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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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Photo by Heather Ford on Unsplash


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22/Apr/2020

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

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

What is self-care

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

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

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

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

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

Get some sleep

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

Eat a healthy, nutritious diet

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

Stay active

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

Take care of your mental health

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

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

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

Cleaning – plan, prioritise and pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make time for the things you enjoy

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

Contact our free national Help Line

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

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16/Apr/2020

Managing your weight in isolation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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24/Jan/2020

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

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

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

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

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26/May/2018

Do you feel like your diet has gotten away from you? Have you spent winter eating yummy, warm and kilojoule dense foods, and now your clothes fit a little more snugly than you’d like? Or do you just feel like it’s time to get serious and make sure you’re eating as well as you can – to improve your health, energy levels and mood?

Here are some handy hints to help you get started.

Seek advice. If you need help planning well-balanced meals, managing your weight, or finding simple and easy ways to prepare nutritious meals, talk with a dietitian for information and advice.

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!

Be cautious with food labels – light, lite, fat-free, reduced-fat, baked not fried…what’s it all mean? For a start it doesn’t necessarily mean the food is a healthier option. Lite and light may refer to the colour or taste – not the kilojoules. Low fat (less than 3% fat) or no fat (less than 1% fat) may have high levels of sugar. So take these claims with a grain of salt, and…

Read the nutrition panel. Understand the servings per package, and how big that serving size is. Check the number of kilojoules per serve, how much salt, sugar, fat is in each serve. And don’t forget to check out the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order from the largest quantity to the smallest. Be aware that fats, sugars and salt may be called something else – e.g. sugar may also be sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey, lactose, maltose, molasses, dextrose, golden syrup etc. Understanding the nutrition panel can be a little tricky when you first start, but it’ll soon become second nature. Check out the Eat for Health website for more information.

Be sceptical of the latest fad or celebrity diet. There seems to be a new one each week! If you need to lose or gain weight, talk with your doctor and get safe, practical advice and support. Don’t follow the latest diet you’ve seen online or in magazines. If it sounds too good to be true – I lost 20 kilos in just 2 weeks, you can too! – it probably is.

Prepare meals in advance. When your pain is under control, take some time to make extra meals that you can freeze and use when necessary. This way you’ll be eating meals you know are healthy, and not resorting to quick and easy takeaway foods or store-bought frozen meals – which are often high in fat, salt and/or sugar.

Talk with your doctor about supplements. If you think your diet is lacking some essential nutrients (e.g. calcium) talk with your doctor. Some people may need to take supplements if their diet is inadequate.

Join a group – if you need to lose weight and need information and support, think about joining a weight loss group. Sharing the journey with others who understand how you feel and the setbacks you may encounter can be extremely helpful.

These are just a few tips to help you eat well and have a healthy diet. If you have some suggestions, or want to share what you do, please let us know! We’d love to hear from you.




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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