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Self-Care Tips for Sick Days

Help Your Body Recover from Illness

-- By Becky Hand, Licensed & Registered Dietitian

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. <pagebreak>
 
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. <pagebreak>

Care for yourself by:
  • Choosing whether or not to use over-the-counter medications such as Imodium, Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate. These may slow the diarrhea, but they will not speed your recovery.
  • Preventing dehydration by drinking 8 to 12 cups of clear liquids daily.
  • 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: Begin with "Stage 1" (see chart below) liquids. Then, slowly add "Stage 2" foods, such as low-fiber carbohydrate sources and low-fat protein foods as tolerated and as your bowel movements return to normal.
 
Seek medical attention if:
  • Diarrhea persists beyond one week
  • You become dehydrated (experiencing excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness or light-headedness).
  • You have severe abdominal or rectal pain, bloody stools, a temperature greater than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or signs of dehydration despite drinking fluids.
  • You have a chronic medical condition, especially one that is affected by changes in your food intake (such as diabetes).

Suggested Food Intake for Sick Days

**Refer to the guidelines above regarding when to progress from "Stage 1" to "Stage 2" and beyond.

Stage 1 Stage 2

Broth (chicken, beef or vegetable)

Carbonated beverages

Clear, commercial drinks

Coffee (decaf without milk or cream)

Flavored gelatin (with sugar)

Fruit drinks

Fruit ices (with sugar)

Fruit juices

Hard candy

Honey

Lemonade

Popsicles (with sugar)

Sports drinks

Sugar

Tea (without milk or cream)

All Stage 1 foods

Bread, bagels, rolls and tortillas

Cheese (and other aged dairy products)

Cereals (low-fat and low-fiber)

Crackers (low-fat and low-fiber)

Eggs

Fruits without skin (raw, canned or frozen)

Lean meats (without spices)

Muffins (low-fat and low-fiber)

Noodles, pasta and rice

Soup (chicken, beef and/or vegetable)

Tofu and soy-based products

Tomato soup (made with water)

Veggies without skin (raw, canned or frozen)

Yogurt (and other fermented dairy products)

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