Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Changing the (Chronic) Routine

No matter who you are or what you do, you have some sort of routine. Whether it’s when you exercise, when you take your morning coffee break, or what you read during your commute, there are certain rituals that prevail and structure our chaotic, multi-tasking days.

Personally, I crave routine and really can’t function without it. I get all antsy and agitated, like I’ve had too many Red Bulls and haven’t worked off any of the energy. Given my propensity for medical mishaps and rapid changes in health status, this dislike of disruption is unfortunate, but I roll with it as best I can. As I’ve written before, it’s impossible to parse out how much of this is part of my inherent personality and how much of it is a response to a lifetime of illness, but at this point, the origin doesn’t really matter.

When you have chronic illness, the notion of routine takes on even more significance, and we each have carefully constructed disease management rituals. For example, I start my day with an early morning chest PT session with my physical therapist—while I’m not exactly excited for a vigorous chest pounding at 6:45, if I make coffee it’s tolerable for both of us—followed by taking my pills and using my inhalers, peak flows, and, if I need it, my neb. Then I get to work.

Of course that’s just an example. I know diabetics who have their early morning blood sugar testing routines down to a science, and arthritics or people with other pain conditions who need to do certain stretches and warm-ups before they can tackle the day. In this context, routine is a good thing, it means we don’t forget to take pills or do our exercises or anything else that needs to be as rote as brushing our teeth or taking a shower. (Again, I really believe many of the universal aspects of living with a chronic condition outweigh disease-specific differences.)

Though I’m somewhat loath to admit it, there is definitely such a thing as too much routine, especially when it comes to nutrition and cooking. I’ve discussed how instrumental my husband was in helping me broaden my culinary horizons when I was first adjusting to eating gluten-free, and we often try new places and new foods.

But lately we’ve gotten into a bit of a cooking rut. There’s only so many nights salad, veg, and something grilled can taste great without tasting repetitive. As a gluten-free, dairy-free eater I am all about the fresh produce and whole foods, and I pack a mean punch with spices, but still. I looked at our grocery list and realized we buy a lot of the same vegetables and fruits every week. How much broccoli can one couple reasonable expect to consume and be satisfied?

I think when you have any sort of condition that restricts your diet, from celiac disease to IBS to Crohn’s, once you’ve experimented and found a “safe” group of foods, it makes sense to operate within that safe zone. (If it ain’t broke…) However, there’s something to be said for lateral variety, new iterations of things we already know are safe.

So when I came across this post from Alicia about Boston Organics, a company that delivers fresh (and often, locally-grown) vegetables and fruits to your door, I got excited. As she posts, the service makes a lot of sense for people with chronic illness who may not always have the energy to do big shops—they do all the heavy lifting! For people with sensitive GI systems who have very specific needs, it’s especially useful—you can choose which items you never want to receive and then select acceptable replacements.

(And for us, the smallest basket costs about what we’d pay for our weekly produce anyway, so financially it made sense).

I was excited by the prospect of a different array of produce each week, and that’s been the biggest benefit so far. Already we’ve done lots of things with kale, learned that overcooked leeks get slimy, and made wonderful cucumber salads, fruit salsas, and other side dishes we wouldn’t have tried otherwise. It keeps our menu planning diverse and our palette challenged, and that’s really important when you live with any kind of dietary restriction—you never want to feel restricted.

We even inspired to make sushi on our own last week, armed with cucumber and green onion from our weekly delivery. (And, of course, safe rice vinegar and gluten-free soy sauce!) It required more time, energy, and money than we typically have to spend but it was really fun and something we’ll definitely do again. Here are a couple of pictures:

Like I said, clearly we need routine to manage chronic illnesses. But it doesn’t hurt to change things up a bit, either. It’s a question of figuring out where we can build in flexibility, that’s all.


Speaking of changing things up, Loolwa Khazzoom had Sex in the City on the brain the other night (which worked out well for me) and it made her think women with chronic pain deserve their own camera! Check it out here.


Anonymous said...

Hi, Laurie. Today, a good friend of mine forwarded me The Boston Globe article about you. It's great!

I have been "coping" with chronic lyme disease for about 8 1/2 years now, and am very excited to read your new book and follow your blogging adventures. :)


Sarah, 23, CT

Laurie said...

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for saying hello! I hope you're doing okay these days, and that the book and the blog resonate with you. Happy reading! :)

Anonymous said...

Lord help me from those chronical diseases!!

Anney E.J. Ryan said...

I've been wanting to make my own sushi for a while. Looks like it's not that hard! Here's another rare vegan gluten-free recipe that I'm planning to try this weekend, that you might be interested in:


Anonymous said...

Hi Laurie, great blog. I have rheumatoid arthritis..and I love sushi. I wonder if there's a service like Boston Organics in the Chicago area? I could use that service with two small children and achy joints.

A said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying Boston Organics. Happy eating!

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