Cookies or Carrots? Should Caregivers Give Comfort Foods or Focus on Healthy Eating?
I was recently speaking with a fellow caregiver warrior, and she was telling me how in the days before her father passed, the only thing he would eat was ice cream.
I laughed out loud and told her that my Mom’s diet in the months before she passed consisted of watered down decaf coffee, Diet Pepsi – which she’d finally agreed to drink – lebanon baloney and butter cookies. At the end, she was blowing through three tins of cookies every few days.
Obviously, these are not the healthiest of foods. My friend and I were in complete agreement about that, but we were both guilt-free about these diets.
We had done everything in our power to serve healthy well-rounded meals in portions that were pleasing and not overwhelming. We had pulled out every stop to ensure our parents were eating well.
When I think of all the groceries I lugged around weekend after weekend, slowly changing my parents’ house into a heathy, organic, vegetable, fruit and protein home instead of the inside of a junk food candy store, I am amazed at my persistence and patience.
When the Person You Care for Refuses Healthy Foods
However, there came a time when all my best efforts fell by the way side. My mom started refusing good, consistent meals no matter how I arranged the food, what technique I applied or what choices I made.
She began wanting only very specific things, and the schedule I had put her on to give her a sense of consistency had no impact at all, except to make her angry and agitated.
I began to panic. She wasn’t losing a lot of weight, but the implications of how this would all affect her body and overall health kept me up at night. Which ended up being a good thing because I was able to see that she and my dad were up in the middle of the night, having tea and butter cookies.
She didn’t seem to mind eating then!
So it wasn’t that she couldn’t eat, which was confirmed by the doctor. It was just that she really only had a taste for certain things, most of which were lifetime familiar favorites.
Don’t Deny the Foods Your Loved One Enjoys
So I began experimenting with things that she seemed to actually want to eat and sneaking other stuff in. This worked for a while. But, as her condition worsened – and we had the added stress of my dad’s illness – she usually refused anything but her standard favorites.
Even up until the end of her life, I always tried to get her to eat a balanced diet but never denied her the food she loved and always seemed to enjoy.
I felt guilty for a while, then finally learned to ask myself the question, “How important is it?” If she didn’t eat or drink at all, it would be disastrous.
If the perfect organic meal I had planned for her wasn’t something that worked for her, I had to let it go. Most certainly, I realized I shouldn’t torture her or feel guilty about it. I should do what I do best: care about her deeply and make all the best adjustments I could along the way.
She assumed the world was taking care of her and expected me to give her what she wanted and needed. I was there to do just that to the best of my ability. The rest of it was up to a power much greater than the both of us.
You Are Making the Right Decisions with the Best Intentions
Of course, this is about my personal journey and choices. By no means am I suggesting that it should work for everyone, and I do advise consulting doctors and professionals all along the way about your particular situation with the eating habits of those you care for.
What I can recommend, however, is giving yourself a break. Know you are making all the right decisions with the best intentions. Do not feel guilty or second guess yourself.
As caregiver warriors, we are constantly changing priorities and making adjustments. As you make these adjustments, please know that if you are doing them with concern and love, there are no wrong choices.
Reason things out but let there be no self-criticism. Sometimes ice cream and cookies are the best way to go.
If you are a caregiver, do you try to always serve a balanced diet or let your loved one eat what they like? Do you have any tips that have worked for you? Please share them in the comments below.
Susanne White is the founder of Caregiver Warrior. She was blessed with the opportunity to care for her parents and ventured out on a journey that would change her life. She blogs about this journey on her website and shares her experience, strength and hope with others so that they too may survive caregiving with grace and empowerment. Follow her on Twitter @CaregiveWarrior and on Linkedin.