Eating Well

In the second installment to the December’s Self-Care posts, I wanted to discuss healthy eating.  Well, actually, I do not want to discuss healthy eating, because I have to admit to everyone that I have not been eating well lately.  With the release of the book, the stress of the holidays, and my inclination to eat more than I should at this time of year, I have put on a few pounds.  So, I need to revisit this topic for myself and will bring you along for the ride.

You may have already made adjustments to your diet to adapt to HIV-related changes in your metabolism and the effects of medication.  Aging, too, creates shifts in our body, and as we age we need to alter our diets to compensate.

I consulted with Dr. James Schmidtberger, from the Leicht Clinic, an HIV-clinic in New York City to get some guidance on eating well and aging with HIV.  He offered some general suggestions in order to get us started.  He also suggested following up with a doctor or nutritionist to respond to changes in your specific physical condition.

Here is what he had to say:

When we age we lose muscle mass and require fewer calories daily.  Uncontrolled HIV can accelerate the loss of muscle mass. If you are concerned about HIV wasting you may be tempted to overeat. Without adequate exercise, this may result in excess fat which raises the risk of developing (or worsening) other chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. This is why nutrition and exercise are so important to help you maintain your muscle mass. Nutrition is particularly important if you have other medical problems (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or prediabetes) or lipodystrophy. A balanced diet is important to help your body fight HIV and control (or prevent) those other conditions.

A good place to start is to assess your overall dietary habits. In general, you want to eat a balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. A good rule of thumb is called the “plate method.” This is a simple way to devise a healthy meal and is recommended by the American Diabetes Association. Take your dinner plate and divide it in half. Fill one half with nonstarchy vegetables (such as spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, greens, salad, tomato, cucumber). Divide the remaining half again into two quarters. Fill one quarter with starchy foods (such as rice, pasta, corn, peas, whole grain breads/cereals). Fill the remaining quarter with proteins (lean meats, skinless poultry, seafood, tofu, eggs). Add a glass of nonfat or 1% milk or yogurt and a piece of fresh fruit. You can bring the plate method to the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table.

Consider the following small modifications. If you eat too much, try to limit your portions. If you drink soda, switch to seltzer or diet sodas.  Avoid fast food.  Switch to healthy oils, olive oil or canola oil, and avoid food with trans fats.

Depending on your situation, your nutritional needs may differ. For example, if you are fighting an opportunistic infection, your calorie requirements may be higher than usual. If you have heart disease, diabetes, or other complications, you may have specific dietary restrictions. Ask about nutrition. You may also want to consult with a nutritionist to assess your dietary needs.

Next week’s blog: Staying Fit

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