Fit Food: Clean Eating When You Are Sick

workout-while-sickWe’ve all been there. It’s been weeks of sticking to our clean eating goals. We are feeling good and seeing results and then out of nowhere we get sick. Whether it’s the stomach flu and you can’t keep anything down or coughing, sniffling and sneezing have got you stuck in bed, being sick sucks. But it happens! And when it does it turns us into children again, wanting comfort food or sometimes no food at all! As much as we think ice cream, cookies and Kraft Dinner with hot dogs and ketchup (maybe that’s just me) will make it all better, indulging in junk food when we are sick will only make us sicker for longer.

I know it’s not what you want to hear, but eating clean is even more important when you are sick. Eating foods high in sugar and fat suppresses the immune system, specifically the capacity of our white blood cells to destroy bacteria. So as much as you think that junk food is making you feel better, it’s actually compromising your ability to fight off the sickness.

What if your problem is that you have no appetite and/or can’t keep anything in your stomach? Generally flu bugs like this don’t last longer than 24 hours and if they do you should see your doctor as soon as possible. But in the meantime just rest and try to drink clear fluids to stay hydrated. When you can eat again stick with plain foods and stay away from anything sugary or fatty. If you are following a diet that includes counting calories or macros, don’t worry about that while you are sick. A day or two of being off your plan won’t matter in the long run. What matters is getting well again as soon as possible.

Another common sickness is the cold that just won’t go away. You aren’t sick enough to actually have to stay home (even though most times you should) but you have a nagging cough or sniffles that hang around for two or three weeks. Again, stay away from sugary and fatty foods. Suppressing your immune system while your body is still fighting sickness is no way to return to full health. If you feel up to it, do a moderate workout. Be aware that you will feel more tired and be weaker than usual, so don’t overdo it. But a moderate intensity workout, even just a brisk walk, can have immune boosting power. How do you know if you should workout or not when you are sick? In general the rule is if your symptoms are below neck level (aches and pains, fever, upset stomach and/or vomiting) then you shouldn’t work out, but if you symptoms are above the neck (mild headache, sniffles, cough) then a moderate workout could be good for you. My personal rule is to see how I feel in the first 10 minutes. If I start to feel better than I continue, but if I feel worse I stop immediately.

mintedberrycheesecake6Other than staying away from sugary and fatty foods and getting lots of fluid and rest, there are a few other ways you can boost your immune system to get feeling well again more quickly. There is evidence that stress also suppresses your immune system, so if you are under a lot of stress now is a good time to go to a yoga class, take a relaxing bath or get a massage. Make sure you are getting lots of antioxidants by eating fruit and vegetables, specifically berries, citrus fruits, kiwi, apples, red grapes, dark leafy greens like kale and spinach, onions, carrots and sweet potatoes. Fresh garlic and mushrooms have also been shown to have some immune boosting properties. And don’t forget about good old chicken soup! Just look for low sodium varieties or make your own. Above all don’t throw away your healthy habits or allow getting sick to derail your progress! You may have to scale back your intensity for a bit while you focus on getting well again, but getting sick is a normal part of life. It’s a not a race to the finish and taking a few days to rest and feel better will ultimately help you get back at it healthier and stronger!

Happy Lifting!

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4 comments for “Fit Food: Clean Eating When You Are Sick

  1. August 4, 2013 at 5:23 am

    I was sick all last week but stayed on the plan and just kept going. I don’t think it helped me recuperate as fast as I would have if I took a few days off but it was worth it to keep progressing.

    • daracoxpt
      August 4, 2013 at 7:23 pm

      This is always where I struggle too. Would I rather miss a few days in the gym and get back at it full strength? Or try to work through it knowing that I won’t be able to push as hard which means my results will suffer anyways. Each situation is unique and it’s tough to tell what to do.

  2. August 3, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Guilty here! There is something about an old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich that always sounds so good when I’m sick. Thanks for the tips!

    • daracoxpt
      August 4, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      Oh I know it! It’s definitely called comfort food for a reason!

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