Getting Sick in Recovery

So this week I came down with mild-flu like symptoms. Fever, aches and pains, loss of appetite, nasal symptoms, nausea and one killer sore throat. Let me tell you, sticking to my meal plan and my recovery in general immediately became affected. I had no desire to eat and it wasn’t just my eating disorder. And yet, despite my overwhelming fatigue all the eating disorder (Ed) wanted me to do was move. I felt—and am still feeling—sick. The question that has continually re-surfaced this week has been the following: Why does the event of falling ill seem to de-rail recovery efforts so easily in eating disorders? It’s almost as if Ed calls in the ‘sniffle’s reinforcements’ when things aren’t quite going to plan.

Well there’s the obvious notion that exists that, when people feel or are sick, they naturally tend to eat substantially less their typical amount they normally would in a day. So of course, any ‘normal’ or ‘accepted’ form of food restriction Ed is going to run with tenfold. Also, the amount of fatigue that can be experienced with catching the flu or even a cold magnifies the desire to eat less. After all, if you are bed-ridden, what’s the use of consuming calories? This question is a question Ed commonly tends to ask.

In reality, the fatigue you experience is your body telling you “hey! I’ve got some serious stuff to fight in here and you need to be still!” and when your immune system is taxed trying to fight off some virus, bacterium, etc…it consumes energy (aka burns and requires calories). Giving and maintaining your body’s arsenal of energy during sickness will help it fight the bug and get you to feeling better significantly sooner than it would if you deprive it. Individuals struggling with eating disorders aside, a ‘normal’ healthy individual should make a conscious effort to give his/her body what it needs in order for it to get back to a more functional level. So yes, this means individuals—ideally—should maintain their normal energy intake as best as possible. Does it happen that way? No. Does it happen that way for people struggling with eating disorders? Heck no. Along with eating/fueling aspect, keeping hydrated is just as important and possibly just as difficult.

Hydration is very important for anyone, it keeps your electrolytes in balance, helps your metabolism and your thinking, cleanse toxins from your body and helps your cardiovascular system by maintaining your blood volume. I feel as though people with eating disorders have a difficult time taking in the amount of water they need and/or they often consume diuretics such as caffeine in the form of coffee, soda, and possibly energy drinks and alcohol. Despite it being difficult, I have really really been trying to drink plenty of water these past couple of days instead of my beloved coffee. Have I been perfect? No, but I have been persistent. Yesterday I did manage to drink 8 glasses despite disliking the bloated-ness feeling.

So what should someone with an eating disorder to while sick? Well, I know very well that food and liquid intake will be negatively affected so expecting someone to stick 100% as if they weren’t sick seems like a stretch. Though, I really think that we so desperately need to do what we can, however we can, in order to stay on track with recovery. Here’s a list of guidelines I have come up with for myself this past week. They do resemble the common-sense things that anyone should do while sick, but most-times common-sense/logic never compute with eating disorders.

1.Be still

This is a feat in and of itself, but refraining from physical activity really should be a focus. Especially since energy intake will most likely be negatively impacted.

2.Try to drink only water or Gatorade over anything else

Coffee, caffeine, and alcohol are NOT going to be your friends. You will feel better if you stick to keeping your eletrolytes in balance and maintaining hydration.

3. Eat what you can, when you can.

Sure, your appetite and nausea will suck so heavy food like ultra-creamy pasta, vegetables and some sweets may not be possible. Though, if you find you can tolerate to eat and keep down a certain food whether it’s crackers, bananas, yogurt, milk, soup, broth, etc. Try to eat as much of that as you can. A balanced and varied diet can take a back seat. Just try to find some possible way to keep up your engery intake. For example, maybe if you can tolerate yogurt and bananas, try making a smoothie with those ingredients.


People in recovery from eating disorders need more of this anyway. So yes, don’t deprive your body of a nap or a longer night of rest if that is what it’s asking you.

5. Keep your support team even closer

You are going to need the back-up even more so when you so sick to keep on track. Plus, a good support system will do whatever they can in order to ease you back to health. My husband, for example, has been amazing.

Being sick sucks but I feel being sick and then finding yourself in relapse afterward sucks even more. Be good to yourself and fight you’re hardest when your body needs you. It will thank you in the long run. Plus, you’ll probably get well a lot sooner and—depending on how you maintain recovery while you are sick—maintaining recovery when well may not seem as difficult as you perceived it before you had to maintain it ill.

“No great achievement is possible without persistent work.” –Bertrand Russell


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