The question comes, “Should I continue to diet when I am sick?” Well, that all depends on a number of things. If you have gastroenteritis, or the stomach flu, chances are that food will be the very last thing on your mind. In the case of the stomach flu, where nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are present, gastric rest is the best idea, which means not trying to force foods down. Staying hydrated is important, so sips of fluids are good, but until they go down and stay down for a few hours, food should be avoided.
When people have colds, or the flu, they also generally have a lack of appetite that goes along with the virus. Because your body needs nutrients to heal and repair itself, foods that are high in protein are the best bet to assist your body in getting well. You certainly needn’t force feed yourself, but small, protein rich snacks will help your body spring back from the virus. Also, a multivitamin, if tolerated, is a good idea, especially when dieting to lose weight, as restricted diets generally do not contain enough vitamins and minerals to begin with. Because an illness like a cold is a short term, self limiting, illness, you can return to your diet after the first, worst days of the illness are over.
People who are dieting and find out that they have a chronic illness may begin to face another battle, and that is eating enough to keep from losing too much weight. A person who has cancer and begins to undergo chemotherapy may suddenly find that they are nauseated, and have no appetite at all. Losing excess weight because of treatments may seem nice at first, but losing too much weight too fast becomes an issue. Chronic illnesses like cancer and autoimmune diseases can sap your strength and medications can make that worse. Because your body is fighting a huge battle, good nutrition is essential, even when it feels impossible.
As with the everyday cold, a diet high in protein is key when you are battling a chronic illness. Foods like beef, chicken, pork, and eggs are all good choices, even if they do not sound good. Protein supplement drinks may be easier on the stomach, and easier to tolerate overall, but attempts should be made to eat good quality protein when you can. If you find that you are losing too much weight, too fast, you may be given permission to pull out all of the stops, and milkshakes and other calorie dense foods may be recommended to slow down weight loss, and give your body much needed fuel.
There is no easy answer to whether you should continue to diet when sick. It depends on why you are dieting, how your weight affects your illness, and how sick you are. If you have a brief illness, eat according to your appetite, and make healthy choices. If you have a serious, chronic illness, consult with your doctor, or seek the help of a dietician, because with a serious illness there is a lot more at stake than just keeping to your diet.
R. Morgan Griffin
Nutrition: Eating healthy When You Are Sick