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A Healthy Eating Guide for When You're Sick

Updated: Mar 19

By Erica F Perusse

‘Tis the season for the sniffles, coughs, body aches, stomach bugs, and more. Nothing like a change of plans due to feeling under the weather, right?  The last thing you want to do when you are not feeling well is to focus on your nutrition. Am I wrong? It's okay; we all have been there, and it is perfectly acceptable to admit that. You're wondering, what should I eat when I'm sick? Nutrition for when you’re sick can make a huge impact on how fast you feel better and how to maintain your immunity when healthy again. 

Full disclosure: All I really want to do when I am sick is sleep. But over the past few years, while studying nutrition and our body in college, I have learned that there is a lot of science behind making your nutrition a priority when you are not feeling well.  

Here at NWE, we have the 6 Pillars of Health, and they are equally (if not more so) important during times of illness (and even injury). Those pillars are:

  • Balanced Nutrition

  • Mindset and Awareness

  • NEAT and Exercise

  • Consistency in Habits

  • Sleep/Rest

  • Water

And here is why those six pillar are so important :

Balanced Nutrition

Nutrition can be tricky when you are not feeling well, and we encourage more lighter food options. You may have heard the term "BRAT Diet" before, especially if you are a parent –it is commonly advised from pediatricians for your little ones when feeling under the weather. BRAT stands for banana, rice, applesauce, and plain toast. These foods tend to be more gentle on your stomach. But in all honesty, try to get in foods that you can. If you can tolerate food, remember that any food is better than none.  However, we highly discourage fried, sweet, or heavy foods as they are harsh on your gastrointestinal tract. 

Here are some examples foods the NWE Coaches have when they are sick:

Coach Emily T recommends the BRAT diet when her stomach is feeling off. Whenever she is sick, she focuses on water (both warm and cold) and soups. Emily focuses on what she can tolerate depending on what is going on with her body. Sometimes, with COVID, she will recommend people to be conscious of carb-heavy foods because they can affect their breathing overall. Same for those who have COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Carbohydrates require more oxygen during digestion, which can cause people to be more out of breath.

Coach Sara drinks a lot of decaf tea when she is sick because the warmth of the tea soothes her throat. She enjoys a good soup (like chicken noodles, butternut squash, broccoli cheddar, etc.) to get in her electrolytes and different sources of nutrients. She also sticks to pretty bland foods for the stomach virus and follows the BRAT diet.

When Coach Emily K feels under the weather, she always wants chicken ramen noodles, bananas, and mandarin oranges. She tends to drink lots of water; if she feels terrible, she opts for a Gatorade. Plus, she says real/natural fruit popsicles and resting hit the spot when she is not feeling well.  

Mindset and Awareness

Pay extra attention to your body when you have a cold, a stomach virus, or an illness. Listen to your energy, hydration, and hunger/fullness cues. If you are not hungry, do frequent small meals. Don't over exert yourself energy wise. If you have an excess of diarrhea, vomiting, or a fever, try to get some fluids (warm, cold, room temp, whatever works, even if just small sips).  

Consistency in Habits

It can be hard to focus on this pillar, especially when you tend to live a busy and physically active lifestyle. However, consistency is still possible regardless of your illness type. Consider consistency in these pillars (balanced nutrition, mindset, water, sleep, and rest). Even small doses of each pillar will be helpful with your healing and recovery period. Another vital thing to do, even when not sick, is to consistently take your daily vitamins (make sure to take them as instructed and be mindful of how you are currently feeling/eating/hydrating).  

NEAT and Exercise

Typically, with a stomach bug, exercise can affect your digestive system and worsen diarrhea. Light movement like stretching is perfectly okay, but we do not encourage intentional exercise (strength, cardio, etc). Regarding the common cold, mild to moderate physical activity is USUALLY okay IF you have a common cold and no fever in the past 24-48 hours. However, we do not encourage anything vigorous. Rest is and should be the priority. When you are well, you can gradually return to your normal activity pace.

Sleep / Rest

Please try to prioritize rest and/or sleep. Our bodies need energy to fight off illness, so getting enough rest is essential for a speedy recovery. As a mother, I often put others first, and this is not the time to do that (if possible). I'm sorry, but you cannot magically recover quickly by neglecting your own needs.  Aim to at the very least, prop your feet up and read a book or watch tv.  If at all possible, try not to multitask like working in bed on your laptop while “resting”.  Ensure a minimum of 8 hours of sleep each night. 


Hydration is the essential key to feeling better and faster when you are sick. Studies show you can go an extreme number of days without food but only three days without water. Thus being said, the most significant complication of any viral gastroenteritis is dehydration (which is a severe loss of water and essential salts and minerals). While you may not feel like drinking water, you can incorporate other items like herbal teas, clear broths, or electrolyte drinks to help prevent this from happening.  

Remember, these are general guidelines on what to focus on while being sick. If you have specific dietary restrictions or a severe illness, it's best to consult a healthcare professional or a registered dietitian (like us!) for personalized advice. The Nourished with Emily Coaches work with our Nourished with Emily clients on specific focuses on their individualized nutrition during illness. If you would like support with your nutrition and wellness, even while sick, contact the Nourished With Emily team today.  


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