The Spoonie’s Guide to Low-Carb Living

Life is tough when you have a chronic medical condition. It’s even tougher when you have multiple chronic medical conditions. It’s intensely tough when you have multiple chronic medical conditions and want to maintain a healthy low-carb lifestyle.

There are surprisingly few pre-made foods out there that are low carb and aren’t filled with questionable ingredients. And when you feel like you’ve been nailed by a Mack truck all you want is a quick TV dinner and bed. You don’t want to grocery shop, you don’t want to stand up and you sure as heck don’t want to cook.

However, sometimes you have to. Sometimes you have a medical condition that requires low carb eating. Often you think that eating well just might make your life a little better. And all the time you just want to feel better.

I would be lying to you if I told you that low carb living was easy. I am not lying to you when I say that it can be done. It just takes digging your heels in and making it a priority. But, these few tips and tricks just might help.

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1. Plan, plan, plan

If there is any piece of advice I give you, take this one. Plan your meals out in advance. I will plan out lunches and dinners for four days and I write them on a whiteboard I keep in my kitchen. This has several benefits:

a. Grocery shopping will be easier. Why? Because you have just planned out your meals for the next few days. You can now build your grocery list off your plans.

b. It takes the pressure off of figuring out what’s for dinner because you have already decided. As an added bonus, when someone asks you “what’s for dinner,” you can point them to your list.

c. It will help you keep on the low carb track. If anything, because it takes too much effort to change plans.

2. Cook when you feel good so you don’t have to when you feel bad

Making a casserole? Make a double batch and freeze the leftovers. Do it on one of those super hefty paper plates so that all you have to do is take off the plastic wrap and throw it in the microwave. It will be a homemade TV dinner, and much better for you than the ones you find in the grocery store.

3. Make your freezer your BFF

To follow up on the previous tip, make extra and freeze it. Buy meat in bulk and freeze it because it’s cheaper. Frozen vegetables are just as good as fresh. I have even stocked up on butter when it was on sale and frozen it. I would recommend though organizing your freezer better than mine is…because I often hate opening my freezer for fear of having a long-forgotten bag of flax seed falling on my face.

4. Invest in a good slow cooker

A slow cooker is a spoonie’s best friend. I am not exaggerating when I say I use mine all. the. time. I haven’t made a roast or baked a cake in the oven since I got mine. My slow cooker of choice is the Hamilton Beach Set-And-Forget. It comes with a temperature probe that you can jab in your roast then program the cooker to cook the roast until it hits the temperature you set and then will automatically turn to ‘warm’ so that you don’t burn the meal. It takes all the guesswork out of whether or not your meat is cooked all the way through – and when you’re immunodeficient like I am, that is huge. It also makes the most moist roast chicken you will ever have and your cakes will be amazingly rich. I don’t normally use them since I’m a little eek about cooking plastic, but use a slow cooker liner to keep cleanup to a minimum.

5. Keep a whiteboard (or two) on your fridge

Those locker whiteboards you get in the school supply section of Wal Mart (dirt cheap in late August, at that) have been a godsend. I keep it on my fridge so that whenever I realise I need something I can just turn around and jot it down. Before I go to the grocery store I take a photo of it and then load it into a drawing app so that I can cross off items. Super simple and saves trees. I also use whiteboards to calculate nutrition facts for quick meals that I want to eat immediately.

6. Grocery shop online

Online grocery shopping is seriously a thing now. And it’s awesome. It makes life a lot easier for the spoonie. No getting up and going out. As an added bonus, you can help bloggers support their activities by buying items from their stores so that they can keep bringing you free recipes. Many recipes contain affiliate links. Seriously, click on them and buy your almond flour through them. I have a suggested list of things I keep in my kitchen regularly available through my store. It’s a work in progress and updated somewhat regularly.

7. Make cooking fun

Cooking is a chore for a lot of people. You have to stand up, think, mix, source ingredients and ultimately clean up afterwards. But there’s an element of fun to it, the thrill of things coming together to make something delicious gives me a high.

Maybe I’m just crazy. But food highs are WAY cheaper than drugs.

The key to happiness is to find joy in everything. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to find a minuscule amount of joy, but it’s there. If you can focus on that itty bitty bit of joy in cooking, you will be happier. Sometimes all it will be is the smell of a comforting meal cooking – and often, that is all you really need.

8. Clean as you go

I spent a very long time working fast food. Longer than I want to admit, and long enough for me to realise that it sucked and it was time for me to go back to college. But I did learn several valuable lessons working fast food that I don’t think I would have had the opportunity to anywhere else. While the big one was “be nice to your server, no matter what,” the one I want to talk about now is “clean as you go.” I spent a good chunk of my career closing, often not getting out until 3 in the morning – and sometimes 4 when the kitchen was trashed. Those nights were not fun and they could have been easily avoided if we had simply wiped things down as we went, did dishes when we had down time and kept the floor swept. Taking home those habits is crucial for the spoonie – it takes minimal extra effort to throw trash out or quickly wipe down a counter. Keep a large bowl in your general vicinity to throw wastes in so that you only have to walk to the trash can once when you’re done. No one wants to cook in a dirty kitchen, and keeping it clean is crucial to wanting to cook. Cleaning it in small increments instead of all at once helps make what could possibly be a daunting task a little easier to handle. In that vein, however, be able to proritise which chores need to be taken care of immediately and which ones can wait a little bit. I often leave the dishes for my husband. ūüėČ

9. Break up larger, more labour intensive recipes into smaller, more manageable tasks done over several hours – or even days.

It is not uncommon (AKA I do it all the time) for me to start getting things prepared for supper after breakfast. This is when I have the most energy and am able to get the most things done. Often, supper is nothing more than just throwing a couple pork chops on the grill and serving sliced vegetables, but I will usually rub down the pork chops with my seasoning blend of choice in the morning and then slice the vegetables after lunch. I have taken three days to prepare a casserole (this is where planning meals in advance has an advantage): Day 1 I will chop up the vegetables, Day 2 I will make the sauce and on Day 3 I will throw it all together and put it in the oven. Planning in advance makes it so that I can easily break up tasks, that way when life throws me a sudden knock-me-on-my-butt event I can still put supper on the table with minimal effort or  even have my husband do the final bits for me.

10. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

The amount of times I have heard people tell me that they often won’t try making a recipe again because they failed the first time makes me sad. For every good thing I have made and goes into the “must make again” rotation, I have likely had 5 or 6 failed attempts, ranging from “meh, could be better” to “ohmygod I’m eating baby vomit.” I take these failures as lessons and will immediately think of ways to make the end result meet my taste expectations. There are very few recipes I use where I haven’t tweaked to meet my personal taste preferences. Never be afraid to alter a recipe, even if it’s not your own. And if it doesn’t work, don’t be afraid to try again. Tomorrow is another day, after all.

Low carb living is not easy. But with a little work, a little planning and a lot of kitchen time you will be able to do it. Just don’t give up!

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Invisible Disease Friday

I really needed a day off.

As each day went on, I had been getting more and more worn out, more and more unable to get up when laying down, more and more exhausted. So a couple of days ago, I decided that since one class was done and the other two were doing finals reviews, I was going to take today off, sleep in, be a lazy bum and not take care of anyone but myself.

Instead, I got stuck carrying the baby down the full flight of stairs that lead to my front door to take her to daycare so I could have a day alone. I got stuck going to campus and taking care of some missing equipment out of my drawer in chem lab. And out of the goodness of my heart I made a lunch run for Lord Imp, who is feeling crappy and I knew was going to need to eat.

And now all I want to do is cry. Because I don’t get to take care of myself and only myself.

All I wanted was 36 hours of not doing anything – not getting out of bed, not cooking, not cleaning, not doing homework and not taking the baby. Instead, I got out of bed at 7:30, struggled down the stairs, took care of the baby for a bit, took a nap, woke up and struggled up and down the stairs several times, struggled to get the baby changed and dressed, struggled to get her in the car seat and prayed as I teetered precariously down the stairs carrying her to the car. In the middle of all that, I had to deal with listening to Lord Imp bitching about how tired he was and how he didn’t feel well.

I really wanted to scream this, but didn’t. So I’m going to scream it here:

WELCOME TO MY WORLD.

I am tired ALL THE TIME. It is not uncommon for me to wake up and legitimately wonder if I have the physical capability of getting out of bed. It is not uncommon for me to not be able to move without an exceeding amount of effort. It is not uncommon for me to fall asleep in classes or want to take naps.

BUT I STILL GET STUFF DONE, and with minimal complaining.

I still do laundry. I still do dishes. I still make the baby breakfast and get her dressed. I still vacuum. I still go to class. I still study. I still do research. I still go to work.

EVERY SINGLE DAY. Despite feeling the same way you are (minus the congestion). My head is ALWAYS foggy. I am ALWAYS tired. And I am ALWAYS woozy.

BUT I STILL GO ON.

Don’t EVER mistake the fact that I am still plugging on without complaint as that I am fine. I AM NOT FINE. I am only moving because my options are to keep going or to die.

And I would kinda like to keep going.

The sad truth is, I’ve been taking spoons from the next day for a while now. And today I woke up with very few of them. And instead of trying to regain my spoon count, I spent today spending them.

I sent a copy of the Spoon Theory to Lord Imp. I hope he finally gets it.

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Dear Diabetes, I Quit

You can quit a job for any reason. You can quit school once you get past the state’s legal dropout age. You can end a relationship very easily and you can run away from home.

What you can’t do, however, is quit a medical condition.¬†

Today, however, I sure did try.

I like to keep a low-carb diet. It helps me keep my blood sugars in much better line. I’m not necessarily ketogenic since my main goal is to just keep stable levels and there are some non-keto things that don’t raise my blood sugars so I don’t worry about them (coconut palm sugar is one thing that comes to mind – it’s not on the keto list, but since I don’t need insulin to handle it I don’t give a shit). I’ve lost quite a bit of weight since having Baby Imp while on a low-carb diet, and I have actually grown to prefer the dishes that I’ve been making.

The thing about low-carbing is that it’s a lot of work. I make EVERYTHING from scratch – hell, I even make my own crackers. It isn’t exactly a diet for convenience. It takes a lot of preparation, thinking, planning, grocery shopping and a lot of time in front of a stove. Supper tends to be just a meat and some kind of vegetable because by the time 6 o’clock rolls around I’m running low on spoons and throwing something on the grill and slicing up some cucumber is easy.¬†

I’ve had one hell of a time the last three weeks. I’ve moved, set up a house, started at a new school and new job and got acclimated to a new schedule. I’ve also been through the living hell of going through the motions of getting a whole new set of prior authorisations for medication and doctors. I’ve been living with the constant worry whenever someone near me in class coughs or sneezes. I’ve been dealing with yet another a fungal infection on my leg and increasing chest congestion due to not having my immunoglobulin for two weeks (BIG NEWS SIDE NOTE got a month of Hizentra approved by the insurance, but they don’t like the specialty pharmacy chosen by my immunologist and they’re still missing some paperwork so this month is to get me through until they get all of the paperwork they need in order. Supplies are getting shipped tomorrow since the approval came around 4:30, will have them by Thursday morning).

Life is exhausting.

As time goes on, I have less and less energy. And today I finally had enough.

This afternoon, I quit diabetes.

And I didn’t leave a two-week notice either. I just up and walked out the door, flipping the bird over both my shoulders as I exited. I turned around in the doorway and disco danced to “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” for good measure. Then I shouted that he was an awful lover, because no quitting scene is complete without a dissolved office romance.

Freshly alive with my newfound freedom, I ran straight into the arms of my secret lover: Hardee’s. He enveloped me with the scent of his curly fry cologne and caressed me with sweet words of encouragement. “It will be all right,” he whispered in my ear as the bag was passed through the window.

So I went home with my carbohydrate bomb, the ease of simply ordering lunch giving me the energy to go on. And I sat down. And ate.

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I even ate the cookie.

But, alas, despite my officially divorcing myself from diabetes, some of it still stuck around. Like I still went for the pump when eating. Because it’s only second nature.

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That’s about four times my average daily carbohydrate count…

And I found myself running into a problem.

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You shall not pass.

I purposely set my max bolus to 5 units because Baby Imp likes to grab at the pump, and it’s to prevent me getting an insane amount of insulin. I rarely take any more than 2 units in a sitting (and that’s only when my blood sugars end up high for some reason) so I never see that screen. Until today. I felt like a bit of a rebel, taking more insulin than I normally do. It was freeing, like the first time you go out on a date after leaving an awful boyfriend.

Soon the pump was shouting at me again, and instead of my usual “hey, I should take care of that…” response, it was more along the lines of “pfft, whatevs.” Because I quit diabetes today.¬†

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Nope, don’t care.

I ate everything. The burger, the bun it came on, the fries, I even finished the cookie even though it was highly disappointing.

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C is for cookie, that’s good enough for me.

138 grams of carbohydrates later and 8 and a half fattening units of insulin later, and I felt fine. Wonderful. Disappointingly wonderful. When you quit diabetes, you’re supposed to feel awful. You’re supposed to need to pee all the time, feel lethargic, and be reminded that quitting diabetes was a bad idea.

Although admittedly, I didn’t really quit diabetes. Like a codependent person, I came crawling back to it. I took insulin. I even checked my blood sugar beforehand (it was 71 mg/dL). And then I walked for like a mile and a half afterwards, which resulted in a 66 mg/dL pre-supper blood sugar about 5 hours later. For diabetes burnout, this was an awful example. For quitting diabetes, this was an awful example. But given how taking care of myself takes up every minute of every day and how dedicated I am to staying well, this was big. I consider myself lucky that the huge carbohydrate count in my meal didn’t end up with me having to bolus again even four hours later. While I didn’t check my blood sugar two hours afterwards (which is actually unusual for me, we can call that part of my quitting diabetes) I know by how I felt that I really didn’t get that terribly high. I don’t know why, but I didn’t.¬†

I can say though that in my temporary “fuck it” experience, I did learn a lot. Normally when I splurge on a high-carb meal, I am later consumed with a rather large amount of guilt and a feeling of failure. It was nice to let loose without the down feelings that followed. That’s not to say that this will end up becoming an everyday thing and that I have completely fallen off the wagon and am being dragged by a rope tied around my ankles. Supper tonite consisted of pork chops and a salad with low-carb ranch dressing. It seems that old habits die hard, although admittedly this is an old habit that is a good thing to keep around.

I will admit that I really don’t know what diabetes burnout feels like. Yes, I get sick of having it and I get frustrated and occasionally say “fuck it” and end up in a Hardee’s drive-thru. I’ve eaten whatever I wanted and not cared. I even spent a good 10 or so years not checking my blood sugar at all. But I’ve always taken the insulin, which is often the most difficult thing for someone with diabetes to handle. The thought of being constantly held captive by a needle or a pump is frustrating. But that is the one thing that I never really had a problem with. After 18 years, insulin has been second nature. I can honestly say that I don’t remember life before I did it, and even though I was 11 when diagnosed pre-diagnosis life and post-diagnosis life for the most part are one in the same. I hear about people experiencing diabetes burnout and books have been written on how to deal with it, but I can honestly say that I don’t understand it. When I burn out, it’s usually only for a day. When I quit diabetes, I walk right back in the door the next morning, sit at my desk and start typing like nothing ever happened.

I guess in the end I’ve accepted that there’s just no getting rid of it. No matter what I do, it’s always going to be there and I will always have to handle it. It’s a part of me and who I am, and that’s just that.

Dear Diabetes,

I try to quit you, but you’re still here. May as well have a beer together and keep working things out.

Love, Lady Imp

Life is Exhausting

Especially when you’re a full-time student.

And a mother.

Working a job until way past your bedtime two nights a week.

With two chronic illnesses that are a full-time job to take care of.

And one of them you’re still waiting for your new insurance company to approve the prior authorisation for the meds for.

I bitch about how run down I feel after an immunoglobulin infusion. But now that I’m overdue for another one, I truly realise how much better I was feeling while getting them.

I really wanna curl up in bed.

But I have to be to work in an hour.

I also really want some fucking Hizentra.

But I’m waiting for the bureaucrats at Upper Peninsula Health Plan to give me the OK to get it.

They told me if it was marked urgent  by my doctor, it could be two to three weeks.

That’s cool, I could get a cold that will turn into pneumonia and I’ll leave you with a nasty hospital bill since I will likely have to be medevaced to Marquette.¬†Not to mention the IVIG I will need to get. That shit alone costs a ton.

But hey, you assholes get to determine whether or not it’s ok for me to get medication.

I forgot that I’m only a dollar sign to the health insurance companies.

Sorry it’s short, but I’m running out of spoons.

The end.