When people think of seeing a Registered Dietitian, they think of eating healthier or aiming to lose weight to meet a specific goal. However, for some of our Veterans, gaining too much weight is not their problem it is actually quite the opposite. When you go many days without eating enough, many changes occur inside your body. Your body will start to break down muscle and fat to use for energy. This can lead to a condition called malnutrition.
When a person is struggling with malnutrition or unintended weight loss, they may need some extra help to get the calories and protein they need to maintain and gain weight.
We have a top 5 list of tips to help when you or your Veteran experience unintended weight loss or malnutrition.
- Eat small meals more often. Try to eat every 2-3 hours. Increasing food intake by eating more often can help to get more calories and protein in. It is a bonus if you can work fruits and veggies into snacks!
- Have meals that are easy to prepare, such as sandwiches or ready-to-eat items. This could also mean prepping foods like soups or stews that hold up well in the freezer and freezing any leftovers that make for easy healthy meals to pull out whenever you need something quick. Test out this White Chicken Chili recipe for added protein and fiber. It makes a great freezer meal!
- Try to make eating enjoyable! This can be something that is tough to do, especially when we are really motivated to help someone increase nutrients or avoid losing more weight. If you are a caregiver, try to keep comments about food intake away from mealtimes.
- Try to eat larger meals when you feel the best. So, if the afternoons or evenings seem to be when you or your Veteran eat the most, make sure you have a good balanced meal with fruits and vegetables at that time. Try a smoothie for an afternoon snack!
- Make every bite count by choosing items high in calories and protein. Try to avoid using low fat or low-calorie type foods, and do add some condiments to make foods that you are already eating have more calories and protein.
Tune into Fresh Focus episode #29 to hear Lauren and fellow Registered Dietitian Beth discuss even more specific ways to lend a helping fork to Veterans and caregivers who may be experiencing malnutrition or unintended weight loss while focusing on a “Food First” approach!
Lauren Hocking, RDN, LDN, is registered dietitian nutritionist within the Marion VA Healthcare System.