Sodium Chloride

It is recommended that if you have lymphedema, a low sodium diet is best. Salt acts like a magnet for water which increases swelling in general for your body. Have you ever noticed your eyes may be a little puffy when you wake up after an especially salty meal the night before?

Behavior change is really hard. It takes getting right in your motivations, lowering barriers, having support, time, and tolerance for mistakes. I’ve always looked at the nutrition suggestions on posters in physicians offices and wondered if anyone makes a change because of them? Food is central to our culture, our memories, our traditions. We learn about nutrition in health class and what it means to be healthy. The ease in which unhealthy food is available can influence our decisions due to convenience. I’d like to share a little about my personal journey to changing my diet.

I had a really hard time with moderation initially. In my perfectionism for using as little salt as possbile, I made myself miserable. I would spend way too long in the grocery store isles looking at salt content for a 4 versus 6% of your daily value of sodium (which is a puppy piss in ocean). I would viscerally feel guilty when eating something out with friends I knew wasn’t very low sodium. I would cook most of my food at home at the expense of social interactions. I would not season my cooking with salt, soy sauce, or any other sauce and in turn not enjoy eating my food. I think my obsession with finding the most healthy food was definetly disordered eating and produced a lot of anxiety. I felt very out of control in my life, therefore I tried to overcontrol what I was eating. It’s not rocket science; however I would obsess about the “most healthy” thing to prevent my lymphedema from getting worse. There is definetly diminshing returns on what you invest your time/energy/resources into. (i.e. If I ate a moderately healthy diet versus rigid healthy diet, would my leg be healthier? Would my mental health over my diet create cortisol which would increase inflammation? What is good enough?) Even if I had the most healthy diet in the world, it still would not cure my lymphedema. This phase of rigid and obsessive eating was a pendulum swinging one direction to attempt to get some control of my body, life, image, future, and anxiety itself.

Some good things to come out of my obsessive food stage would be stir fry. I really crave chinese food and found out it was really high in sodium. If I made it at home, I could control the ingredients. I was also a college student on a budget; I could get a bunch of ingredients for cheap that would be good for leftovers. I used garlic, ginger, and low sodium soy sauce for my seasonings. I would cut a bunch of fresh vegtables and usually chicken thighs. I would pair with brown rice and have a good balanced meal for lunches or dinners. This is when I started to explore cooking! I also started developing habits of buying low sodium chicken stock, no salt crackers, and using carrots/celery for snacks. I bought swiss and muenster cheese as they have the least salt. I would order items in restaraunts with the less sauces as these usually were sodium bombs (i.e. dressing on the side, no salt of the fries, etc)

The pendulum eventually swung the other way because the burden of “being perfect” was too much and the social isolation of a rigid diet was too costly for my mental health. I would go out with friends and order whatever I wanted regardless of nutritional status. I would enjoys some beer, burgers, chips because that is what everyone else was doing. As a foodie, I would order the most “delicious” thing on the menu for the experience. Eating for enjoyment. I just stopped caring that my leg would be swollen after last night’s chinese food or after going on a beach vacation and eating hot dogs and cheetos.

Eighty percent of the time, I will try to eat healthy things aimed at improving my health. However, twenty percent of the time, I will indulge. Life is too short and there will be times in life where the opportunity cost of eating a plate of lettuce at the beach with your friends versus a turkey sandwhich and chips is not worth it. I am still figuring this out because I tend to use my 20% when I dine with other people and don’t want this to turn into the isolation/depression I experienced during my grief process in college. 80/20- intentional for the health of my body and mind.

Some practical tips for maintaining a healthy low sodium diet is stay away from canned food. Don’t buy frozen processed foods with high sodium. If you can, bring your lunch to work/school as you can control what ingredients are in the food. Prep fresh foods at the beginning of the week. I found the opportunity cost of initial prep can make your successful to cook at home versus “pick something up” later in the week. Fall in love with new recipes that are healthy and keep them on a rotating menu in your home.

We talked about salt being a magnet for water. It seems counterintuitive, but drinking adequate water decreases swelling in your body because at a certain concentration, it flushes out excess sodium. It is recommended that you drink 6-8 glasses of water daily. Do it! Every day.

A final word on “good enough” is develop good habits to keep you healthy. More on diet in future posts.

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