For example, you want to make sure your wrist is in neutral – meaning your thumb is pointed toward the ceiling when using knives.  You also want to make sure your not using your outstretched pointer finger on the top of the knife – this will create a lot of stress on your smallest finger joints which will possibly lead to inflammation/pain.  The same idea works around the kitchen.  You want to use larger joints when possible – if your fingers hurt, open the door by using the palm of your hand instead of using your fingertips.

Breaking up meal preparation can also give your joints and body the rest it needs to complete the entire process safely and efficiently.  If needed, prepare meal ingredients during the time of day when you feel the most energized.  This will allow your body to perform naturally while your muscles are most rested and best able to support proper joint alignment.  If standing at the counter is taxing on you, perhaps you can do some of the cutting while sitting down.

Often times, it is hard to change our routine even if the change will yield less energy expended or less pain.  I have often learned the hard way, but what I can tell you is that the less judgment I put on changing my routine and focus on what I will gain from it, the better off I am.  I have shed lots of tears about the fact that RA can make simple things in life like cooking be so difficult.  However, the truth is we can only change things in our control such as our routine.  We do not have the power to change our disease, but we can relate to it differently by making simpler routines like meal preparation easier in our daily lives which will in turn, help us achieve greater well being.

All of the information provided in this blog are my real life shortcuts and based upon two principles used in occupational therapy practice called energy conservation and joint protection.   

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