I don't know how to feed myself anymore. Please help.
January 21, 2011 6:45 PM   Subscribe

I don't know how to feed myself anymore. Please help. I'm lactose-intolerant, anemic, and suffer from acid reflux disease (3 years and running). I've lost about 20 pounds in the last five years due to the reflux and a bout of depression. I'm also too insanely busy to cook, thanks to long workdays and hours spent on public transit, since I don't drive. Help me plan highly-caloric meals around my schedule, so I don't need to spend so much time eating.

I know my question sounds uber-dramatic, but for the past five years I've been trying to regain some weight after a really bad depressive episode. I'm 28, 5'8"and currently 125lb. I walk everywhere and take public transit. I also work in a kitchen, so that piles more physical activity on top of everything else. Being less physical isn't much of an option, as I have no other way of getting around, and I quickly get depressed, tired, and sore if I'm not active.

Recently I looked up how many calories I should be taking in every day to gain weight and take into account my activity level: ~3500 calories. I don't have TIME to eat that much every day; it's a real struggle just to get 2000 in. When I was younger and heavier (23, 145lb) I didn't need to eat so freaking much, and now I have no idea how to plan meals around my current metabolism (I just burn straight through most of what I eat) and time constraints. Frustrated with constantly having to feed the singularity in my stomach, I usually just end up not eating.

Can you help me come up with ideas for some high-energy (800 calorie+) healthy meals that will work with a cook's late-night/early morning schedule?
posted by oogenesis to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Non-milk-based smoothies/shakes/icees can pack a lot of calories into a reasonably-sized drink. I think you can get iron powder to put in them. I'm big on smoothies while pregnant because I'm STARVING all the time, can't eat enough to stay full, and have mad acid reflux. A smoothie-type drink doesn't bother my reflux (as long as I don't down it in one gulp!) and gets me lots of calories.

It's not great as a full-on food plan since it doesn't have much protein and even with fruit is a bit high on the sugar, but as a supplemental snack as part of an otherwise diverse diet, it can really help get in those needed calories.

Of course you can buy them lots of places, or you can get yourself a "magic bullet" or other dedicated smoothie blender and make them at home super-fast.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:53 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

on the smoothie front, my brother was put on weight gain shakes as a teenager. he had to maintain a 4000 calories per day diet due to metabolism issues.

or - if you want to stick with more fruit based smoothies, they're really good with silken tofu. just take some of the tofu, some OJ concentrate, some frozen berries, a peeled frozen banana (peel a banana, cut it in half or quarters, freeze flat, put in a freezer bag once frozen), maybe some pineapple, some ice, and blend it all up.
posted by nadawi at 6:56 PM on January 21, 2011

oh! reflux! adjust the fruit to the ones that don't hurt. i know a lot of people who love avocado in their smoothies - nice and fattening too.
posted by nadawi at 6:57 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by JayRwv at 6:59 PM on January 21, 2011

Fat. Lots and lots of fat. Get high quality meat (the kind that eats its natural diet, like grass fed beef or pastured chickens, from farmers you know) and eat the fatty cuts. Fat is a magic food that packs more than twice as many calories per gram as protein and carbs, so this is a no-brainer.
posted by telegraph at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: Let me just say that Trader Joe's sells a prepackaged spinach salad with bacon, egg, cheese, and grape tomatoes, and that salad is eight hundred and eighty calories. I don't know if you can do the cheese with your lactose intolerance, but man, they are good. And a lot of calories.
posted by KathrynT at 7:01 PM on January 21, 2011

Add peanut butter to everything. You can add a spoonful to most savoury or sweet dishes without the flavour being very obvious. If you actually LIKE the flavour, you can carry a jar around with you all day and occasionally eat a spoonful just for fun. It has quite a lot of protein, and the fat is the "good" type, so it's healthy as well as calorific!
posted by lollusc at 7:10 PM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'd do banana PB smoothies with soy protein powder and almond milk. A couple TBS or more of PB, 1/2 c. almond milk, a TBS honey, 2 scoops protein powder. Blend. Add a frozen banana, blend. Add ice cubes and more milk. Delicious.

Avocado, cut in half, with your fave salad dressing poured in the hole where the pit was. Spoon a little dressing with each bite.
posted by purenitrous at 7:11 PM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: I can't help with the caloric stuff, but on the anemia front, anything with eggs, dairy, caffeine can actually inhibit your iron absorption. Vitamin C can help your absorption. I usually get some vitamin C gummies to take with my iron pill. (Talk to your doctor about iron pills!) You don't have to avoid those things at all, of course. But my doctor told me not to eat anything that inhibits iron absorption within an hour of something high in iron.

You might want to keep beef jerky and that sort of thing around. Meat is a good place to get heme iron. Prunes are also chock full of iron, and you can get them individually wrapped like candies, and there are the little boxes of raisins too so you could stick a bunch in your bag and have them any time. Goji berries are WAY high in iron, but in my opinion they taste nasty.

The little lunch kits of tuna salad and crackers you can get at the grocery are another fast snack that will get you iron.
posted by Caravantea at 7:15 PM on January 21, 2011

If it's possible to snack during the day, that might be more effective than trying to eat bigger meals. Is there any way you could meet with a dietitian to help make a meal plan?

Clif Builder's Bar (270 cal, 8g fat, 20g protein) are good for gaining weight and they are dairy/whey/lactose free. They should be easy to eat on public transit and the peanut butter flavor is really good.

Nuts are another good snack - crap load of calories, good fat and protein, and it's easy to eat a lot
posted by shoreline at 7:19 PM on January 21, 2011

Would dietary supplements successfully ease the lactose-intolerance for you (in terms of your own budget and your body's response)?

I have no medical knowledge and can't tell you if it would bother acid reflux, but a combination of Digestive Advantage each morning and Lactaid with any dairy-filled meal has worked wonders for many people among my friends and family. If you can eat some dairy, you can eat things like cheese and yogurt, which don't require any prep time. It also broadens your options if you find yourself needing to eat takeout.

In terms of avoiding dairy, you can put peanut butter and silken tofu in the same smoothie for a satisfying and high-calorie meal. Mmm.
posted by tantivy at 7:25 PM on January 21, 2011

As for the acid reflux, are you under a doctor's care? If not, try an over-the-counter acid reducer. It really does clear up the acid problem. Also, for what it is worth, I kept complaining to my doctor about heartburn for years. If finally turned out that I had a h. pylori infection, which was cleared up with antibiotics.

For anemia, i took an iron elixir. I was so anemic that the next step was to be hospitalized. I would get the occasional iron/B vitamin injection, but the elixir is what worked. I took 3 times the normal dose, as my doctor directed.

As for weight gaining, you need fat in your diet. The problem is the fat will make the acid reflux worse. Peanut butter or other nut butters would be great, but they do cause some acid problems. You could also try some of the high fat protein bars aimed at body builders. If you just aim for increasing carbohydrates, you will be eating all day.

When you drink during the day, try to drink something with fat and protein in it, like whole milk or a body builders shake.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:26 PM on January 21, 2011

That would be lactose-reduced/free whole milk! You can also add some cream to the milk, which is an old body builder's trick. And if you can find it, lactose-reduced/free ice cream with real cream and real sugar.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 7:29 PM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: I don't know about acid reflux... can you do coconut milk or coconut oil? Both are pretty heavy on the calorie front, so cooking with either is a great way to quickly up your calories without going to dairy. That aside, rice/pasta both cook quick and can give you a lot of calorie boost together (and, you can make sauces w/coconut milk...). Protein-wise, get something like wheat whey or rice protein powder. You can toss it into a shake or something, but basically it can help round out your protein thing without taking any time at all.
posted by yeloson at 7:37 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A few things. I sort of went through something like.

As you increase your calorie intake, you will get hungrier and hungrier. This is a good thing, because your body is going out of starvation mode and rebuilding lean tissue inside your body. This can go on (wanting to eat every 1-3 hours) for months, but it eventually DOES click off, and suddenly you won't want any food for 4-6 hours. It happens very suddenly.

Second, once you are eating enough food, your reflux will slowly go away. Reflux, as far as I can tell, means that your metabolism is too slow/messed up to actually process what you're eating, so the food goes up instead of down. Chew your food very, very thoroughly. This mechanically stimulates digestion through a nervous system pathway. That will make your reflux go away faster. It's wonderful when you eat and it's just... gone. No reflux.

Exercise helps, eventually. Listen to your body.

I have a food intolerance for dairy, not quite lactose intolerant but same idea. Instead of butter, I add beef and lamb tallow (and olive oil, and ground flax seeds, and ground chia seeds) to everything. You can order this stuff on grassfed beef type websites. Real beef broth is also good to add to everything, too. It goes down easy. Same type of websites. At first all that saturated fat will sit like lead in your stomach, but after a few days it tastes fucking amazing with potatoes, rice, etc., as your body adapts.

Bonus: Weird shit can happen when you start eating what you're supposed to be eating. Dizziness, unquenchable thirst, heart palpitations, furry teeth, waking up in the middle of the night starving, hot flashes. Be gentle with yourself. It could take months, but all of this DOES go away. Build up slowly so your system doesn't get too shocked, but listen to your hunger. Just eat slowly, chew thoroughly. (I know you don't have time for that, but do the best you can.)

180degreehealth.com [sound]
posted by zeek321 at 7:43 PM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Lactaid makes whole milk perfectly suitable for even the most violently lactose intolerant people. They also make chocolate milk, to which I am horribly addicted. They also make ice cream, which is a plague upon my entire existence. You can therefore have lots and lots of milkshakes. OM NOM NOM.

Finlandia brand cheese is all lactose-free. Be careful buying bread, as most of it appears to have whey in it these days. European (fermented) butter will probably not make you sick like (inferior, unfermented) American butter will. Put these all together and you can have lots and lots of buttery grilled cheese sammiches with your milkshakes.
posted by elizardbits at 8:27 PM on January 21, 2011 [3 favorites]

Can you elaborate a bit on how you came up with the 3500+ calories per day figure? I understand that you walk places but 3500 calories per day is a LOT. Like nearing heavy training for serious weightlifters levels. And you're a 5'8" 125 pound woman, I believe.
posted by Justinian at 8:40 PM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: Find out what makes the reflux hurt more. In my case, it's starch and sugar - cupcakes, donuts, white bread, etc. In others, it might be acidic foods, like citrus and tomato, and in another, bases, like alcohol or salty food.

While you're figuring out whether to give up cupcakes, beer or pineapple, do this:

Bacon and eggs - no, screw that, bacon is too hard to cook and clean daily. Hamsteak and eggs! Fry 'em up in a skillet!

Chicken salad. Boil up whole chickens, and pull apart the flesh into shreds. Mix with lots of mayo, oinions, celery and curry powder. Ham salad works the same way. Also egg salad. Eat on a low-carb wrap if starches cause reflux, on the most dense and rustic bread you can find in your grocer's bakery section (NOT bread section!) if you can stomach starches.

Shaved steak - use mayo and grilled onion and peppers instead of cheese. Serve on a big fluffy baguette (or in a low-carb pita, depending on reflux.)

Kedgeree - Poached salmon or trout, hardboiled eggs, and rice, and lots of it. Traditional breakfast food for English imperial conquerors!
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:44 PM on January 21, 2011

Lactose intolerance, anemia, acid reflux and weight loss are all symptoms of celiac disease. If it is celiac/gluten intolerance, gaining weight can be difficult, due to malabsorption of nutrients.
posted by sugarfish at 9:07 PM on January 21, 2011

Response by poster: @justinian: I'm trying to gain back the weight I lost, not just maintain my weight. 3500 calories a day is often recommended to those trying to gain weight, whether they be underweight, on chemo, or simply have fast metabolisms; it equals a gain of ~2lb/wk. 2000 calories isn't enough for a lot of people; it just represents an average. Some people need more and some need less.

I probably should have mentioned that I've been anemic since I was a kid. The weight loss (mostly from depression) and reflux are recent developments.
posted by oogenesis at 1:22 AM on January 22, 2011

Response by poster: So many helpful suggestions, guys and femmes.

As for what makes my reflux worse? Refined sugars, some tomatoes, overcooked meats, and super-salty foods. Fried food kills me if it's been fried in used oil, but if I fry myself in fresh oil? No problem. I now sometimes have trouble swallowing peanut butter...and cake. Both threaten to come back up readily.

I was on a number of acid reducers for a while. The last I tried was Prilosec, at a doctor's suggestion, and it worked for about two months until I reached the point where I couldn't be sure that I'd eat dinner at the same time every day. You have to time it: more than an hour before a meal and more than 15 minutes after, and it doesn't work. I've tried other solutions, like sleeping in a bed with an elevated head, sitting upright and trying to sleep, getting tested for H. pylori (the bacterium that causes many ulcers). Negative. Nothing really helps.

I'm trying coconut milk smoothies every morning, with banana and whatever fruit I can squeeze in. These help. And I'm a cook, so I can make absurdly good chicken salad. Not to brag.

I will probably have to get used to bringing food with me everywhere...
posted by oogenesis at 1:53 AM on January 22, 2011

Best answer: I have less heartburn since I gave up grains, and have heard many others say the same thing. Seconding telegraph's recommendation on eating more fat, especially animal fat and butter. It's actually good for you!
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 2:40 AM on January 22, 2011

Was just abut to say the same as Earl the P. I didn't even "give up" grains altogether but I gave up most of the (home-baked, whole-grain) bread and almost all pasta (in the course of reducing my carb intake). Heartburn gone. I can (no let's say 'could') literally (um) eat tablespoons of pork fat now with not a twinge. Calorie management gets much easier that way. [of course: ymmv, right? I might have an undetected gluten intolerance or something...]
posted by Namlit at 3:31 AM on January 22, 2011

Best answer: I will probably have to get used to bringing food with me everywhere...

I bring massive amounts of food everywhere, or I crazy plan ahead. I have a bunch of food allergies so it makes it hard to just eat at a restaurant. It's a time sink, and it's annoying, but I eat like a king wherever I am.

You can buy a case of food bars to knock of 100-300 calories here and there when you absolutely do not have time to cook. I eat food bars and rice cakes on and off. It's expensive but convenient and I only eat a few a week.
posted by zeek321 at 10:04 AM on January 22, 2011

I've been lactose-intolerant for most of my life, and I am indebted to Lactaid pills. I can have pretty much any dairy product as long as I take a Lactaid. They come in individual foil-sealed pills that are super easy to stick in your purse or pocket (but are easy to rip open), and also easy to swallow. Also Lactaid milk is great, although a while back I switched to soy which I like the taste of better.

Just out of curiosity, have you always had reflux? I ask because you mentioned depression, and certain SSRI's can give you GI problems. It took a long time before I realized that Cymbalta was causing my GERD...then I added Wellbutrin on top of that and it made my stomach even worse. Once I switched to Effexor the reflux was gone.
posted by radioamy at 3:46 PM on January 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: @radioamy: Nope, it started suddenly one morning in January 2008. I woke up and my esophagus, throat and nose were ON FIRE. About a year later, it was a constant problem. I'd had occasional heartburn before -- it was a problem in high school, but my diet was awful, I was under a lot of stress @home, and I was significantly heavier -- but once I left home, changed my diet, and got regular exercise, I was fine, most of the time. This was different.
Re: the depression -- I have fought depression most of my life, but I have never been medicated for it. So far, I'm able to keep it at bay without meds. Making sure to get enough exercise is key for me. Everything else falls into place.

@Earl, Namlit, et al. I rarely eat bread, rice, or pasta anymore, which is a shame, since they don't irritate my stomach, and I love them. My wonderful oatmeal breakfast used to give me hell (and I gave up on it too) until I realized that I wasn't cooking the oats for long enough. So I've tried a low-carb diet for a while now. Doesn't help or hurt.

@zeek321: You've given me a great idea. I could make my own energy bars!
posted by oogenesis at 7:28 PM on January 22, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks all. I'm taking a lot of the suggestions in this thread, and I'm finally gaining some weight! Yay! I'm around 130lbs right now, even with exercise.

It is taking some time to get used to eating more than three times a day, but it helps. I realize I can't cut back on meat right now, even though I would like to. The fat and the iron content definitely help. As soon as I can afford it, I'm investing in some protein powder for daily shakes, so I can begin to replace some of the meat I eat. Eating more pasta, homemade whole-wheat bread, and potatoes help too.
posted by oogenesis at 2:30 PM on March 13, 2011

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