a notebook full of doodles of plates of food and notes on dietary restrictions for heart failure sitting on a dining room table

Managing Dietary Restrictions

One of the hardest things about a congestive heart failure (CHF) diagnosis is the dietary restrictions. As life goes on and you are tired, stressed, sick, etc., it’s natural to turn to food for comfort. How do we balance our desires with the reality of our medical restrictions? I have a few tricks that I hope will help!

Portion control and planning

Portion control and planning can go a long way. ‘Make hay while the sun is up’ – when you do not have a craving DO NOT waste your sodium! Find your treats that taste good and have zero salt that you can enjoy eating when you're in the mood. Personal favorites include dried apricots and super dark chocolate (75% cocoa and up) melted with frozen berries.

There is also zero salt peanut butter, hummus, and potato/tortilla chips when you want to snack. Have a few ‘go-to’ items lying around when you are in the mood for mindless snacking.

When you have a serious craving where it’s tough to moderate the salt, like cheese, for instance, portion control is key. For example, a serving of cheese can have between 200 mg–300 mg of sodium. A grilled cheese sandwich may be out, but would apple, peanut butter, and a slice of cheese do the trick? Maybe combine a slice of cheddar with lower salt Swiss to get the consistency you crave. Or micro-plane a slice of cheese on no-salt tortilla chips for nachos if you want the melted cheese experience. The question how can you get just enough to satiate you. Creativity is important!

Eye on the prize

The goal is to feel satisfied enough to make it another day. Realistic expectations and keeping your 'eye on the prize’ are key. Maybe go for a walk when you are done to remember why you are doing this and what is most important to you! The ability to maintain your desired quality of life can be very important for some. It's tough being in and out of the hospital.

Portion control is also easier when you are not starving. Try to fill up on things that are good for yourself and your heart, so you're not leaving yourself at the mercy of cravings and hunger at the same time.

Cravings and texture

Also, when it comes to cravings, think about texture. For instance, I love creamy. A smoothie can sometimes do the trick, and if I add yogurt and/or protein powder it is a balanced snack. I’ve gone the pudding route too. Girl's gotta get creative when high-fat things like ice cream are tough for my 6 stents! However, you do have to factor in fluid and carefully read ingredient labels because things that you don’t expect (like milk) have sodium.

You deserve it

Keep your wits about you; you can get annoyed and/or sad, but the reality is that the battle never ends. Fighting CHF has a large mental component to it, so take a mental break when you need it but get back on that horse! It takes time and effort, but planning and being prepared are critical for success.

The elephant in the room is acceptance; acceptance of your reality and acceptance of you as a human with needs and desires. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so be compliant but kind to yourself too. You deserve it.

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