Nutrition Articles

Self-Care Tips for Sick Days

Help Your Body Recover from Illness

By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian         
Page 2 of 3
Care for yourself by:
  • Keeping yourself as comfortable as possible.
  • Preventing dehydration by drinking 8 to 12 cups of liquids.
  • Not eating or drinking for a few hours or until your stomach has settled.
  • Avoiding dairy products, fatty and greasy foods, fried foods, and highly-seasoned food for a few days.
  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine products until you have returned to normal.
When choosing foods and liquids: Try ice chips or small sips of "Stage 1" (see chart below) liquids for no more than 24 hours. Then, slowly add "Stage 2" foods, such as low-fiber carbohydrate sources and low-fat protein foods as tolerated. If the vomiting returns, go back to "Stage1" beverages and foods until you are able to advance.
Seek medical attention if:
  • You are unable to drink anything for 24 hours
  • Vomiting persists beyond two or three days
  • If you become dehydrated (experiencing excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or light-headedness).
  • You vomit blood.
  • You have a chronic medical condition, especially one that is affected by changes in your food intake (such as diabetes).

If your symptoms include diarrhea (loose or watery stools) and abdominal cramping, you may have a viral infection, which typically clears on its own without antibiotics. Nausea and vomiting may precede diarrhea along with other flu-like symptoms such as a low-grade fever, achy or cramping muscles and headache. Diarrhea can also be caused by bacteria or parasites, medications, artificial sweeteners like sorbitol and mannitol, and other underlying medical problems.
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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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