I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a chronic illness affecting the lungs and the pancreas, when I was two years old. My body does not produce the pancreatic enzymes that are necessary for breaking down the fats in foods. This means that when I eat a regular meal, I’m not going to absorb the calories and it’s going to be essentially as though I didn’t even eat that meal.
Having cystic fibrosis has affected my life in more ways than I can count. I do two thirty-minute breathing treatments and take 24 pills a day. Eighteen of these pills are the five pancreatic enzymes that I take with every meal, which bring in some of the enzymes that my pancreas cannot produce on its own. I also eat a diet that is very high in fat and (sometimes) eat a daily vitamin that contains vitamins A, D, E, and K, which is very originally named an ADEK. If you were to talk to my mom or doctor, though, they would tell you that it is a daily battle attempting to get me to eat those those disgusting vitamins.
I won’t lie, there are definitely perks of “not being able to get fat,” which isn’t really true, but I guess for all intents and purposes we can call it that. Growing up eating half of a large cheese pizza by myself was grounds for high fives instead of guilt. Actually though, my dad often congratulates me when I eat a big meal or order that second milkshake at my family’s favorite lunch spot.
Yes, the perks of being able to eat more than the average person are oftentimes pretty awesome, but there are plenty of challenges about having cystic fibrosis, which definitely make up for that perk. Luckily, I am not someone who has a severe case of the pancreatic issues that come with CF. Many patients have to be hospitalized often because they simply cannot keep weight on and some also must use a feeding tube as a supplement to their high fat diet.
Although I have not encountered these problems yet in my lifetime, I have had to make sure that I am eating enough fats to maintain a satisfactory body mass index. I’ve been scolded more times than I can count for either losing weight at a doctor’s visit or not meeting the “weight goal” that was set for me at my last appointment.
One time when I was admitted to the hospital for lung related reasons, they would not let me leave after a few weeks because I had lost weight and they wanted me to gain some of it back before going home. That was super annoying, but I literally ate 5 Chick-Fil-A meals a day in order to gain those pounds back as quickly as possible, and only ended up having to stay an extra few days.
Through many conversations with my nutritionist at my regular doctor’s appointments at the Pediatric Pulmonology clinic at Virginia Commonwealth University, I have discovered that eating a diet with a high fat content does not necessarily mean eating unhealthily. If I only ate things like Chick-Fil-A and pizza I would not have the proper nutrients in my body to fight off infection or just to live a healthy lifestyle.
I have learned that foods with unsaturated fats are not only good for my high fat diet but also good for everyone. An avocado is a perfect example of a super healthy snack with a high fat content. One avocado has about 322 calories, 70% of which are from fat and so many great nutrients. It is higher than most animal foods. Also luckily for any girl anywhere, about 60% of the calories in dark chocolate are fat. Dark chocolate is also shown do great things for your skin and your brain function!
Protein is important to get from food because that is the fuel that our body needs to keep going. We often find protein in fatty foods. For example, cheese is incredibly high in fat as well as protein, and who doesn’t love cheese? Provolone, Brie, Goat, Swiss, Pepper Jack, the list goes on and on. I mean, I could quite literally swim in a bowl of queso for the rest of my life. Fatty fish, like salmon and trout are chalk full of protein and nutrients as well.
Want to grab a quick and healthy snack between classes that will actually keep you going until your meal? Grab a banana or apple and put some peanut butter on it to add protein and fat. Chips and guac are great to get some avocado in your day, or if you’re feeling super healthy, then vegetables and guac. Or instead of guac, try hummus. My personal favorite hummus flavor is roasted red pepper.
Remember that fats are not your enemy. Eating the right amount of them paired with other fruits and vegetables, as well as carbs and proteins, makes for a balanced and healthy diet. To learn more about cystic fibrosis or the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation click here.