Caregiver Challenges | Health

Let Them Eat Cake! Should I Let My Loved One Eat Whatever They Want?

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As an adult, we expect certain liberties. One of our most basic freedoms that most adults don’t even think about is to choose what and when we eat. I saw a quote once that said (loosely paraphrased because I cannot find the original), “Being an adult is having the option of eating an entire cake in one sitting. Being wise is knowing that isn’t a good idea.”

As an adult I know I can eat whatever I want but I also know that choices come with consequences. If I don’t want to face the consequences of poor eating then I will make good choices about what, when, and how much I eat.

But what happens to our loved ones that are no longer aware of the consequences of their choices? What happens to those that live in the moment with very little thought about future repercussions?

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While we may have some very strong feelings about diet and health, it’s important you remember the adult for whom you are caring.

What is “quality of life”?

A person’s quality of life is another way of saying a person’s best life. Obviously, this means different things to different people. My best life is not going to include the same things as my neighbor’s best life.

At the same time, our expectations of life and our realities are usually very different. While I would love for my best life to include summers in Europe, luxury vehicles, and a full-time cook and maid, this is not my reality.

My MIL would consider her best life to be independent and free to come and go as she pleases. This is not her reality.

A caregiver is responsible for helping their caree live their best life possible under whatever circumstances they now face. We look after their physical, emotional, and mental well-being.

Sometimes this means we just keep them comfortable and as pain-free as possible. Other times, particularly for long-term caregivers, it means we are responsible for making decisions on their health choices, finances, and daily living.

For my MIL with Dementia and Alzheimer’s, much like I do for my children, it means I am now responsible for weighing the consequences and making decisions on her behalf.

Related Post: How to Know When to Make Decisions for Your Aging Parents

When You Should Control Your Aging Parent’s Diet

As a caregiver, it is not your job to cure someone’s health so they don’t die. It’s your job to help them manage their health while keeping them safe and happy. The biggest factor when determining how much control to maintain over your parent’s diet is whether their diet choices will affect their quality of life.

If your parent is cognitively healthy than the most you can do is make suggestions about healthy eating to improve their overall health, weight loss, alleviate symptoms but the choice is theirs. Make your suggestions, help them when asked, and rest knowing you have done all you could.

When my FIL was alive he would take my MIL out to eat daily, sometimes for every meal. It was his way of indulging her and getting her to be more active. My MIL continued to suffer the symptoms of her morbid obesity, diabetes, poor mobility, frequent UTI’s, depression, and multiple other maladies that a healthy diet has all but eliminated.

While I cooked meals, did some shopping, and attended appointments with doctors and dietitians, my FIL was mentally stable. I could make suggestions and provide options but at the end of the day, their diet was his decision.

I do not ask myself if there was anything more I could have done to prevent his heart attacks and sudden death because I was not responsible for his or my MIL’s (at that point) care. I have no guilt because I did what I could for another adult.

Related Post: Establishing Your Role As Caregiver

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Helping Your Elderly Parent Eat Well

When you’re responsible for your loved one’s eating choices, it can feel like a constant battle, particularly if they have a lifetime of unhealthy diet choices.

When her diet became my responsibility I began making small changes.

1. Provide alternatives to unhealthy choices

My MIL has a sweet tooth. I have observed her consume an entire package of cookies in a single day. She loves muffins, cupcakes, ice cream, and sodas. To her, a healthy snack is a ham and cheese sandwich with all the fixings.

  • Very rarely do I keep sweets in the house.
  • Fruits and fresh veggies are always available.
  • If you want a soda or other sweet drink, you’ll drink a glass of water first.

2. Create appealing and easy to eat meals

Meal planning has become very necessary in our home.
Every Sunday, I pour over recipes and carefully plan every meal for the upcoming week.

  • I post that day’s meals on a whiteboard so there are no surprises or disappointments.
  • I plan knowing what my MIL will and will not eat. –
    • Can she identify it?
    • Is it easily chewed or cut up?
    • Does it have enough flavor? (her tastebuds are not what they used to be.)

My MIL, as much as she will deny it, is very picky about the foods she eats. If I want her to eat a green vegetable, I know it’s going to have to be mixed in something else or presented a certain way.

3. Create eating routines

  • All of our eating is scheduled, even snacks.
  • I have a rule that if it’s an hour before a scheduled mealtime, we don’t eat.
  • We have an early breakfast, a mid-morning snack, midday meal, mid-afternoon snack, and evening meal. All of our meals, barring emergency situations, happen at the same time every day.

4. Learn the cues for emotional eating

A lot of us tie food into our emotions. We feel good and want to celebrate with an extravagant meal. We feel anger we take it out on a bag of chips. We feel sad and need to coat our emotions with something sweet.

My MIL’s biggest emotional eating hurdle is boredom. She can’t think of what to do next so it must be time to eat. To combat this, I have an arsenal of activities she can do between our eating times.

If the distraction doesn’t work, I know she is truly hungry and I am able to provide her a small something to tide her over until our next scheduled eating time.

Related Post: How to Handle Your Elderly Parent’s Anger About Needing A Caregiver

5. Model the behavior you want to see.

One of the ways being a caregiver for my MIL is similar to parenting is she is easily influenced by my behavior. She wants to do what she sees me doing. Knowing this, I make sure I’m modeling the behavior I want to see from her.

  • If I tell her not to eat from my pot of food, then I do not even taste test while I’m cooking.
  • I don’t snack while I cook because there is no good excuse for why everyone else can’t do the same.
  • My snacks and meal choices are healthier. When my MIL (and my kids!) see me eating fruits, vegetables, and nuts for my snacks they are more likely to make the same choices.
  • If I want a drink, I make sure I have a glass of water first.

Other Measures to Help My Elderly Parent Eat Well

  • Our kitchen closes down – lights off, locks in place, clean counters – in between meals.
  • I always have healthy options available. If my MIL is truly hungry or thirsty she will not turn down one of these options. If she’s less open to these options then I know hunger is probably not her big issue at that moment.

Caregiving has so many challenges and battles. Getting your loved to maintain a healthy diet shouldn’t be one of them. With these healthy eating strategies, you will take away some of the stress of helping your elderly parent live their best life.

Did you like this post? How do you help your elderly parent maintain healthy eating habits? Let me know in the comments below.

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