Changing My Diet for Success
How dietary modifications can affect your recovery after a brain injury.
My brain injury went undetected and untreated for over 25 years. That is a long time to make bad choices and form bad habits that I used to cope with or mask the symptoms of my injury. I drank copious amounts of caffeine to combat fatigue. I ate fat laden foods for the dopamine hit. Then I chased it all with alcohol to drown out the wracking headaches.
What’s worse is that my injury was also confounded with PTSD, which causes its own set of issues. Needless to say, I was a wreck in more ways than just my diet.
I sought treatment for PTSD symptoms. I also got some real relief from things like CBT or Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. I also got really serious in practicing yoga and mindfulness. These lifestyle changes made big impacts in my ability to contain and control PTSD related issues. But it wasn’t until I got serious about how and what I eat and drink that I started getting any headway from some of the physical symptoms of my condition.
My brain injury is a chronic quinoline encephalopathy, a $200 word that basically means brain damage that occurred from taking an anti-malaria drug. These drugs can cause damage to the brain stem. Then that damage triggers symptoms when you get inflammation. So when my symptoms get worse, I have to take a good long look at what is causing the inflammation.
A number of factors can cause inflammation, but here are some big ones:
- Exposure to stress
- Weight gain
- Blood sugar levels
Do you notice that three out of four of those are directly related to how and what you eat?
I had to make several radical changes to my diet to see any success, but each time I implement these basics I see real improvements.
- Eating lean protein and complex carbs.
- Avoiding all processed and fast foods.
- Cutting alcohol consumption.
- Cutting out caffeine.
When I eat lean proteins and the complex carbs, I just feel better. I have more energy and way less bloat. I like chicken, fish, and the occasional pork chop, but I also have really started to enjoy meals that focus on plant proteins.
I’ve stuck with the “flexitarian” label. If I can find a healthier choice, I try to make it. I wish it was always simple, but it’s not. Especially when it is so easy and often cheaper to order junk.
Just say no. Every time I have to eat it, I regret it. Yet sometimes, it happens. I think this one is true for everybody. Why do we do this to ourselves?
Another problem area that needs to be watched. A glass of wine or even a signature cocktail now and then is fine. Any more than that and I will be feeling dizzy for days. Bottom line here is make the drink worth it.
Cutting out caffeine was a hard choice for me. Several of my battle buddies who are fighting this same condition all swore by removing caffeine from their diets.
I didn’t think I would be able to do it. But I am so glad that I did. The trick was, I didn’t give up coffee, just the caffeine. That was the only way I could manage. After all, don’t writers just convert coffee into words? What would I do if I didn’t have my coffee?
Decaf was my salvation. I also have the benefit of being a caffeine detector now. On the rare occurrence that a barista switches my order up, I’m jittering like a jackhammer. Therefore, I am very careful to check the labels on my Dunks coffee, and I avoid any coffee that isn’t readily marked as decaf.
My recovery walk is far from over, I’m working through all sorts of different strategies to improve my life and make my new normal a bit better. I’m not perfect at eating and drinking like I’m supposed to, but I definitely have a better understanding of just how good I can feel when I get it right. That is often motivation enough to keep trying.
You might notice that this advice would work for people without brain injuries too. I have found that nearly all of the advice offered to brain injury survivors will help everyone if applied.
The difference is in the details. A small number of bad choices can have a huge, even devastating impact on your recovery if your brain is injured. Do those bad choices still add up in healthy brains? I think they do. If you want to operate at your highest level, pay attention to the basics.
If you enjoyed this check out these other articles related to coping with a brain injury: