Nutrition Articles

Self-Care Tips for Sick Days

Help Your Body Recover from Illness

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Achooo! Is it a cold? Is it the flu? You may not know what you have, but you know you feel terrible. When SparkPeople members feel under the weather, they usually have the same questions: "What should I eat? Should I still count my calories? If I'm not eating enough, will it hurt my metabolism and slow weight loss?"

During sick days, you should not worry about weighing and measuring your foods, counting calories, using the food tracker, or lowering your metabolism. In fact sickness, fever and infections increase your metabolism by about seven percent for each degree the body temperature rises above 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. When you're ill, you need to focus your attention on getting adequate rest for a speedy recovery. Follow these self-care tips according to your symptoms, and you'll be back on track in no time! **Note: These are guidelines for adults, not children. If your child exhibits these symptoms it's always a good idea to contact his or her pediatrician.

If your symptoms include runny nose, sneezing, nasal congestion, sore throat, cough and/or mild fatigue, you may have the common cold, which is caused by a virus and is usually not serious.
Care for yourself by:
  • Gently blowing your nose if mucus or debris is present.
  • Inhaling steam to help loosen the mucus and clear your head.
  • Taking a warm shower or sitting in the bathroom with the shower running.
  • Drinking plenty of liquids to stay hydrated, including warm liquids (such as chicken noodle soup) to help clear mucus.
  • Increasing the amount of sleep and rest you get.
  • Consult your health care provider regarding the use of nonprescription cold medications.
When choosing foods and liquids: See "Stage 1" (on the chart below) for ideas; gradually advance your food selections to "Stage 2" and beyond, as tolerated. Always consult your health care provider about using nonprescription cold medications. 
Seek medical attention if:
  • Nose congestion persists for more than one to two weeks.
  • Symptoms do not resolve within 10 days.
  • You have difficulty breathing, faintness, a change in alertness, a severely sore throat, a cough that produces a lot of sputum or mucus (especially if green or yellow in color), or pain in the face.
  • You have a chronic medical condition, especially one that is affected by changes in your food intake (such as diabetes).

If your symptoms include nausea, vomiting, queasiness, abdominal cramping, bloating and/or fever that last between a few hours and a few days, you may have a viral infection. Vomiting may also be caused by food poisoning, pregnancy, medications or other underlying problems such as gallbladder disease, ulcers, or bowel obstruction.
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About The Author

Becky Hand Becky Hand
Becky is a registered and licensed dietitian with almost 20 years of experience. A certified health coach through the Cooper Institute with a master's degree in health education, she makes nutrition principles practical, easy-to-apply and fun. See all of Becky's articles.

Member Comments

  • Got the flu 6 days ago and decided right away that I wasn't even going to try to track my food,much less exercise. Read this article today, and it seems like I made the right choice! I'm feeling better now and back to tracking. - 3/28/2016 8:38:24 PM
    Good article overall.

    Immodium is a drug that actively slows the bowel, and is not a good idea for diarrhea unless you KNOW that you don't have a bacterial or parasitic cause for diarrhea, as slowing the gut can raise one's risk for complications with some types of infections. - 10/1/2015 8:32:31 AM
  • BRAT diet for digestive problems: bananas, rice, applesauce, toast.

    Pretzels and ginger ale when I have a fever.

    Sometimes chicken noodle soup is attractive--maybe the salt. I try to keep such foods on hand. No one wants to go grocery shopping when they are sick!

    chris - 4/2/2014 3:00:29 PM
  • Great Article i wish i could have read this 3 months ago when i had had an ongoing asthma/cold/chest infection - 5/18/2012 6:38:14 AM
  • For a stuffy head, I fix myself something that tastes good with plenty of hot sauce... usually spaghetti with tomato sauce. Horseradish or wasabi are good if that sounds more appealing. Hot tea with honey and lemon is good for post-nasal drip.

    I actually go for milk when my stomach feels bad, but I'm weird. When it really hurts, I drink cold water either to cool down the area or to help induce vomiting. My food of choice is overcooked white rice.

    A good home remedy is to suck on a bit of ginger root if you can, or drink a tea made with ginger syrup. (Boil a peeled and chopped ginger root in sugar and water until you get a thick syrup. The candied ginger can be cooled and also sucked on.)

    The only thing I've got for diareha is to snack lightly on bland foods without texture and to use baby wipes. - 11/18/2011 7:06:33 PM
  • I wish I had read this article a few days ago when I was hit hard by the stomach flu...but as it turns out I did most of the stuff anyway. ;) - 1/30/2011 12:00:25 AM
  • Thanks so much! I got sick yesterday and am still sick today and I was really concerned about sabotaging my weight loss! - 1/29/2011 1:10:38 PM
  • Thanks for the article. It's good to see information that encourages one to rest and eat as well as tolerated, without stopping to measure, etc. Our sole thought when sick should be the nourishment of our bodies for recovery. Weight loss efforts are more successful when we are well. - 1/6/2011 12:41:06 PM
  • This is a wonderful article, filled with good information. Thanks! - 1/6/2011 11:57:17 AM
    Great article. I have been sick since Sunday and have felt guilty about not exercising or really doing much of anything. I have asthma, so adding a chest cold on top of that makes it difficult to do much of anything. - 1/6/2011 9:10:46 AM
  • Thanks. I need this article today! I'm printing it out now. I especially appreciate the info about steam as I have a facial steamer in my box that was going to the thrift store. I'll pull it out right now. - 1/6/2011 7:55:45 AM
  • Been sick the last few days and really needed to know I was not being "bad" on my diet. Thanks for the reinforcement. - 4/9/2010 7:19:50 AM
    At this time of year, this is a wonderful article. Thanks a million.... - 12/7/2009 12:26:20 AM
  • I am also curious why sugar is on the "stage 1" list. I know I do sometimes crave sugary foods when I have a cold, and it seems like it helps me feel better--is it just a quick shot of energy when your metabolism's out of whack? Please explain!!! - 6/3/2009 4:32:51 PM
  • Glad I read this article...Had oral surgery yesterday..and here I am counting my fluid/soft diet calories....... - 10/24/2008 12:55:58 PM

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