TL;DR: Sometimes mental illness can make feeding yourself an extremely daunting task. This blog post covers how you can still feed yourself well, even when your executive dysfunction rears its ugly head.
Now time for a little something different… This is symptom adjacent. I’ll touch lightly on executive dysfunction (and cover more deeply later) and give you some great meal hacks for when you just can’t.
What is Executive Dysfunction and Who Does it Affect?
Well, executive functioning is a set of cognitive skills that “drive goal-oriented behavior and are critical to the ability to adapt to an ever-changing world.” It’s a complicated mess that makes up one part of your overall cognitive functioning and when it’s impaired can cause issues with motivation, short-term memory, impulse control, planning, organization, fluency (reading, writing, OR talking), and so so so much more. This is primarily recognized as the “main” issue in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism Spectrum Disorders. People with these illnesses have impaired executive functioning. Executive dysfunction also impacts those with depressive disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia (and probably more that I didn’t mention).
Executive dysfunction impacts your eating because of those motivation, planning, and impulse control pieces. When you know you’re hungry but you can’t get motivated to make something your executive dysfunction may just lead you to skip the meal. Or if you have a cabinet full of seemingly unrelated ingredients that, your executive dysfunction may make it impossible to plan a meal so you just eat a spoonful of peanut butter, handful of chips, and three string cheeses. Or, in the opposite direction, you buy everything you need for a healthy meal but you crave McDonalds… your executive dysfunction can’t tamper the craving so you give in and go get that Big Mac with a Large Fry.
What do I do? How Can I Eat Healthy?
The following is all based on anecdotal evidence. These are all things I do to stave off my executive dysfunction so I can eat the things my body needs to function properly. Otherwise I would just live off Taco Bell, Spicy Nacho Doritos, and Sugar Free Red Bull.
Let’s start with meal planning. I am a TERRIBLE meal planner. Can I cook? Absolutely. Can I go to the store and come out with all the ingredients for a gourmet meal without a specific list? Absolutely NOT. Meal planning services have been a godsend for me. In the past I used eMeals and it was good, honestly. One of the things I liked was the variety in the meals and the fact that I could send the list to instacart or shipt and make someone shop for me. I stopped using it for a while and gave in to my ED but recently I found PlateJoy. I liked eMeals but I LOVE PlateJoy. A few of my favorite features in PlateJoy: I can tell them what I don’t ever want in any of my meals and they respect that, I can set a maximum calorie count per day and the meals work around that, you can set a carb limit, you can set a meal limit (with how many leftovers you want for additional meals), you can move things around on a visual calendar, the service automatically takes into consideration how to be budget friendly by repeating items across meals, if you buy a pound of cheese one week but only use half a pound it remembers and helps you to use that up the next week, you can repeat your favorite meals whenever you want, AND it has the send to instacart feature. Plus so much more. I think my friends are tired of me talking about PlateJoy to be honest. I swear they don’t sponsor me but I do have a referral code. Moral of the story: if your issue is planning, try a meal planning service.
Meal motivation is another big issue. Another thing I like about PlateJoy is that I can choose batch meals and just eat it all week. No motivation needed. Make the meal, toss it in a container in the fridge, and then just heat it up in 3 minutes for dinner every night. But BEFORE PlateJoy, I created my own Executive Dysfunction Meals. The first key to this is buying a bunch of pre-prepared foods (that aren’t junk food). My go-to shopping list was: spinach or other greens, hardboiled eggs, quinoa, lentils, two good yogurt (because it’s low sugar/carb), pre-cooked chicken breast (usually found in the meat department), ranch dressing, natural lightly salted popcorn, milk, oatmeal, honey, and some fruit like bananas or apples or whatever is in season.
Using this shopping list, I was able to create a couple meals that were healthy and only took a couple minutes. Breakfast? Oatmeal made with milk and honey. Lunch? Spinach or other greens with shredded pre-cooked chicken breast, a sliced hardboiled egg, and ranch. For extra protein or nutrients have some pre-cooked lentils and quinoa on hand to throw in. If you’re feeling EXCEPTIONALLY dysfunctional, just throw it all in the bag and shake then eat it from the bag. Dinner? Lentils with spinach. Snacks? Popcorn, yogurt, fruit.
Impulse control is something I still struggle with from time to time. But honestly, the longer you stay away from something, the less you crave it. After my ADHD diagnosis, I cut out coffee and sugar. It was VERY difficult. But now I don’t feel like I have a lot of wild cravings. This is something you have to work on for you and find what works. Sometimes it’s okay to give in. Sometimes we need a little junk food as a pick-me-up. But when that’s all you eat, it becomes a problem financially and for your health.
That’s all I have for this post. I hope you found it useful. If you have any questions about your executive dysfunctional eating, let me know in the comments and maybe I have some ideas specific to you. Let me know what else you want to see covered also!