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16/Jun/2022

Times are tough; there’s no denying that. The rising costs of everything (hello, $10 iceberg lettuce 😭) are putting the household budget under significant pressure. And this is causing many of us to feel anxious.

But we can do many practical things to relieve some of this stress. Let’s start in the kitchen with our tips for enjoying tasty, healthy meals and snacks that won’t cost an arm and a leg.

Make a meal plan – and stick to it

Before hitting the shops, plan your meals and snacks for the week. Check the fridge and pantry to see what ingredients you already have, and write a list of those you need. Writing a list is essential because, even if you’re not in pain or dealing with brain fog, it’s easy to forget things, buy the wrong quantities or items you don’t need in the heat of the moment. (Step away from the chips Lisa 😁). And if, like me, you hate shopping and really want to avoid crowds and germs, getting the shopping done quickly and efficiently is a must. With the steep price of petrol, it also makes sense to keep the trips to the shops to a minimum. So plan, plan, plan! Eatforhealth.gov.au has some helpful information on meal planning, including sample mean plans. There are also lots of meal planning apps you can download from Google Play or the App Store. They conveniently place your meal plan and shopping list on your phone, so no more forgotten shopping lists!

Read the nutrition panel

It’s a good habit to get into so you can track the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, salt, sugar etc., in your foods. It’s also helpful when comparing different brands of the same product.

Swap some meat dishes for vegetarian or vegan meals

Research has found that vegan and vegetarian diets cost less than a diet that includes meat. You don’t have to go all-out vego; simply swap some of your meat dishes for plant-based meals. They’re tasty, healthy and cheap. Healthy vegetarian protein sources include tofu, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, lentils, eggs and nuts. If you need help, there are many websites with interesting and tasty vegetarian and vegan recipes.

Note: You’ve probably noticed the multitude of plant-based ‘meats’ crowding the shelves in your supermarket, often alongside actual meat products. They’ve been developed to look and taste like meat and can be a good alternative to meat, especially if your family aren’t keen on giving tofu a go 😉! Just make sure you read the nutritional panel carefully before buying these products, as some have high levels of salt, saturated fat and other additives. The Cleveland Clinic has an interesting article to help you know what to look for when buying faux meats.

Choose generic, home brand and no-name products

They’re generally cheaper and are often exactly the same as the name brand, just without the fancy packaging.

Prepare some meals in advance

When you’ve got some free time, make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. That way, when you’re exhausted, having a flare, or just can’t be bothered cooking, you’ll have some meals you know are healthy. And you won’t have to resort to takeaway foods or store-bought frozen meals, which can be costly and are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.

Buy local and in-season fruit and veg

They’re generally more nutritious, fresher and more cost-effective. The Australian Farmers’ Markets Association has a tool to help you find your local farmers’ market, and Sustainable Table has a handy seasonal produce guide.

Buy so-called ‘ugly’ produce

These fruits and vegetables are cheaper and taste fine. Who cares if your carrot has two ‘legs’ or your apple has a spot? At the end of the day, they’re perfectly healthy and packed with all the usual nutrients. They just don’t look shiny and new, but who does these days 😉? You can get imperfect produce at many supermarkets and food subscription services.

Read the unit price when comparing products

This will enable you to see the price difference regardless of brand or quantity, and you can work out which provides the best value for money. Unit pricing works by using a standard measurement across all products of the same type.

So, for example, if you compared yoghurt A with yoghurt B:

  • yoghurt A costs $6.40 for 1kg, so its unit price is $0.64 per 100g
  • yoghurt B costs $2.30 for 200g, so its unit price is $1.15 per 100g.

That makes yoghurt A cheaper per 100g.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do the mental gymnastics to work this out for yourself. The unit price is generally provided on the shelf label and online. Phew! Shopping is hard enough!

Grow your own

Over the past few years, many of us have discovered the joy of gardening. So why not grow some of your own produce? Whether on a small scale with a few pots of herbs on your balcony or larger scale vegie patch and fruit trees in your backyard, you can experience the pleasure and reap the rewards of growing some of your own foods. Nothing tastes sweeter than the food you’ve nurtured, grown and picked yourself 💚.

Use frozen and canned fruit and vegetables

They’re still healthy and usually cheaper than produce that’s not in season. They’ll also keep longer. Just make sure you read the ingredients list and nutrition panel. Canned foods may have added salt or sugar. So for vegies, look for ‘no added salt’ on the label, and choose fruits in natural juice with no added sugar rather than canned in syrup.

Shop around and do your research

Just because you’ve always shopped at a particular place doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Visit the local farmer’s markets, keep an eye on catalogues and join online groups with other savvy shoppers. That way, you’ll always know who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries.

Buy in bulk items you use regularly and have a long shelf life

This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta. And the best time to buy them is when they’re on sale. But please don’t go crazy and start hoarding or buying too much 😐. Bulk buying to save money is different to the panic buying we’ve seen during the pandemic. If we all shop for only the things we need, there’ll be plenty for everyone.

Reduce your kitchen waste

Shopping with a list will help, and only buy what you need. Take note of the foods you often throw out because they’ve become a mysterious, furry blob in your fridge. Avoid buying that item, or buy less of it when you shop. Look for ways to use food that’s becoming slightly less than fresh but is still good. Soups are a great way to use the last of the vegies in your fridge crisper. Visit the Foodwise website for tips to help you reduce waste.

Getting takeaway

Let’s face it, there’ll be times when you really, really want takeaway food. It’s quick, easy and delicious 😋. As long as it’s an occasional thing and you eat it in moderation, it shouldn’t have too great an impact on your health or wallet. Here are some tips from Health and Wellbeing Queensland to help you make the healthiest choices when it comes to takeaway food.

Finally, don’t shop when you’re hungry

It’s an easy way to end up with lots of things in your trolley that weren’t on your shopping list. This can blow your budget and plans for healthy eating right out of the water. So shop after you’ve eaten or munch on some fruit or handful of nuts before you even consider walking into the bright lights and air-conditioned aisles of your local shopping centre. Your budget will thank you for it.

Contact our free national Help Line

Call our nurses if you have questions about managing your painmusculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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19/Jan/2022

by Anne Lloyde, MSK Help Line Manager

We’re well and truly into summer, so we need to think about ways to stay safe, keep cool but still have fun in the warmer weather.

Taking care of your skin in the sun – it’s a balancing act

We all know the ‘slip, slop, slap, seek, slide‘ message and the importance of protecting ourselves from the summer sun. After all, the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UV) is the primary cause of skin cancer, and Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. But sun exposure is essential for bone health. Sunlight is our best source of vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium for strong bones.

It’s important to expose your hands, face and arms to the sun every day. The amount of time you need to do this depends on where you live, the time of the year, and your skin’s complexion. Healthy Bones Australia has developed a chart to help you work this out.

It’s also important to be aware of the dangers of sun damage and how you can expose your skin to the sun safely. SunSmart has a free app to help you determine the safe times to expose your skin to the sun. You can find out more about the app and download it here.

Sun sensitivity can affect people with various musculoskeletal conditions, including lupus and dermatomyositis. For people with sun sensitivity, sun exposure can cause rashes and lesions, flares or aggravation of their condition.

Medications can also cause the skin to be sensitive to sunlight, including some antibiotics, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and some nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). For more information about medications that can increase your risk in the sun, read this article from The Conversation.

If you have issues with sun sensitivity and limit your time in the sun, you may be deficient in vitamin D, as the main source of vitamin D is sunlight. Talk with your doctor if you think this is an issue for you, as you may need vitamin D supplements.

How to take care of your skin:

  • Check daily UV levels by visiting the Bureau of Meteorology or the weather page in newspapers and online.
  • Use the Vitamin D and bone health map to guide you about the amount of time it’s safe for you to expose your skin to the sun.
  • Clothing, hats, sunscreen and shade are the best ways to protect your skin from UV light. You should use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher on skin that can’t be covered by clothing. Choose your clothing carefully as not all fabric provides the same sun protection. To block more of the sun’s rays, choose clothing that has a thick, dark material with a tight weave. The Cancer Council has some useful information to help you know what to look for in sun-protective clothing.
  • Keep a scarf or sun umbrella with you during the summer, just in case you’re out in the sun unexpectedly.
  • Wear a hat that shades your whole face, neck, ears and head. Broad-brimmed hats with a brim of at least 7.5 cm provide excellent protection.
  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm (or 11 am and 3 pm daylight saving time) when UV levels are at their highest. Avoid highly reflective surfaces such as sand or water.

For more information on protecting your skin, visit the Cancer Council website. They have lots of very helpful resources.

Staying active

One of the best ways to manage your musculoskeletal condition is to exercise regularly. But in the warmer weather, you need to consider the weather conditions. Your regular exercise program may not be appropriate for an Australian summer and may need to be adjusted. If you’re unsure where to start, talk with a physiotherapist or an exercise physiologist for information and support.

Some general tips for exercising safely in summer:

  • Don’t eat before you exercise. Your body uses energy when it’s digesting food, creating more heat. That’s the last thing you want when you exercise, so give yourself plenty of time between eating a meal and exercising.
  • Drink plenty of water – before, during and after exercise. You sweat more when it’s hot and when you’re exercising, so you need to replenish the fluids you lose.
  • Wear loose-fitting, sun-protective clothing that allows you to move freely and for sweat to evaporate quickly.
  • Change the time you exercise. Avoid the hottest part of the day, so exercise earlier or later in the day. Or, if that’s not an option, change the way you exercise on very hot days. Exercise indoors using apps, online videos or DVDs. Or visit your local pool or beach and exercise in the water.
  • Recognise that there’ll be days when it’s not safe to exercise outdoors. And if you don’t have adequate cooling indoors, that applies to indoor exercise as well. Australia is a land of extreme temps, so on those really hot days, give yourself a break 😎.

Storing your medications in hot weather

You need to take special care with your medications in hot weather, and they need to be stored correctly in cool, dry places away from direct sunlight.

Avoid bathrooms, as they’re often humid. Avoid cupboards above the stove or oven as they can get hot.

People on certain biologic medications may need to store medications below 8ºC, and you may need a cool bag to keep them at the correct temperature when bringing them home from the pharmacy and when traveling on holidays. Pharmaceutical companies will often provide special travel packs. Talk to your pharmacist for more information.

Preparing meals in summer and for special occasions

We tend to gather more regularly in the summer to enjoy good company, good food and good weather. However, this can cause stress, especially if it’s a big event or if you put pressure on yourself for everything to be ‘perfect’. And when the temps are high, as they often are in summer, this can add to your fatigue and discomfort.

Here are some simple steps to help you create and enjoy meals in a way that saves you energy and frustration, leaving you with more time to enjoy your family and friends:

  • Separate your tasks into small steps so that you can plan ahead and prepare things over time rather than in a rush.
  • Consider ordering your food and groceries online and having them delivered. Check out the websites of your local traders for more information.
  • When buying groceries, consider the pre-cut or pre-packaged fruit and vegetables. This will save you time and effort when preparing meals.
  • A range of kitchen utensils is available, including knives and peelers with wide easy-grip handles that make things easier when you’re cooking. Check out our online shop to see some gadgets that can make life easier
  • Remember that vegetables are easier to chop after they’ve been cooked.
  • If you have difficulty carrying saucepans and draining the water when cooking pasta or veggies, use a metal colander or wire basket slightly smaller than the saucepan. Put the food into the colander and place it in the saucepan. Once the food’s cooked, simply lift the colander out of the saucepan. Or ask someone to do this for you.
  • Share the load and have people bring a plate. You don’t have to do everything. And it gives everyone a chance to bring their favourite new recipe 😊.
  • When you head to the park or the beach, be on the lookout for outdoor tables where you can comfortably sit to enjoy your picnic, rather than having to sit on the ground or carry portable chairs.

Medical cooling concessions and rebates

These concessions provide a discount on summer electricity costs for concession cardholders who have specific medical conditions that affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature.

Visit your state/territory website to find out if you’re eligible for this concession:

Tips for surviving the summer from our volunteers

  • Exercise in the morning when it’s cooler.
  • In very hot weather, go for your daily walk in air-conditioned shopping centres, rather than outside in the heat.
  • Don’t forget to protect your feet. Put sunscreen on any exposed skin and wear supportive shoes.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep well hydrated.
  • Maintain a healthy diet with lots of light salads.
  • Prepare and pre-cook meals in the morning when you have more energy and when it’s a bit cooler. You can then reheat it in the evening.
  • Have your air conditioner serviced so that it’s more efficient.
  • Take ice packs when shopping to keep perishable goods cold.
  • Think about doing your shopping online and having it delivered.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

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24/Jun/2021

Tips for preparing meals with less stress

There are some days when the thought of preparing and cooking a meal is so overwhelming. You’re tired, you’re in pain, and it seems like too much effort. Curling up on the couch and ordering a pizza delivery seems like a much better option! However, one of the best things you can do to look after yourself when you have a chronic condition is to eat healthfully. Sadly (for me at least), that means having the local pizza joint ? on speed dial isn’t ideal.

But there are things you can do to make cooking easier and less hassle when you’re not feeling your best. Here are our top tips:

Plan your weekly meals

It’s not a particularly exciting thing to do, but making a plan for your coming week is really helpful. It ensures that you have all the ingredients you need, and it stops you from wasting money on the things you don’t. And if a case of brain fog hits when you’re standing in front of the fridge, your meal plan will sort you out. Check out The Spruce Eats top meal planning apps for 2021.

Shop online

This pandemic has really made online shopping easier and more efficient (hello new shoes ?). But as far as groceries go, it’s never been easier to order online and get exactly what you need delivered to your door. Or you can organise to click and collect, without having to leave your car. Perfect on a chilly winter’s day.

Give yourself a break

Not every meal has to be Masterchef worthy, using exotic ingredients and involving many steps. It just has to be tasty and healthy. Have a few recipes up your sleeve that you know you can cook with minimal effort or fuss and with the ingredients you have at home.

Organise your kitchen

Ensure the things you use regularly are within easy reach – that goes for ingredients and cooking utensils. And move the things you only use occasionally out of your way (e.g. lower cabinets, cupboard in the garage, sideboard). Don’t place heavy items on high shelves – it’s very easy to drop these things – especially if you’re tired. Use a kitchen trolley on wheels to move heavy pots from the bench to the cooktop or move meals from the kitchen to the dining area or lounge.

Take a load off

Keep a stool nearby so you can sit while you prepare your meals.

Clean as you go…or get others to do it for you

There’s nothing worse than cooking a lovely meal, relaxing while you eat it, then looking over to see a stack of dishes taunting you. So clean up the bulk of the mess as you go. Load the dishwasher, soak the stubborn pots and pans, and wipe down the benches. Or better still – rope in your partner/kids/housemates to help you. And it’s the perfect opportunity to catch up with each other.

Frozen fruit and vegies are great time savers, packed with nutrients

You can buy them at the supermarket, or prepare your own. Find out how you can freeze fruit, vegies, bread and herbs in this article by Good Food.

Get prepped!

Food prepping has taken over the internet, and there are endless articles, apps, videos and blogs to help you. You can prep your meals days in advance, then all you need to do is pull the pre-chopped, washed and/or cooked ingredients out of the fridge or freezer to throw together a meal in no time. Frugal and Thriving has a great guide to meal prepping.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling inspired and you have the time and energy, put on some music or a podcast, and cook batches of food to freeze. Then it’s just a matter of reheating and eating. Perfect! Check out My Foodbook for some practical tips to help you when it comes to batch cooking.

One pot wonders

Save yourself lots of mess and dirty dishes by cooking your meal in one pot. There are many books and websites with tasty recipes you can try that only require one pot (or pan). Borrow some cookbooks from your local library or fall down the rabbit hole of Pinterest for lots of inspiration. Here’s Taste’s 21 healthier one pot recipes. They all look delicious and very hearty, but I think I’m going to have to try the pumpkin, silverbeet and mushroom bake this weekend! Yum.

Go, go gadget!

Use kitchen gadgets and other aids to save energy, protect your joints and make things much easier when cooking. Things like electric can openers, jar openers, tap turners and thick-handled knives can be lifesavers. Check out the range of products available from our online shop.

Make it a social occasion

Cooking doesn’t have to be a solitary event if you have other people in the house. So get them involved. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn about cooking and becoming self-sufficient. But it’s also an opportunity to spend time together and share the load.

Slow it down with a slow cooker

Prepare your evening meal earlier in the day when you have more energy. Pop all your ingredients in a slow cooker and let it do its thing while you work, rest, read a book or put your feet up. Hours later, you’ll have a flavoursome pot of goodness to enjoy. Check out these slow cooker recipes from The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Take breaks

Sometimes we push ourselves just so we can get a task or chore done, but we can end up pushing ourselves past our limits. Sigh – we’ve all been there and paid the price. So whether you’re making the evening meal or you’re prepping for the week ahead, take a break (or two) to stretch, get some air, drink some water, and just move around. Standing in one place for a long period is not conducive to happy, pain-free joints. So take a break.

Drink water

When we’re in the middle of a task and focused, we often forget to drink enough water. Don’t allow yourself to become dehydrated – have a glass of water nearby and drink regularly.

Cleaning up

We’ve already mentioned cleaning as you go and using only one pot, but there are other things you can do to make cleaning easier, such as:

  • use non-stick foil or baking paper to line your trays, as well as roasting bags; they’ll lessen the mess on your trays – which means less scrubbing
  • if you have a dishwasher, load it as you finish with dishes and cooking utensils
  • soak dirty pots and pans before you start scrubbing to loosen any baked-on gunk
  • clean up spills immediately
  • put ingredients away as soon as you’re done with them
  • keep a bowl nearby for scraps and rubbish, or bring the kitchen bin closer to where you’re working.

Call the pizza joint ?

Sometimes take away food is the option that’s best for you. And there’s nothing wrong with that, just as long as it isn’t a regular thing. Takeaway foods are generally high in salt, sugar and/or fats and don’t give us all the nutrients we need in a balanced diet. Read the Dietitians Association of Australia’s takeaway food tips for more info.

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, mental health issues, COVID-19, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore


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24/Sep/2020

Anti-inflammatory diets have been around for some time. There are many websites, books and blogs promoting the benefits of eating anti-inflammatory foods.

This type of diet sounds tempting, not only because of the foods they promote – which are all delicious – but because the idea that we can fight inflammation with the foods we eat sounds so attractive and natural!

So what is an anti-inflammatory diet, what are they supposed to do and what’s the evidence (if any) behind them?

First – the what

The theory behind these diets is that certain foods have anti-inflammatory properties, while others cause inflammation. So if we incorporate more of the anti-inflammatory foods and less of the pro-inflammatory foods in our diets, it may help lower levels of inflammation for people who have arthritis, psoriasis and other inflammatory conditions.

Sounds logical, right? Maybe??

Next – the evidence

OK, so this is where it gets a little murky. There’s really not a lot of conclusive evidence to support these claims. Studying the effects of diet is a tricky business, as this article in VOX explains. When we look at treating chronic diseases, research “involves looking holistically at diets and other lifestyle behaviors, trying to tease out the risk factors that lead to illness. Nutrition science [is therefore] a lot more imprecise. It’s filled with contradictory studies that are each rife with flaws and limitations. The messiness of this field is a big reason why nutrition advice can be confusing.” (1)

So we often have to use things like observational studies, self-reporting or information gleaned from studying the effects of dietary changes on lab animals.

Which means the data we obtain is often contradictory and isn’t conclusive. For more information read: The messy facts about diet and inflammation by Scientific American.

Does this matter?

Maybe not. Two popular anti-inflammatory diets are the Mediterranean diet and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.

Both diets have a heavy emphasis on eating:

  • foods that are as unprocessed as possible,
  • a rainbow of fresh whole fruits and vegetables (not juices),
  • whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, oats, whole grain breads and pasta,
  • beans, lentils, chick peas and other legumes,
  • nuts and seeds,
  • fish, seafood and poultry,
  • healthy oils such as olive, vegetable, canola.

They both recommend people eat less:

  • red meat,
  • foods high in sugar, salt and fat,
  • highly processed foods.

So if we look at this type of diet, it’s actually a healthy, well-balanced diet. Eating a variety of different foods, in a range of different colours means that we’re giving our body a wide range of important vitamins and nutrients.

In the end, whether you call it an anti-inflammatory diet, a Mediterranean diet or DASH diet, it doesn’t really matter. And whether it has an effect on inflammation, only time and further research will tell.

But if you eat a nutritious, well-balanced diet you’ll certainly feel better overall. Eating well helps us maintain a healthy weight, is important for our physical and mental health, can help us sleep better, be more active, reduce our risk of developing other health conditions, and just generally makes us feel good.

Tips to change your diet

If you want to make your diet more like the anti-inflammatory style of diet, here are our top tips:

  • Talk with your doctor and seek advice from an accredited practising dietitian.
  • Start small. You don’t have to change your entire diet at once if that seems overwhelming. Make small changes such as reducing the amount of processed foods you eat, eating more fruits and vegies each day, swap red meat for fish, lean chicken (skin-off), beans or lentils.
  • Get adventurous. There are a lot of websites that provide easy recipes that follow this type of eating plan. We’ve listed some in the More to Explore section.
  • Portion size is still important. Many of the plates we use, especially for dinner, are far too big. And we tend to fill them. The simple solution is to use a smaller plate. When dishing up your meals, imagine your plate is divided into quarters. Aim to fill two of those quarters (or half the plate) with colourful vegies or salad, one quarter with protein (fish, legumes, tofu, meat) and the last quarter with carbohydrate foods such as rice, noodles, potato or bread roll.
  • Exercise is also important. A healthy diet doesn’t work on its own. We also need to be active every day to maintain our weight, control our pain, improve our sleep and improve our mood and mental health.
  • Reduce your intake of:
    o Sweet foods such as cakes and biscuits. Swap them for fresh, in-season fruit.
    o Refined grains such as white rice and white bread. Swap them for whole grains.
    o Trans-fats and saturated fats.
    o Ultra-processed foods. These are foods that have gone through a LOT of processing and are far from their original state. They generally have salt, sugar, fat, additives, preservatives and/or artificial colours added.

Final words

At the end of the day, these diets are all about eating a variety of healthy foods. And as we come into warmer weather, these are the sorts of foods that make us happy, feel lighter and more energetic. So – if you’re not already – why not give it a go?

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, or accessing services be sure to call our nurses. They’re available weekdays between 9am-5pm on 1800 263 265; email (helpline@msk.org.au) or via Messenger.

More to explore

Reference

(1) I asked 8 researchers why the science of nutrition is so messy. Here’s what they said.
Vox, 2016


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22/Apr/2020

16 December 2021 – This blog was written during the first year of the pandemic and thankfully so much has changed since then! Most of the eligible population is vaccinated and we’re able to travel and see our family and friends. Hooray! But we’re still in the midst of a global pandemic, so ensuring our self-care plans reflect our current circumstances is still very important.

Feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, stressed and frustrated by 2020? You’re not alone! It’s been a bumpy ride so far. Filled with uncertainty, new pressures, lots of unknowns and a lack of control, many of us are feeling anxious, upset and vulnerable. When you have a musculoskeletal condition and live with regular pain and fatigue, the urge to retreat to your warm, cosy bed and pull the covers over your head can be very tempting.

But you’re strong – you’re a mighty warrior living with a chronic condition/s. You can take control of the situation and do something proactive by examining your self-care plan. Ask yourself – “is my pre-COVID self-care plan realistic now? Or does it need updating in light of the changes to my world?”

What is self-care

Self-care involves the things you deliberately do to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health and wellbeing. It’s the things you plan for (e.g. water exercise classes, visiting your specialist) and you make time for (e.g. mindfulness, taking your dog for a walk, talking with a friend).

You often see articles about self-care with pictures of day spas, yoga retreats and people exercising on the beach at sunset. All wonderful things to do to take care of your health – but when you live with a chronic condition, and you live with pain and sometimes crippling exhaustion, life’s not that glamorous.

So to create a self-care plan for yourself that’s realistic and achievable during isolation, throw those ideas out the window and let’s get real. Start by recognising and appreciating the things that you can do right now.

Some mornings it’s all you can do to get out of bed, let alone shower. So the very basics of self-care involve good quality sleep, a nutritious diet, exercise, looking after your mental health and keeping yourself and your home clean. If you have family, then you have that added responsibility as well, especially at the moment if you’re home schooling while juggling work.

So wow – that’s already a lot! So let’s break it down into bite-size chunks

Get some sleep

Easier said than done I hear you say. But getting good quality sleep is crucial for our everyday functioning. If it’s an issue for you, especially at the moment, part of your 2020 self-care plan may be to look at ways you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. We have resources to help you – including nurses you can speak to on our Help Line (see details at bottom) and info on our website. Or if it’s a problem you feel you need extra help with, talk with your doctor (in person or via a telehealth consultation) to get professional help.

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

While it’s tempting when you’re feeling crappy to eat foods you think of as comforting (e.g chocolate, cheese, ice cream, biscuits, alcohol) you need to enjoy them in moderation. While they may make you happy for a while, it’s only temporary. Too much of a good thing can lead to weight gain and other health issues. Eating a variety of healthy foods, in a range of colours (eat the rainbow) will make you feel better overall and will give you more energy. And on the days you’re feeling great, prepare some healthy meals you can pop in the freezer for the days you’re feeling lousy.

Stay active

Exercise is so important when you have a chronic condition, but when you can no longer access your warm water exercise class or your tai chi group, finding a new exercise program can be daunting. If you’re looking online, it can sometimes be hard to judge if the exercise will help or hinder you. We’ve created some information about exercising during this time – including some tips about how you can stay active, as well as how to judge whether an online video or app is right for you. If you need some expert help and guidance, talk with your doctor about seeing an exercise physiologist, a physiotherapist or a sports and exercise physician. You can access them via a telehealth consultation or visit them in person.

Take care of your mental health

It’s really easy when you’re constantly surrounded by virus talk to become overwhelmed. Especially if you’re worried about your health, family, work and finances. And when you’re stressed and not looking after yourself properly, it can affect all aspects of your life including your family (and many of us are living in tight quarters at the moment), your ability to focus on work properly, sleep well, eat well…and so it becomes a vicious cycle.

The good news is there are lots of things you can do to look after your mental health during this time (read our blog for tips and strategies) including getting professional help if you need it. Again you can access the help you need in person or via a telehealth consultation. Talk with your doctor if you want more information about getting professional help.

But a really simple thing you can do immediately is to limit your exposure to all things COVID – pick a time when you’ll catch up on what’s happening – for example the evening news or morning bulletin – and then turn it off and tune it out.

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

Cleaning – yourself, your kids, your home can be an enormous challenge. Hands up if there are days you feel like you need a nap after having a shower in the morning? It happens to most of us living with chronic pain at one time or another. For some more frequently than others. But the best thing you can do is to plan, prioritise and pace yourself.

Even before you get out of bed, while you’re lying in your cocoon, plan what you would like to do during the day. Maybe have a notepad and pen beside your bed, or use a note app on your phone and write it all down. OK, seeing it in one place, you can see that it’s a lot.

So now to the second P – prioritise. What are the things you really need to do? Do you really need to wash your hair today, or can you use the dry shampoo? Do you really need to vacuum the entire house, or just the living area? Do you really need to do 15,000 steps today, or do you need to take it down a notch. You know how you’re feeling on any given day – so plan, then prioritise.

Which then brings us to the 3rd P – pacing. Whatever you’re doing – cleaning, exercising, cooking, working, gardening, playing with the kids – pace yourself. It’s not a race – so be generous with your time, build in space for rest breaks.

And this brings us to the 4th P – peeing…after lying in bed thinking about all of this, you now need to rush to the loo ?

And finally, when it comes to cleaning – don’t forget hand washing. We need to do it regularly and thoroughly. We also need to be careful how we cough, sneeze and blow our noses. And avoid touching our face. Check out our hygiene 101 blog for more info.

Make time for the things you enjoy

When you’ve given the basics of your self-care plan some TLC and revised it for the current world, now take some time to consider other aspects of self-care. You may not have the time, energy or inclination to do these sorts of things most days, but schedule time to do the things that make you really happy, or relaxed, or pampered at least once a week – like a bubble bath, taking an hour to curl up with a good book, having a moment of peace and quiet in your garden to relax, doing a jigsaw puzzle, video chat with your bestie. We all need these moments to help us recharge, especially when life is so crazy and unsettled.

Contact our free national Help Line

Our nurses are available weekdays between 9am-5pm to take your calls (1800 263 265), emails (helpline@msk.org.au) or messages via Messenger. So if you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealthmanaging your pain or accessing services – contact them today.

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16/Apr/2020

Managing your weight in isolation

Hands up if you‘re giving Nigella or Jamie a run for their money when it comes to getting creative in the kitchen at the moment? Every second post on social media includes amazing looking recipes and we’ve actually got the time to give them a go. Masterchef has come back on TV, so we’re whipping on our aprons faster than you can say sauté. And with the kids home, we’re getting them involved too. All good right? Absolutely!

The problem is we need to be mindful of our weight with all the cooking, baking and snacking we’re doing.

It’s important for everyone – whether you have a musculoskeletal condition or not – to maintain a healthy weight.

Being at a healthy weight and regular exercise gives you the energy to get the most out of life and will protect you from developing many health conditions like diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. It will also help you manage your musculoskeletal condition and chronic pain.

But with our usual routines disrupted because of COVID-19 and isolation it’s easy to fall into some bad habits. Being aware of this, and taking some simple steps to ensure they don’t become your new normal is important. So here are some tips to help you manage your weight while in iso:

  • Watch the snacks and grazing. Because we’re isolated to our homes, we’re only a few short steps from the fridge or pantry. And with all the cooking we’ve been doing, they’re full of all kinds of delicious things. So it’s really important to resist them. Stick to your set times for main meals, have healthy snacks such as fruit, yoghurt and nuts on hand for when you’re peckish, drink more water, go for a quick walk. Distract yourself from the contents of your fridge or pantry.
  • Which brings us to the next point – ask yourself honestly if you’re hungry or just bored? If you’re hungry, grab a healthy snack. If you’re bored, then do something. Read a book, go for a walk, talk with your family, clean the shower. Focus your attention elsewhere.
  • Be aware of your portion sizes, as it’s easy for them to slowly increase over time. Check out your plates and bowls – do they hold more than a normal sized serve? If so, consider using smaller dishes. Read this article from QLD Health for more info about portion sizes.
  • Track your eating. If you’re concerned that you’re eating more than usual, and you’re starting to gain weight, keep a food diary to help you track what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad, or download an app. There are lots out there and many of them are free.
  • Alcohol – whoa mama. That’s a big one for many people at the moment. It’s fine to enjoy the occasional drink, but we do need to be careful that fear, anxiety, loneliness and worry aren’t leading us to drink more than is healthy. Find out more about alcohol – how it affects you, what a standard drink is, and tips to help you reduce or quit drinking alcohol.
  • Stay active. Eating a healthy diet, getting a good night’s sleep, and exercise all work together to help you manage your weight and your health overall. Read our recent blogs on exercising during the pandemic, and online exercises for more info about how you can exercise and stay active during isolation.
  • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian if you’re worried about your diet and weight, and want some professional help. You can do this in person, or via a telehealth consultation. Remember you can still go to see your doctor while in isolation – the clinic will have extra precautions in place to protect everyone from potential infections. But if you’re not comfortable doing this, telehealth is an option for us all.
  • Make your meals an occasion. We can’t go out but we can have fun with our meals and make them a social time for ourselves and our families. Just as much as watching our weight is important, so is social connection during this stressful time. Connect with the people living in your house, or use a video app to catch up with loved ones and make it an occasion. Dress up, chat, laugh, take some time to enjoy a meal together.
  • Don’t deny yourself something you really like. If you love chocolate, allow yourself a small treat occasionally, just not too often. It’s all about moderation.
  • Give yourself a break. We’re only a few weeks into iso – so we’re all having to tread water really quickly to stay afloat. But as time goes by we’ll get better at it. We just need to ensure our new routines are healthy and balanced.

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24/Jan/2020

Trying to eat well can seem daunting. Every day it seems a new diet hits the media, endorsed by a celebrity or twelve. And eating healthfully sounds expensive and like too much hard work.

So what can you do to make sense of it all, eat well, and stay on budget?

When it comes to working out what’s best for you and your family, it makes sense to go back to basics.

  • Plan your meals/snacks and write a list of the ingredients you need before you hit the shops. This is a must, because it’s easy to forget things, buy the wrong quantities or buy items you don’t need in the heat of the moment (hello Tim Tams 🙂 ).
  • Go generic. Check out the generic, home brand and no-name versions of your staples, such as flour, tinned tomatoes, legumes, oats. They’re generally cheaper and are often the exact same product as the name brand, just with less fancy packaging.
  • Read the nutrition panel on your foods. It’s a good habit to get into so that you can track the amount of energy (kilojoules), fat, salt, sugar etc in your foods. It’s also useful when you’re comparing different brands of the same product.
  • Swap a meat dish or two for a vegetarian meal. Research has found that a vegetarian diet costs less than a diet that includes meat. You don’t have to go all out vego, but simply swap a few of your meat dishes for plant-based meals. They’re tasty, healthy and cheap. Just make sure you do your research and use healthy recipes. You can find a lot of yummy recipes online.
  • Reduce your kitchen waste. Shopping with a list will help here, and also only buying what you need. Take note of the foods that you often throw out because you didn’t use them before they became an unidentifiable furry blob in your fridge. Avoid buying that item, or buy less of it when you shop. Or look for ways to use food that’s becoming slightly less than fresh, but is still good. Soups are a great way to use the last of the vegies in your fridge crisper. Also check out the Foodwise website. It has lots of tips to help you reduce waste, as well as recipes, meal plans, info on what’s in season and loads more.
  • Buy fresh fruit and vegetables that are local and in season. It’s cheaper, fresher, yummier and supports our local farmers. The Foodwise website can help you find what’s in season. They even have a seasonal meal planner. Very handy!
  • Grow your own. If you enjoy gardening, why not try growing some of your own produce? Whether it’s small scale with a few pots of herbs on your balcony or larger scale vegie patch and fruit trees in your backyard, you can experience the pleasure, and reap the rewards of growing some of your own foods.
  • Frozen and canned vegetables can often be used in place of fresh vegies. They’re still healthy and they’re often cheaper. They’ll also keep longer.
  • Read the unit price when comparing products. This will enable you to see the difference in price regardless of brand or quantity, and you can work out which provides the best value for money. Unit pricing works by using a standard measurement across all products of the same type. So for example, if you compared orange juice X with orange juice Y, orange juice X costs $5.25 for a 2 litre bottle, so its unit price is $2.63 per litre; orange juice Y costs $5.74 for a 1.5 litre bottle, so its unit price is $3.83 per litre. So orange juice X is cheaper per litre. Luckily, you don’t have to tie yourself up in knots doing this math when you’re shopping – the unit price is provided on the shelf label and online. Thank goodness! Shopping is hard enough!
  • Shop around. Just because you’ve always shopped at [insert shop of choice here] doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Keep an eye on catalogues, visit the local farmers markets, join online groups with other savvy shoppers so you’re always in the know about who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries.
  • For items that last, and that you use regularly, buy in bulk. This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta.
  • Finally, don’t shop when you’re hungry. It’s a really easy way to suddenly find lots of yummy, and unhealthy things in your basket, that weren’t on your shopping list. It’ll blow your budget and your plans for healthy eating right out of the water. So shop after you’ve eaten, or munch on an apple or banana or handful of nuts before you even consider walking into the bright lights and air-conditioned aisles of your local shopping centre. Your budget will thank you for it.

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21/Jan/2018

The final instalment of our staff summer reading suggestions.

Enjoy the mix of fiction and non-fiction, and hopefully you’re inspired to read something new, different and exciting.

And finally, in the words of Voltaire “Let us read, and let us dance; these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.” Enjoy!!

One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
This is Latin American magical realism at its finest and my favourite book. It’s absurd, funny, poetic and haunting.

National Geographic Rarely Seen: Photographs of the Extraordinary
I love a good photo book, and Nat Geo probably does it the best. Every page you turn you marvel and wonder at the extraordinary things to be found in our world. Stunning.

When Breath Becomes Air – Paul Kalanithi
This autobiography is by a 37 year old neurosurgeon, dying from stage 4 lung cancer. In his book, he reflects on life – what it means to live a meaningful life and what makes life worth living. It’s a hard book to read at times, but extremely moving. Have a box of tissues nearby when you read this one.

1666: Plague, War and Hellfire – Rebecca Rideal
If you lived in England in 1666, yikes! You were at risk of contracting the plague, England was at war with the Dutch, and the Great Fire of London devastated the city. But alongside this, some amazing progress was being made in art and science. This historical text is brought to life in vivid detail through the eyes of some of the important people of the time – from Newton to Milton to Wren. It’s a fascinating read.

Working Class Boy and Working Class Man – Jimmy Barnes
Jimmy Barnes is one of Australia’s most enduring music legends. With his first book he explores his childhood – and I’m amazed he lived through the violence, drugs and excess to become a force in the music industry. I’m halfway through his second book, and it’s as gripping as the first. I love the insight these honest and gritty books give us about Barnesy.

Quick & Easy 5-Ingredient Food – Jamie Oliver
Our last book is a little different, in that it’s a cookbook. However several of our staff recommended it for our summer reading list. And really, summer is the time when many of us have a little extra time to have fun and experiment in the kitchen. In typical Jamie style, the recipes are easy to follow and delicious. And by using 5 key ingredients, as well as staples from your cupboard, it’s cooking that many of us can do…no muss, no fuss.




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