Nutrition Articles

Self-Care Tips for Sick Days

Help Your Body Recover from Illness

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.

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