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15/Jul/2021

It’s dry July, and with all promos on the radio and socials, you may be thinking about your own relationship with alcohol (or is that just me? 🙄).

We’re a country that loves a drink. Wine with dinner, beer at the footy, cocktails at the local bar with friends.

But what if your drinking is getting a little out of hand? What if you’re having too much of a good thing??

It may be time to take a break while you assess your relationship with booze.

What’s a safe amount of alcohol to drink?

The Australian Alcohol Guidelines recommend that ‘to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol’.

The guidelines also recommend that children under 18 and pregnant or breastfeeding women don’t drink alcohol.

It’s important to note that consuming alcohol within the recommendations of these guidelines will reduce your risk, but there’s still a risk. Read the government’s info ‘How much alcohol is safe to drink’ to find out more.

How does alcohol affect your health?

There are many ways that regular alcohol consumption can negatively affect your health.

It can interact with your meds – including commonly used medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) and disease-modifying drugs (e.g. methotrexate), causing problems such as ulcers, bleeding in the stomach and liver damage. Be aware of the risks, and always read the labels and consumer medicine information for all your medications about side effects and interactions. Talk with your doctor/pharmacist for more information about alcohol and your musculoskeletal or pain meds, as well as any other medications you take.

It increases the risk of a gout attack. If you have gout, drinking too much alcohol, especially beer, can increase your risk of a painful attack.

It affects your sleep. Getting sufficient quality sleep is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. However, people with musculoskeletal conditions often struggle with sleep issues – getting to sleep, staying asleep and feeling fatigued when they wake up. So while the idea of a nightcap to help you wind down and relax in the evening may sound like a good idea, alcohol will actually affect the quality of your sleep. Even if you sleep through the night, you’ll likely wake up feeling unrefreshed and foggy. To find out more about the relationship between alcohol and sleep, read this article from the Sleep Foundation.

It increases your risk of developing cancers and other serious diseases – this includes heart disease, cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver, diabetes, mental health issues, stroke and high blood pressure. For more info, read ‘What are the effects of alcohol’.

It increases your risk of getting injured. If you’ve been drinking, especially if you’ve become tipsy or drunk, you’re more likely to injure yourself. When you become drunk, you lose your balance and coordination, increasing the risk of falling. You’re also more likely to engage in risky behaviours, such as driving, putting yourself and others at risk.

It can affect your mental health. Many people often turn to alcohol to relax after a stressful day or if they’re feeling a bit down. And it may provide a very temporary boost to their mood, but it doesn’t last. In the long run, drinking can contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety. It can also make it harder to deal with stress.

Benefits of putting a pause on the plonk

Whether you decide to reduce your alcohol intake, have a few alcohol-free days each week, or go without alcohol for a month or longer, you’ll immediately see some benefits. These benefits will be greater the longer you go without alcohol but will include:

Weight loss. If you’ve been struggling to lose weight, cutting your alcohol intake will definitely help. Alcohol is high in kilojoules, which provide no nutritional value. It can also make you feel hungry and may lead to choosing unhealthy foods to fill the hunger (hello 2am greasy kebabs smothered in garlic sauce 😋).

Improved sleep. As mentioned earlier, alcohol interferes with the quality of your sleep.

No hangover. A pounding head and nausea are the price we pay for a night of overindulgence. As are the recriminations and the ‘never agains’ 😣. Reducing/stopping your alcohol intake will take care of this. And just think of all the things you can enjoy on a Sunday morning without the morning after hangover!

You’ll save money. On the nights out at the pub/bar (wow, cocktails, cha-ching), on the cab/Uber ride home, or on the alcohol you buy to drink at home. It all adds up – to stacks of cash! Use the money you’d typically spend on grog and treat yourself to something special – like a massage, a new outfit or gold class movie tickets.

More meaningful time with family and friends. It’s amazing what you learn about each other when you take the time to listen and interact without alcohol getting in the way. Try doing different things together instead of sitting around drinking or hitting the pub – for example, going for a walk in the local park or bushlands, having a gaming marathon or making yummy mocktails.

Better performance at work. Waking up with a hangover or sleeping poorly because you’ve been drinking affects your ability to perform at your best at work.

Tips to help you reduce the hooch

Make a plan. Once you’ve decided you’re going to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink (or stop drinking entirely), you need a plan of attack. It can be tough going, especially if drinking has become a habit or an addiction.

Consider the following questions, and write down your answers. Put them somewhere prominent so you can refer to them when you need support or encouragement.

  • Why do you want to reduce or quit alcohol?
    Is it for health reasons? The impact it’s having on your personal relationships or work? Why is it important to you that you reduce or stop?
  • What are your limits?
    Are you quitting alcohol entirely or reducing the amount you drink? Choose a limit for how much you’ll drink, but make sure it’s within the safe drinking guidelines. And include some alcohol-free days each week.
  • What are your triggers?
    Why do you drink? And when? Do you always have a glass of wine while preparing dinner? Or have beers with your mates when you knock off work? Do you drink to help manage your anxiety? Or your pain? What makes you pour a drink or head to the pub?
  • What are your strategies to deal with these triggers?
    For example, if you always drink a glass of wine while preparing dinner, swap it for herbal tea or soda water with a slice of lime or lemon. If you always drink with mates after work, let them know you’re trying to reduce or quit drinking, and stick to non-alcoholic drinks, or suggest you all do something else together. If you drink to deal with anxiety or pain, it’s essential to know that alcohol can actually make it more difficult to manage anxiety and can make your pain worse, so finding healthier ways to manage your pain or anxiety will be better for you in the long run.
  • Who’ll support you?
    It can be challenging to quit or reduce alcohol alone. Tell your family and friends what you’re doing. They can encourage you and may even join you. Talk with your doctor and get information and advice to help you achieve your goal. If you’ve been using alcohol to manage your pain, discuss alternative pain management strategies. The same goes if you’re drinking to manage anxiety or depression.

Get professional help. Many people can help you if you want to reduce or quit alcohol. Your doctor is a great person to start with as they know you and your health conditions. There are also many support organisations to help you. DrinkWise has a range of resources to give you the facts about drinking and its impacts on you. They also have a comprehensive list of organisations that can help you. Check out their website for details.

Know a standard drink size. It’s very easy to drink too much if you don’t know what a standard drink is – whether it’s beer, wine or spirits. Read the ‘Standard drinks guide‘ to find out about drink sizes and see if you’re drinking standard drinks. The answer may surprise you.

Remove temptations. Don’t have alcohol out in the open, or remove it from your house altogether. If it’s not within easy reach, you’re more likely to stick to your goal.

Drink slowly. Sip your drink and actually enjoy the flavours. Take a break between alcoholic beverages and drink mineral water or a mocktail instead.

Finish your glass before you top it up. It’s hard to keep track of how many drinks you’ve had if it’s topped up before you’ve finished drinking.

Don’t drink on an empty stomach. Alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream through your stomach and small intestine. Any food in the stomach will slow the rate at which alcohol is absorbed.

Get adventurous with low/no alcohol drinks. There’s such an enormous range available to try now, from wine to beers and mocktails (that are more than just soda water and fruit 😊). There’s a big world of delicious low and no alcohol drinks for you to enjoy.

Avoid people who aren’t supportive of your efforts. Sometimes people just don’t get it – the reason you want to give up or reduce your alcohol intake. They may have the ability to derail your goals, so avoid people that don’t support what you’re trying to do.

Give yourself a break. Quitting or reducing alcohol can be difficult. If you stumble and drink more than you’d planned, just brush yourself off and learn from that misstep. Don’t throw your hard work away over one mistake.

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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15/Jul/2021

We’re halfway through winter, and lovely, summery days are months away. Brrr, it’s cold!

But it’s the perfect time to create delicious meals – hearty casseroles, pasta and soups – to warm you from the inside out. With bread fresh from the bakery (or fresh from the oven if you perfected your sourdough during 2020!). Yum…I’m drooling just thinking about it 😋.

However, we need to be careful with our food choices in winter, when we’re generally less active and comfort meals are calling our name. We may begin to put on some weight, which is no good for our joints, pain levels and health in general.

The good news is we can enjoy these foods as part of a balanced diet by making some healthy food swaps and choices.

Here are our top tips:

Watch your portion size

It’s easy to overeat when you use large plates and bowls as we tend to fill them to the edges or brims. So swap your large crockery for smaller dishes when plating up your meals.

Choose wholegrain foods over those that use refined or processed grain

They have more nutrients and fibre and are much better for you. Swap white bread or rolls for wholemeal or wholegrain, white rice for brown rice/quinoa/wild rice. And limit your intake of foods made using refined grains like white flour, such as cakes, biscuits, muffins. Treat them as a ‘sometimes’ food, not an everyday food. Read this article from the Better Health Channel to find out more about the benefits of cereals and whole grains.

Enjoy lean protein

Select lean cuts of meat and trim off any fat. Remove the skin from your chicken. Choose to buy sustainable seafood. And give tofu a go. Then bake, steam, grill or stir-fry your protein with lots of vegies.

Be adventurous!

    • Try swapping cream in soups for silken tofu. You’ll get a protein hit, a creamy soup, and it’s much lower in fat. If you need convincing, give this pumpkin and tofu recipe from The Australian Women’s Weekly a go. It’s so easy and sooooo good!
    • Use sweet potatoes (also known as kumara) instead of white potatoes – for chips, mash, casseroles and stews, on the BBQ or with your Sunday roast. They’re full of nutrients and very tasty.
    • Instead of traditional pasta, use a spiraliser to make zucchini or carrot noodles. They’re light, healthy and add more vegies to your meal. If you don’t have a spiraliser, you can buy them ready-made from the supermarket. And don’t stop at pasta – you can use spiralised vegies in so many meals.
    • Swap white rice for cauliflower ‘rice’. It’s lower in carbs and super easy to make. As with spiralised vegies, you can also buy cauliflower rice at your supermarket. And it’s sure to become the base of so many favourite new recipes.
    • Swap salt for herbs and spices. We tend to have too much salt in our diet – from what we add ourselves to the salts already in the foods we eat. We know this is bad for our blood pressure, but it’s also not great for our bone health as it causes calcium loss. So when you’re cooking, try using fresh or dried herbs and spices such as garlic, ginger, chilli or black pepper instead of salt.

Be wary of your sugar intake

Too much sugar in your diet can increase muscle and joint inflammation, as well as cause weight gain, tooth decay and a whole host of other health issues. Reduce the number of sugary drinks you consume (including fruit juices, soft drinks and alcohol), use sugar alternatives when you cook or bake, and read the nutrition panel on foods to see how much sugar is in them before buying them. This article from Choice lists some of the many names for sugar. Also, check out this article from Weight Watchers for more ideas on how you can reduce your sugar intake.

Fake it!

Instead of your usual Saturday night takeaway, try making your own ‘fakeaway’. There are many websites with recipes and inspiration to make healthier versions of your favourite takeaway meals. Check out these recipes from KidSpot, the CSIRO and our wonderful volunteer Melissa, an Accredited Practising Dietitian.

Seek help

Talk with your doctor and/or an Accredited Practising Dietitian for information and advice. Visit Dietitians Australia to find an APD near you.

Other tips for keeping healthy and well during winter:

Take your time

Eat slowly, and savour your meal. Notice the tastes and textures and how it makes you feel – after all, food is more than just fuel. Also, as you eat, take the time to assess whether you’re still hungry or if you’re just eating because there’s food on your plate. If it’s the latter, stop eating.

Stay active

We need to exercise and be physically active for our musculoskeletal health, pain levels and overall good health. But it can be tough to fit regular exercise in our days when it’s so dark and cold on these wintery days. And it can take some firm resolve to slide out of bed on a chilly morning to walk before work. Find out how you can stay active in the cooler months.

Drink water

It lubricates and cushions our joints, aids digestion, prevents constipation, keeps our temperature normal and helps maintain blood pressure. It carries nutrients and oxygen to our cells, flushes out toxins, and cushions the brain and spinal cord. It can also help prevent gout attacks, boost energy levels and fight fatigue. It also makes us feel full, which in turn helps us maintain or lose weight. It’s practically magic ✨. But if you, like many others, find it difficult to drink enough water, read our blog for tips to help.

Batch cook

When you’re feeling great, and have a lazy few hours to prep meals for the coming week, do it. You’ll have healthy, hearty food to go in your fridge or freezer that you can pull out when you need a quick meal – no muss, no fuss. Check out our recent blog on cooking hacks for more info.

Make your meals colourful

Fruit and veggies fall into five different colour categories: red, purple/blue, orange, green and white/brown. And each one has unique disease-fighting chemicals (phytochemicals). So when you’re making a meal, try and include as many colours as you can. It’s good for you, it looks appealing and tastes delicious!

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. We have a small 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.

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13/May/2021

You can’t pick up a magazine or scroll through socials without seeing a celebrity or influencer touting the latest probiotic, prebiotic, wonder food or tips to enhance your gut microbiome. When did the gut become big business? And what’s it all about?

Let’s take a deep dive into the gut microbiome (sorry – that sounds a little gross 😉) and find out.

But first, some definitions:

  • microbes are tiny living things that exist all around us – in the air, soil, water, our food, and our bodies. They’re so small you can’t see them with the naked eye. They include bacteria, fungi, viruses and archaea.
  • microbiota refers to the entire community of microbes that inhabit a specific place. In this article we’re referring to the human microbiota – or the community of microbes that lives in and on your body, with a specific focus on the bacteria in the gut.
  • microbiome is what we call the genetic material of all of the cells in the microbiota. So this is not just the microbes themselves, but all of the genes in all the microbes.

We’re all unique

We’ve known for many years that there are trillions of microbes living inside and on our bodies. But did you know there are almost as many microbial cells as human cells that call our bodies home?! (1)

The majority of these microbes are found along the digestive tract (or gut), especially in the large intestine.

Microbes are extremely important for our health. We exist with them in a mutually beneficial, symbiotic relationship. That means that we both gain benefit from living in such close proximity with each other.

We provide them with a cosy place to live and an abundant supply of food to feed on. They help us digest food, absorb nutrients and fight off harmful bacteria. They also have an effect on our metabolism, weight, mood, and most importantly, they help develop, modify and control our immune system.

We’ve evolved with these microbes over thousands of years, passing them on from generation to generation. However your microbiome is completely unique to you.

It started to develop when you were a newborn and was shaped by your mother’s health, how you were born (vaginally or via caesarean) and how you were fed as an infant (breastmilk, formula or combination). Then a multitude of other factors contributed to your microbiome, including where you live (e.g. rural/urban), your diet, the medications you use, if you’re a smoker, and your stress levels.

The link between our microbiome and disease

Even though we live in a symbiotic relationship with our gut microbiota, that doesn’t mean that all of the bacteria present in our gut are beneficial. It simply means that in a healthy person the gut microbiome is relatively stable, and the ‘good’ bacteria keep in check the numbers of ‘bad’ bacteria that could become harmful to us.

For a healthy gut microbiome, we need sufficient levels and a diverse range of good bacteria. Poor diet, smoking, chronic stress and antibiotics can all affect the quantity and types of bacteria we have in our gut.

Many studies have shown that it’s disturbances or imbalances with the gut microbiota that may contribute to the onset and/or severity of a long list of diseases. And that people who develop these conditions have too little or too much of certain types of bacteria, or lack some types of bacteria completely.

For many autoimmune conditions, the cause is unknown. A genetic predisposition, coupled with an unknown trigger is often the closest we have to a cause.

This has led some researchers investigating whether imbalances in the gut microbiome may be the a potential trigger that could result in some people developing:

  • inflammatory bowel disease (9) (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis)
  • diabetes (8)
  • musculoskeletal conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis (2, 3), ankylosing spondylitis (4), and psoriatic arthritis (5).

Scientists are researching whether improving the diversity and health of gut microbiota in people with these diseases will also decrease their symptoms.

Probiotics and prebiotics

Some of the treatments being researched include probiotics and prebiotics.

Probiotics are live bacteria and yeast that are similar to those living in our digestive tract. They’re found in cultured and fermented foods including yoghurt, miso, sauerkraut, kimchi and kombucha tea.

Probiotics help to maintain healthy levels of good bacteria in the gut and support our immune defences. They also help to break down foods we find difficult to digest, or foods that aren’t broken down by stomach acids.

One meta-analysis investigated whether probiotic supplements provided any benefits for people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Researchers concluded that there’s a potential role for probiotics in relieving inflammation for people with RA; however more research is needed before we can know if probiotics can relieve the disease progression (6).

Safety note – if you have a weakened immune system due to your condition and/or medications, you should talk with your doctor before taking a probiotic, as they contain live bacteria, and may not be safe for you to take.

Prebiotics are a form of dietary fibre that we can’t digest. But our good bacteria love them, and they’re a great food source to help them grow and multiply in your gut. They’re found in foods such as beans, asparagus, garlic, brown rice, bananas and sweet potatoes.

Scientists are investigating whether prebiotics can be used to treat or manage a range of health issues.

Looking after your gut microbiome

While there’s a lot of research being carried out investigating how our gut microbiome affects our health, we still have a long way to go before we have any definitive answers, especially when it comes to our musculoskeletal health. Our microbiomes are all so diverse and unique, which makes this research complex. And this research is also still quite new. So ‘watch this space’! We’ll bring you more information, especially as it relates to musculoskeletal conditions, as it emerges.

In the meantime, there are things you can do to look after, and even improve your gut microbiome. And the good news is that these things are also good for managing your musculoskeletal condition/s and health in general.

  • Eat a well-balanced diet with a wide range of foods. The microbes in our gut are attracted to different nutrients. So providing a diverse range of healthy foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds, fermented foods – means that you’ll be making a diverse group of microbes happy and healthy.
  • Eat a wide variety of fibre. The CSIRO says we can “feed our gut bacteria or microbiome by eating foods rich in resistant starch; for example, lentils, peas and beans, cooked and cooled potato, cold pasta salad, firm bananas, and certain wholegrain products” (7).
  • Avoid foods high in saturated fat and sugar as they have a negative impact on your microbiome.
  • Exercise – you didn’t think I’d get through an article without promoting exercise did you 😊? Apart from all the amazing things regular exercise can do to help us manage our musculoskeletal conditions, our weight, mood, and sleep…studies have shown that exercise can improve the quantity and quality of the microbes in our gut. To find out more, check out this article from The Conversation.
  • Manage your stress. Studies have shown that stress – including psychological and emotional stress, lack of sleep, and stress caused by our environment such as noise, or extremes in temperature – can negatively affect the microbes in our gut. To manage stress, you can try to manage any environmental causes, get good, quality sleep, and use stress management techniques such as distraction, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation and deep breathing.
  • Avoid antibiotics when they’re not needed, They should only be used to treat bacterial infections. Antibiotics can’t kill viruses, so they shouldn’t be used for illnesses like the common cold. But they do kill bacteria – including the good ones we need in our gut. So discuss the risks and benefits of using antibiotics with your doctor. Read this information from the National Prescribing Service about antibiotics.
  • Get outdoors and interact with your environment. Whether it’s a walk in the park or digging in your garden, exposing yourself to external microbes is good for your microbiome.
  • Stop smoking – it affects your overall health, including the microbes that call you home. Quitting is hard, but there are people and organisations who can help you.
  • Talk with your doctor and/or dietitian about how you can improve your diet, for better gut health.

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

References

  1. Sender R, et al. 2016. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS Biology.
  2. Wells, P. M., et al. 2020. Associations between gut microbiota and genetic risk for rheumatoid arthritis in the absence of disease: a cross-sectional study. The Lancet. Rheumatology.
  3. Taneja, V. 2014, Arthritis susceptibility and the gut microbiome. FEBS Letters.
  4. Fletcher, J. 2021.Expert perspectives: Ankylosing spondylitis and the gut microbiome. Medical News Today.
  5. Fletcher, J. 2020. Psoriatic arthritis and the microbiome: Is there a link? Medical News Today.
  6. Mohammed, A.T, et al. 2017. The therapeutic effect of probiotics on rheumatoid arthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized control trials. Clinical Rheumatology.
  7. CSIRO, 2021, Resistant starch.
  8. Branca, M (2021). Plant-based diet may feed key gut microbes. The Harvard Gazette.
  9. Knights, D.et al (2014). Complex host genetics influence the microbiome in inflammatory bowel disease. Genome Med 6, 107 (2014).

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22/Apr/2021

I know, I know…we talk about self-care A LOT. But understanding and practising self-care is such an important tool for living your best life and getting the best health outcomes when you have a chronic condition. That’s why we talk about it so much.

Based on the findings of our 2020 national consumer survey, we know people with musculoskeletal conditions are practising self-care by exercising, eating healthfully, appropriately using medications, working with their healthcare team, using mind-body techniques and seeking peer support.

But they also told us they needed support to do this.

So what is self-care?

Self-care is vital and covers all aspects of our health and wellbeing. Things like exercise, visiting your specialist, taking your medication, mindfulness, learning about your condition/s, talking with a friend and even relaxing in a bubble bath; are all part of self-care

To understand the breadth of self-care, and how you can incorporate it into your life in a meaningful way, the International Self-Care Foundation (ISF) has developed a framework for self-care around seven ‘pillars’ or ‘domains’.

Let’s explore each of these.

Pillar 1. Knowledge and health literacy
Knowledge, as the saying goes, is power – so understanding your body, how it works, how it’s affected by your musculoskeletal condition/s, as well as any other health condition you have – gives you the ability to make informed decisions and play an active role in the management of your healthcare.

The Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care defines health literacy as the way we “understand information about health and health care, and how we apply that information to our lives, use it to make decisions and act on it”.

Together, health literacy and knowledge give us the tools we need to be empowered when it comes to our healthcare. By understanding our body and our health, we can discuss our options with our health professionals, we can critically evaluate information from a range of sources, make adjustments to our lifestyle and behaviours, understand risk factors and the appropriate use of treatments and tests.

In fact, research shows that people who have high levels of knowledge and health literacy have much better health outcomes.

If you want to know more about your health and musculoskeletal condition/s, or you need help to improve your health literacy, there are lots of people who can help you.

Talk with your doctor and other members of your healthcare team. Contact the MSK Help Line and speak with our nurses. Visit authoritative websites (like ours).

And don’t be afraid to ask questions. That’s how we all learn.

Pillar 2. Mental wellbeing, self-awareness and agency
Incorporating things you enjoy and that make you feel good into your daily/weekly routine – such as mindfulness, exercise, alone time, relaxation, massage, and staying connected with family and friends – is a simple thing you can do to look after your mental wellbeing and increase your resilience.

Self-awareness involves taking the knowledge you have about your condition and health in general, and applying it to your specific circumstances. For example, if you’re having problems sleeping, and you know exercise can help with that, ensure you’re getting enough exercise each day. Or if you’re carrying more weight than you’d like, and this is causing increased knee pain, as well as issues with your self-esteem, talk with your doctor about safe ways you can lose weight. Or if you have rheumatoid arthritis and a family history of osteoporosis, talk with your doctor about how you can look after your bone health.

Agency is the ability and intention to act on your knowledge and self-awareness.

Pillar 3. Physical activity
OK, so this one’s fairly self-explanatory since we talk about the importance of exercise and being physically active all the time 😊.  Regular exercise helps us manage our musculoskeletal condition/s, pain, sleep, mood, weight, bone health – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It keeps us moving, improves our posture and balance, helps us stay connected and helps prevent (or manage) other health conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.

Pillar 4. Healthy eating
This one’s also easy to understand, as along with exercise, healthy eating plays a vital role in our overall health and wellbeing.

Being overweight or obese increases the load on joints, causing increased pain and joint damage, especially on weight-bearing joints like hips, knees, ankles and feet. The amount of overall fat you carry can contribute to low but persistent levels of inflammation across your entire body, including the joints affected by your musculoskeletal condition, increasing the inflammation in these already painful, inflamed joints.

Being overweight or obese can also increase your risk of heart disease, diabetes, some forms of cancer, poor sleep and depression.

Being underweight also causes health issues. It can affect your immune system (meaning you’re more at risk of getting sick or an infection) and you may feel more tired than usual. Feeling tired and run down will affect your ability to be active, and do the things you want to do.

If you need help to eat more healthfully or manage your weight, talk with your doctor or dietitian.

Pillar 5. Risk avoidance or mitigation
Taking responsibility for our actions and doing all we can to reduce or avoid actions and behaviours that increase our risk of injury or death, is good for our health.

This includes things such as driving carefully and wearing a seatbelt, drinking alcohol in moderation, wearing a helmet when riding a bike, getting your vaccinations, protecting yourself from the sun, quitting smoking and practising safe sex.

It also includes seeing your doctor and healthcare team regularly so that you can stay on top of any changes to your musculoskeletal condition/s.

Pillar 6. Good hygiene
Many people living with a musculoskeletal condition/s are more susceptible to bugs, germs and other nasties in the environment than other people. Their immune system is weakened due to their health condition and/or the medications they’re required to take. Practising good hygiene is a simple thing you can do to reduce the risk of getting sick or developing infections.

Good hygiene includes things such as regular and thorough hand washing, coughing/sneezing into your elbow, appropriate and safe preparation and storage of food, cleaning your teeth regularly, staying home when sick, and having a clean home/work environment.

They all help us maintain good health and avoid spreading disease.

Pillar 7. Rational and responsible use of products, services, diagnostics and medicines

ISF calls these self-care products and services the ‘tools’ of self‐care, as they support health awareness and healthy practices.

These tools include medications (both prescription and over-the-counter), complementary therapies, monitoring equipment (e.g. blood pressure and blood glucose machines), aids and equipment (e.g. TENS machine, heat or cold pack, walking stick), wellness services (e.g. exercise classes, weight loss groups), and health services (e.g. smoking cessation programmes, physiotherapy, massage therapy).

ISF also states that the use of these tools should be ‘rational and responsible’. That means only using products and services proven to be safe and effective.

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So that’s it – the seven pillars of self-care. They provide a convenient, easy-to-understand description of self-care practises we can use to manage our health and musculoskeletal conditions.

“An empty lantern provides no light. Self-care is the fuel that allows your light to shine brightly.” – Unknown

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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28/Jan/2021

We often associate gout with gluttony and enjoying too much alcohol. Historical images of gout include overweight, ruddy faced, aristocratic men or royalty such as Henry VIII.

But this isn’t the case and is too simplistic a view of a complex condition.

To find out more about gout, what causes it and how it’s treated, check out our gout info.

So what causes a gout attack?

If you have gout, you know that an attack happens suddenly, often overnight, and you’ll wake up in a lot of pain.

And it’s more likely to occur if you:

  • are male
  • have a family history of gout
  • are overweight
  • have high levels of uric acid in your blood
  • drink too much alcohol (especially beer)
  • eat a purine-rich diet (including foods such as red meat, offal, shellfish, fructose, beer)
  • use diuretics
  • become dehydrated
  • crash diet or fast.

Managing your weight

While you can’t control some of the risk factors to prevent a gout attack, you can control your weight. If you’re overweight, losing weight gradually and carefully can reduce your risk. However don’t go on a crash diet, skip meals or fast as this can also increase your risk of an attack.

If you need to lose weight, talking with your doctor and/or a dietitian is a really good idea to get the information and support you need to lose weight in a healthy way.

Other dietary changes

It’s believed that lowering uric acid levels through small changes in your diet may help reduce the chance of future gout attacks. These changes include:

  • restricting or avoiding alcohol
  • avoiding binge drinking
  • eating a healthy, well balanced, colourful diet. Research suggests that the DASH diet or Mediterranean diet may be helpful. Read our blog on anti-inflammatory diets for more info.
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding fasting or crash dieting
  • making sure you don’t overeat on a regular basis.

Your doctor or dietitian can help guide you in making healthy changes to your diet.

Keep taking your medication

It’s important to note that dietary changes alone aren’t enough to address the underlying cause of gout – too much uric acid in your blood. For many years there’s been a misconception that simply changing your diet will help keep your gout under control.

However the research clearly shows that medication is needed for most people with gout to manage it effectively. So if you decide to make some dietary changes, discuss this with your doctor and continue to take any medication you’ve been prescribed to manage your gout.

Final word

Gout is a painful, complex condition that affects many Australians. But there are things you can do to take control, including managing your weight, making changes to the things you eat and drink and taking your medication.

Contact our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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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13/Jan/2021

It’s the start of 2021 and many of us are feeling the effects of consuming too many yummy things during the holidays. Trifles, honey glazed hams, wine, pavlova, cheesecakes, rum balls, cocktails, pudding, soft drinks, fancy salads with sweet dressings, crackers, lots and lots of lollies…and that was just one day!!

But sadly while we may love these high-sugar foods, they don’t love us back. And if we don’t consume them in moderation, they can have some very negative impacts on our health and wellbeing.

So let’s take a look at the delicious, but bittersweet world of sugar.

Did you know?

Consuming too much sugar can increase muscle and joint inflammation. It can also lead to weight gain, an increased risk of developing diabetes and heart disease, high blood pressure, acne and dental disease. Which means Mary Poppins had it all wrong with her spoonful of sugar – it doesn’t help the medicine go down ☹.

How much sugar should we aim for?

Because of the many health issues linked to a diet high in sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) has released a guideline that states “in both adults and children, WHO recommends reducing the intake of free sugars to less than 10% of total energy intake”. (i)

By free sugars they’re referring to the sugars “added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates”. (ii)

For an adult with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI), 10% works out to be about 12 teaspoons (or 50 grams) of sugar, in all its forms, per day.(iii) While that sounds like a lot, there’s a lot of hidden sugar in our food. Apart from what we add when cooking or making a cuppa, there’s the sugar that’s in our processed, packaged and pre-prepared foods, soft drinks, fruit drinks, bread, crackers, alcohol etc. So it all adds up very quickly.

In the 2018 report Nutrition across the life stages, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that “more than half of the population in each age group up to 19–30 have intakes of free sugars that are greater than the WHO guideline. While this decreased slightly with older age groups, it remains high, with between 35% and 50% of the population with intakes greater than or equal to 10% of energy intake”.(iv)

The main contributors to added sugars intake include: “fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soft drinks, cakes and muffins, cordials and sweet biscuits”.(v)

But we can change our eating behaviour to reduce the amount of sugar we consume. We don’t have to be a slave to our sweet tooth or our eating habits. And in a short period of time we can experience the improved health benefits of eating a balanced diet, low in sugar.

Did you know?

Sugar has many different names. You may be familiar with some of the ones ending in ‘ose’ – glucose, fructose, dextrose – but there are many that don’t even sound like a sugar, like demarara and turbinado! That’s why it’s a good idea to become familiar with the different names of sugar, so you know what to look for. Choice has a helpful list of 42 different names for added sugar to help you.

Let’s get started – some tips for reducing your sugar intake

  • Get help. You don’t have to do this on your own. Talk with your doctor or a dietitian for advice and strategies to help you reduce your sugar consumption. And get the family involved. It’s more than likely that if one person in the household is consuming too much sugar, then others are too.
  • Read the nutrition information panels and ingredients lists on your packaged foods. EatForHealth.gov.au has some great resources to help you understand what you’re looking at. And remember, sugar has several names that may be listed in the ingredients list – so one product may list sugar, invert sugar, malt extract, glucose solids, golden syrup, and honey – all in the one item! That’s a lot of sugar.
  • Compare similar products. Once you’ve wrapped your head around reading nutrition panels and ingredients lists, compare products before you buy them. For example, compare different yoghurts – one may have a much higher percentage of added sugar than another.
  • Decide how you’re going to do this. You may decide to go cold turkey and stop consuming anything with sugar. This sounds really hard to me but it works for a lot of people. Or you can make changes gradually and consistently. This can also be tough, so getting help from a dietitian is a really good idea.
  • Reduce your intake of sugary drinks, including alcohol. We know soft drinks are full of sugar, but so too are flavoured milk drinks, fruit and vegie juices and store bought smoothies, slushies, milkshakes etc. Drink water – plain or sparkling instead. And if you want a flavour hit, add some lemon or lime slices, or some mint leaves.
  • Think about why you’re eating that ice cream after dinner or mid-afternoon chocolate bar. Are you actually hungry or is it a habit? If you’re hungry choose something that’s not full of sugar like unsweetened Greek yoghurt with some passionfruit or berries, or a small handful of unsalted almonds. If you’re eating because it’s a habit, do something else. Take the dog for a walk, talk with your kids, fold the laundry, clean your teeth. Distract yourself until you’re no longer thinking about eating.
  • Make sure you’re eating enough fibre and protein. They’ll make you feel full and satisfied, so you’re less likely to snack. Fibre is also important for a healthy digestive system, while protein has many health benefits including providing energy, growing and repairing cells and keeping your immune system healthy.
  • Manage your stress. We often reach for the comfort foods when we’re feeling anxious or stressed because they make us feel better. Find other ways to deal with stressful situations that don’t involve sugary food or drinks.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Being tired or feeling fatigued is one of the many reasons we crave sugary things because we know it’ll give us a quick burst of energy. But that energy doesn’t last. You soon go back to feeling tired and needing more sugar to keep you going. And lack of sleep is also linked to weight gain; when coupled with a diet high in sugar, it’s not a great combo. Read our information on sleep for more information about how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity.
  • Be prepared for the potential for sugar withdrawal. Sugar is addictive, and some people may find they experience symptoms such as headache, fatigue and lack of concentration when they reduce their sugar intake. But it will pass. Have some strategies in place in case this happens to you such as: going for a walk, calling a friend, having a cup of tea or coffee (minus any added sugars or syrups), drinking some water, getting some fresh air, doing a crossword. Whatever works to distract you from the symptoms you’re experiencing.

In the end, it’s up to you how much or how little sugar you want to have in your diet. There are definite health benefits for having a diet low in sugar, but that doesn’t mean no sugar.

So if you’re struggling with the idea of giving up all of the sweet things that you enjoy, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy your favourite sweet every now and again.

And you’re more likely to really savour it because you’re eating it because you enjoy it – not because you’re tired, stressed, bored or because it’s a habit. So take some steps today to reduce your sugar intake. Your body will thank you for it.

Call our Help Line

If you have questions about things like managing your pain, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, 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

References

i-ii WHO Guideline: Sugars intake for adults and children, 2015.
iii Food Standards Australia & New Zealand: Sugar, 2019.
iv-v AIHW Nutrition across the life stages, 2018.


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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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24/Sep/2020

A healthy diet doesn’t have to break the bank

Hands up if, like me, you’ve developed some ‘not so great’ eating habits during iso and lockdown? Snacking more often, larger serves and comfort eating? Combined with being less active than usual, this can lead to weight gain. Not great for our joints and overall wellbeing.

And with tight budgets – and tighter waistbands (hello COVID kilos) – it’s timely to look at how well we’re eating and how we can eat well for less.
Here are our top tips for enjoying tasty, healthy meals and snacks that won’t break the bank.

  • 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 (step away from the Tim Tams Lisa). Check out this information from eatforhealth.gov.au for tips on meal planning. There are also a lot of meal planner apps you can download from Google Play or App Store. They give you the convenience of your meal plan and shopping list on your phone. No more forgotten shopping lists!
  • Choose generic products. They’re generally cheaper and are often the same product as the name brand, just with less fancy packaging. So check out the generic, home brand and no-name versions of your staples, such as flour, tinned tomatoes, legumes and oats.
  • Read the nutrition panel. 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.
  • Replace some meat dishes for vegetarian meals. 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 to ensure you’re getting all the nutrients you need. Healthy vegetarian protein sources include tofu, chickpeas, beans, quinoa, lentils, eggs and nuts. If you need help, there are a lot of great websites with interesting and tasty vegetarian recipes – from simple to more complex recipes. Something for everyone!
  • Prepare 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, or 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 fresh fruit and vegetables that are local and in season. It’s cheaper, fresher and supports our local farmers. And goodness knows they need all the support they can get! The Foodwise website can help you find what’s in season. They even have a seasonal meal planner. Very handy!
  • Grow your own. Many of us have discovered the joy of gardening this year. So why not grow 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. Nothing tastes better than food you’ve nurtured, grown and picked yourself.
  • Frozen and canned fruit and vegetables can often be used in place of fresh. They’re still healthy and they’re often cheaper. They’ll also keep longer. Just make sure to check the 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 and with no added sugar, rather than canned in syrup.
  • 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 yoghurt X with yoghurt Y:
    * yoghurt X costs $6.40 for 1kg, so its unit price is $0.64 per 100g;
    * yoghurt Y costs $2.30 for 200g, so its unit price is $1.15 per 100g.
    That makes yoghurt X cheaper per 100g.
    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 a certain shop doesn’t mean you always have to shop there. Visit the local farmers markets, keep an eye on catalogues and join online groups with other savvy shoppers. That way you’ll always be in the know about who’s providing the best value for money for your groceries. Times are tough, and there are less than 100 days until Christmas – so doing a little research before you go shopping is worth it!
  • For items that last, and that you use regularly, buy in bulk. This includes things like rice, dried/canned legumes and pasta. But please don’t go crazy and start hoarding. Buying in bulk to save money is different to the panic buying we saw earlier this year. If we all shop for only the things we need, there’ll be plenty to go around for everyone.
  • 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 they’ve become a mysterious, 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.
  • Takeaway tips. Let’s face it there’ll be times when we really, really want takeaway food. As long as it’s an occasional thing and we eat it in moderation, it shouldn’t have too great an impact on our 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 a really easy way to find lots of tasty, but unhealthy things in your trolley 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.

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


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02/Jul/2020

An article in the news this week caught my eye and really struck a chord. I don’t know about you, but the period of isolation has seen me gain a little more weight than I’m happy with

Having more time to cook and create, stress eating, the return of Masterchef (Go Poh!) and not being as physically active as we were before COVID…not to mention the snacking, cocktail hour and a whole bunch of other factors has caused many of us to gain weight during iso.

Apart from the many health issues associated with being overweight (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure) it’s also linked to increased pain and joint damage due to the increased stress on your joints. It can also affect your ability to be as active as you’d like, which can lead to more pain, musculoskeletal issues and weight gain. We also know that fat releases molecules that increase inflammation throughout your body.

Clearly maintaining a healthy weight is important.

So if, like me, you want to lose some of the weight you’ve gained during the last few months, we can do it! We can turn this around. It may be a challenge and take some time, but we can lose the COVID kilos.

  • Start with a goal. It really does help if you have a clear goal in mind. Just the idea of losing weight isn’t a goal, but a specific, measurable plan – for example – losing 5 kilos in 8 weeks is. So make sure your goal is SMARTspecific, measureable, achievable, realistic and has a timeframe. Read our blog on setting goals for more info. When you’ve created a goal that suits your specific wants and needs, write it down and put it somewhere prominent. It’s a great visual to help you stay on track, and remind you of why you started.
  • Keep track. It’s helpful when you’re trying to get back into a healthy routine to write down what you’re eating. You can use a simple notepad or download an app. Whatever format you choose, make sure you use it. Add every little thing you eat and drink, how much you’re consuming and when. Keeping track of your food intake really helps you see if your diet is balanced and it can help you spot any trends as far as snacking, serving sizes etc. That’ll help you adjust things if you need to.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes a colourful variety of foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, proteins and healthy fats. This gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to work properly, helps you maintain a healthy weight, helps protect you against other health conditions and is vital for a healthy immune system.
  • (Re)Establish a routine. If you had a healthy diet and exercise routine pre-COVID, reestablish it. It may not be exactly the same, but if you had it once, you can do it again. Look at what’s changed for you over these last few months, how it’s affected your diet and exercise, and what things you need to do to get things working again for you in this new world. If you didn’t have a good routine before COVID, now’s the perfect time to get one. Think about your typical weekday (weekends will have a slightly different routine), what you need to fit into your day including your family, work and other commitments. Write it all down and think about how you can establish a routine that works for you. Think about when you’ll work on creating healthy meal plans, when you’ll shop for ingredients, when you’ll cook, and when you’ll exercise. If you break it down into the small tasks, it makes it easier to fit into your schedule. This may take some trial and error, but it’s worth the effort.
  • Get the family involved. Whether you have family living with you, or they’re in another location, get them involved. They’ll be your cheer squad, but they may also benefit from a little TLC when it comes to their diet and exercise. You can support each other, work through problems together, share recipes and ideas.
  • Exercise. Obviously. Make sure exercise is part of your everyday routine. It’s important to help manage your musculoskeletal condition, pain, mental health, weight, sleep – and so many others things.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Research has shown a clear link between not getting enough sleep and weight gain. Poor sleep is also linked to difficulties losing weight. As many people with musculoskeletal conditions struggle with sleep, this is yet another reason to really look at how you can improve your sleep quality and quantity. And if you need help, talk with your doctor.
  • Eat mindfully. This involves taking the time to be aware of what you’re cooking and eating – savour the tastes, the smells, the textures. Be present while you eat, and try not to be distracted by things like the work, TV and other devices. Don’t hurry, eat small bites, take your time and enjoy.
  • Distract yourself. Sometimes we eat not because we’re hungry, but because we’re bored, sad, lonely or upset. Before you eat something outside of meal times, ask yourself why you’re reaching for that food. Do you actually feel hungry? Or is there another reason? If you’re not hungry, distract yourself with a walk, call a friend, drink a glass of water (not wine! – many of us are overdoing that too – see below).
  • Choose snacks wisely. I’m not a chocoholic, but somehow it’s been finding its way into my cupboard on a regular basis. It’s easy for this sort of thing to become a habit, so be mindful of what you’re snacking on and how often. If you’re snacking on less healthy options like high fat, high sugar or high salt treats, substitute them for healthy options such as fruit, vegetables, nuts, yoghurt. But be aware of the serving size and the frequency. You can have too much of a good thing! And save the treats for when you can really savour them. When you only eat them occasionally you’ll enjoy them even more.
  • Acknowledge that you’re not perfect and you may eat some things that aren’t part of your healthy eating plan. That’s OK, you’ll get back on track. Don’t let it trip you up, or allow the negative self-talk to sabotage your weight loss. Go back to your goal, remind yourself why you’re doing this, and move on.
  • Don’t deprive yourself but don’t ‘treat’ yourself too often either. Find that balance of enjoying your food, but don’t use it as a reward or to make yourself feel better if you’re feeling down or stressed.
  • Get help. If you’re struggling with your weight and you need professional help, talk with your doctor or dietitian. They can help you with practical information and strategies that are specifically tailored to you.
  • Be careful with alcohol. Reports are showing that many of us are drinking more during these stressful times. If that sounds familiar, cut back on your alcohol intake. Substitute other drinks that you enjoy instead of alcohol, though be careful of drinks high in sugar. Try different teas and infusions, add lemon and other fruits to your water, give kombucha a go (maybe? It can be an acquired taste), make a mocktail (again be careful of the sugar content).

Contact our free national Help Line

If you have questions about things like COVID-19, your musculoskeletal condition, treatment options, telehealth, managing your pain 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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Musculoskeletal Australia (or MSK) is the consumer organisation working with, and advocating on behalf of, people with arthritis, osteoporosis, back pain, gout and over 150 other musculoskeletal conditions.

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