You’ve been losing weight like a pro, but after several weeks of hardcore dieting, you suddenly become sick. Whether it’s the cold, a serious migraine or a serious illness such as the stomach flu, you’re probably asking yourself: should I diet if I’m sick? Depending on the severity of the illness, the answer varies.
Non-Serious, Transient Illnesses: Change Your Diet
In most scenarios, doctors would advise you to eschew the diet aside and eat up to recover — your body needs the energy to fight whatever virus, bacteria or harmful parasite is making you sick. But if it’s a simple illness such as a sore throat or a transient sinus headache, there are a few diet changes that can make recovery speedy:
1. Stop exercising. The body is trying hard to heal itself, and therefore needs to devote itself to fighting whatever baddie is in your system. That means it won’t have time to expend energy and help repair muscle tissue from weightlifting or any other exercise. Continue to exercise and you risk getting sicker.
2. Up the hydration levels. This is not the time to continue the diet soda habit. Hydrate the body with nourishing liquids, such as water, juice and tea. Stay away from diet teas, which often contain stimulant laxatives.
3. Consider adding more calories. According to WebMD, calorie needs actually increase during an illness, meaning eating more won’t actually hurt your diet. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you have an illness that causes appetite loss, such as a painful migraine. Still, try to eat more when possible, ideally from food sources rich in micronutrients.
In addition, focusing on protein intake can also reduce or prevent muscle loss, which can occur during bouts of chronic or extended illnesses. Choose protein from non-animal sources, such as beans and lentils, and you’ll also get the benefit of added fiber, which can help prevent constipation.
When Not to Diet
Minor illnesses may require some downtime to heal, but when it comes to serious illnesses, consider dropping the diet and eating for your health instead. For example, illnesses where you can’t keep down any food or liquids in general, such as the stomach flu, make it necessary to drop the diet. Skip drinking nourishing liquids because your fear its calorie content and you’ve set yourself up for some nasty dehydration and malnutrition, which can make the illness worse.