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Cooking with Fibromyalgia & CFS

Thursday 1 April 2010's Adrienne Dellwo has some helpful kitchen advice for people with ME/CFS/Fibromyalgia:

Cooking With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Keys to Kitchen Survival

When you have fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome, cooking poses several challenges -- standing in the kitchen can cause pain and wear you out; problems with short-term memory and multi-tasking make it hard to follow the steps of even a simple recipe; and it's easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed with the whole process. It's tempting to avoid it altogether, but to eat a healthy diet, you've got to cook.

I've found some things that make cooking easier for me and I hope they help you, too. At the end of this article, there's a link to where you can share the tips that help you survive in the kitchen.

Tip #1 - The Right Tools

Not all kitchen tools are created equal. Some of them are easier to grip than others, and some of them can make certain jobs a lot easier.

I have peelers and a few other things with padded handles, and they keep my hands from wearing out as fast.

For when my husband isn't handy, I also have a couple of tools for opening jars and bottles -- one is just a thin rubber gripper, and the other has a "V" shape with ridges that catch in the grooves on lids. I don't have much hand strength, but these tools allow me to open things without expending a ton of energy or straining muscles.

While they can be expensive, good knives make a big difference. I have a few that were a gift, and it's amazing how much easier they are to use than my cheap ones.

Tip #2 - Keep It Handy

Try keeping the things you use a lot where you can get them easily. For example, when spoons and spatulas are in a crock on the counter, it takes very little effort to grab one when you need it.

I have a wall-mounted spice rack for the things I use most often, and I also arranged my cupboards so things like butter, cooking oil, and other frequent necessities are right at my fingertips.

Tip #3 - Highs & Lows

When you do have to get things that are stored high or low, try to use things that minimize how much you have to bend, stretch and balance.

Back when I was reasonably healthy, I'd just hop up on the countertop (I'm short, so I can never reach anything.) Now, that's just not a good idea -- I'd probably hurt myself getting up there, and then get dizzy and fall. I have a sturdy, light-weight folding stool that fits between the fridge and cupboards that I use for those things that are out of my reach. It has 2 steps, so it's a lot easier than using a chair.

You can also buy grabbers on long sticks that help you get items from high or low shelves, or pick things up off the floor. If you do have to get down low, squatting or getting on your knees is generally better than bending. Listen to your body's cues and minimize the things that cause pain.

Tip #4 - Take the Strain Off Your Legs

Standing on a hard floor while you cook can cause a lot of leg pain and fatigue. A padded rug can really help, as can wearing good shoes or cushy slippers.

For tasks that keep you in one place for more than a few minutes, try sitting down. I have a breakfast bar in my kitchen with stools that are great for when I'm chopping vegetables or doing other stationary things. The kitchen table works well, too, but it can be a little harder to stand up from a chair than a bar stool.

Tip #5 - Keeping Track of Recipes

Thanks to our brain fog, we generally have to refer back to a recipe a lot more than most people. You don't want to have to lean or twist in order to see it, so it can help to have a holder. Home stores generally carry cook book holders that will keep them upright and easily visible.

For recipe cards or pieces of paper, keep a clothes pin handy that you can use to clip it to a box or whatever else will keep it at the right height.

Tip #6 - Organize Before Starting

How often have you been in the middle of something when you suddenly realized you were out of an ingredient, or you couldn't find what you needed next? For me, something like that can trigger anxiety, confusion and frustration that makes it nearly impossible to keep going.

To keep that from happening, I get out all the necessary ingredients before I start cooking, and I arrange them in order of when I'll need them. I also get out the measuring cups and spoons so I know where they are (and that they're not sitting in the dishwasher, dirty!)

Tip #7 - Keep It Simple

One thing that will derail me in the kitchen faster than anything is having too much going on at once. I don't fix things that require boiling this while sauteing that and mixing some third thing for an exact amount of time -- I know I'll lose track, mess up something, and end up a wreck by the time it's over.

I also keep meals simple, opting for bagged salad or raw veggies with dip instead of adding one more thing to cook.

For tips on eating healthy while keeping it simple, read Overcoming the Challenges of Eating Healthy With Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Tip #8 - Remember Your Pacing

Don't forget to pace yourself while cooking! When possible:

  • Work for a few minutes and then rest for a few minutes.
  • Try to vary your tasks. If you have a lot of chopping to do, for example, don't do it all in one stretch.
  • When preparing for a holiday or big event, give yourself lots of extra time. Prepare whatever you can ahead of time so you're not trying to do it all at once.

For more on pacing, read How To Pace Yourself

The article originally appeared here.


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