Intuitive eating when you’re sick

I’ve been unwell this last week. A horrible chest infection, complete with a sore throat & mouth and a nasty cough. Now that I pay more attention to my body, in relation to food a drink, it was clear to me how my body was trying to guide me. It’s quite amazing really. It absolutely confirmed for me that you can still continue your intuitive eating when you’re sick. Even more so, in fact! 

Quite often your body will start to tell you there is something coming in changes to your appetite. Have you ever felt a bit off your food, not really fancying anything, to find just a day or two later that you’ve actually got a stomach bug, or a cold? It’s almost like your body is trying to protect against and prevent it.  

What does your body want? 

Feed a cold, starve a fever – Have you ever heard that old wives tale? 

It’s actually not true. It stems back to a guy called John Withalls in 1574. He came up with the theory that eating increases the core body temperature, therefore not eating would reduce body temperature. Of course we know now that this isn’t completely true. 

Instead, it’s better to be a bit more intuitive in your eating when you’re sick. 

Let’s bring this back to intuitive eating basics. What does your body want? For me, my mouth and throat were sore. I didn’t want hard, crunchy food that is going to hurt my mouth to chew, or feel harsh to swallow. I didn’t want spicy or salty food, or anything that would potentially aggravate my sore mouth. I didn’t want anything claggy (that’s a great word isn’t it) that would leave my throat feeling odd, causing me to cough more. 

Intuitively I know all of that. 

For you it could be different. Say you have an upset stomach. Maybe your body will intuitively tell you that it doesn’t want really rich or really fatty foods. Maybe it will tell you that it doesn’t want dairy for example. 

All I wanted when I looked in the cupboards and fridge, was weetabix, porridge & orange juice. 

To me, that tells me that my body was craving the vitamins in the orange juice, and the carbs (the energy) in the cereal. Normal breakfast cereal? No. The soft, easy to swallow, warm options. 

I didn’t want fizzy drinks or hot tea with milk in it. I felt as though that would bother my throat. Instead, what my body was asking for was hot fruit teas. 

My clever body. protecting from aggravated symptoms while encouraging me to stay hydrated. I’m willing to bet that your inner intuitive eater would do much the same for you.

Eat, even if you don’t want to

I’m well aware though that often although we would like to be that intuitive eater when we are sick sometimes it just feels too difficult. Here is where practical hunger comes into play. 

In intuitive eating practical hunger is eating according to your circumstances – such as eating before you go into a long meeting, even if you’re not that hungry, or when you know that you have a particularly energetic day ahead so you have a bigger breakfast than you usually would. 

Intuitive eating when you are sick can mean bringing this practical hunger eating into play. To help your body to recover you need to fuel it. It needs the energy to fight off the bugs and get back to full health. 

Most of the time (because there are always exceptions) you need to eat and give yourself that helping hand. 

But make it easy for yourself. 

Soups and smoothies for example can be a great source of vitamins, minerals, calories for energy, and fluid for hydration. Yoghurts can be a great source of protein and fat, which will give you energy and fill you up a little, while being super easy to eat. 

Allow yourself the convenience foods without guilt too. It is better to eat a microwave meal than to not eat at all, because you simply don’t have the energy to cook. There are always ways to get some energy in, even if eating feels like the last thing you want to do.

"Feed a cold, starve a fever”

As you recover

Don’t be surprised if all of a sudden your appetite comes bouncing back as you start to feel better. 

Your body is going to try and recover some of the energy that has been missing. Remember that your food input has been restricted, and if you think about the binge-restrict pendulum, you know that your body is going to try to counteract that restriction by encouraging more eating. 

There may be a drive to eat more carbohydrate heavy foods. Remember, your body loves carbs for energy. Maybe you will want more fruit and vegetables, as your body tries to replenish its vitamin stores. 

Try not to worry about your overall diet. Balance will be restored when you are well again. 

For now, whatever is being called for, honour that. Go with it. Trust that your body knows best. 

And please, you do not need to count the calories in a throat lozenge or medicated drink (you know the ones I’m talking about!). Getting rest, nourishing yourself so that you can get your strength back, and taking care of yourself is all that matters.

On that note, I’m off to get another warm drink. 

If you’re feeling under the weather yourself right now, get well soon. 

If you would Iike some help to understand what your body is telling you, and become an intuitive eater, why not take a look at my personal coaching options. I’m here to help you. 

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Please note, this post is intended to be general information only. Every care has been taken to ensure that facts and figures are correct at the time of posting. As always, please seek the support of a registered professional before making changes to your diet or lifestyle⁠, or if you feel that you are affected by any of the topics discussed. 

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