Top Tips for Managing a Routine Virus or Cold
February 11, 2012


Thank you all for the kind, kind comments yesterday! I was nursing a mild fever for most of the night, but Valerie sweetly came all the way out to the outskirts of Georgetown (after a long day of work no less) to sip some licorice tea with me, keep me company, and watch me eat rice cakes. After a little bit of Orgo review (we have an exam Monday), I made it to bed early, and woke up feeling much, much better.

Today, I’ll be taking it easy as I study for my test, and I’ll be trying to dive back into some normal food. For the last 24 hours, the only things I could really stomach were this:


and this:


With a little coconut oil/butter, or a little bit of this:


I haven’t had an appetite for my beloved bananas (maybe it’s because one of them came up the wrong way yesterday), but I did feel fine after eating half of one of these this morning, along with my toast:


Later today, I hope to have one or two of these for a little freshness and sweetness:


And hopefully, by tonight, I’ll be able to have a slightly heartier dinner of whole grains, yam, and maybe even some vegetables. But we’ll see. When I don’t feel well, I try really hard to listen to my body, and obey instinct. I hate going a day or two with no greens, but if the very thought of them is turning my stomach, that’s a very good reason not to eat them. On that note—the importance of intuition—I thought I’d share some of my top tips for managing a routine virus or cold.

1) Don’t force yourself to eat anything that feels plain wrong. Yes, we all love to talk about how important it is to eat many cups of vegetables every day, but all bets are off when you’re sick. If you’ve been felled with a fever or stomach bug that is simply making you cringe at the thought of green vegetables, then heed that feeling, and don’t eat them. The illness will be very short, and life is very long: you have plenty of time to eat your greens, but now is not the time.

2) Traditional wisdom isn’t always right for you. Soup: it’s one of the main suggestions for feeding a cold. Personally, there’s nothing I find more off-putting when I’m under the weather than the idea of a piping hot bowl of liquid (tea is a different story). Instead, I obey my cravings, which are usually for things that are dry and bland and starchy (bread, crackers, etc.). If I can manage a green soup once I’m a little better, that’s great, but I won’t force it until I’m ready.

Of course, if soup is what you crave when you’re sick, go for it: my point is simply that there’s no need to eat what’s typically “prescribed” for healing if you know for a fact that your body says otherwise.

3) Do stay hydrated. It’s really hard to drink enough liquid when you’re not feeling well—especially if you’re queasy. But it’s really important. I find it a lot easier to stay hydrated if I drink through a straw, so the first thing I do when I’m sick is to grab one of my glass dharma straws and keep it in a cool glass of water by my side, sipping as often as I can. I also rely heavily on coconut water, especially if my stomach has been upset, to replenish electrolytes, sodium, and simple sugars.


My fave OTC coconut water brand – image source

4) Squeeze in a little zinc. Many vitamins and minerals are celebrated for boosting immunity, but zinc is one of the more proven supporters of the body’s own capacity to manage and fight disease. People have traditionally relied upon sirloin, beef, oysters, and eggs for zinc, but vegans are not at a disadvantage when it comes to getting this nutrient: good sources include black eyed peas, cashews, oats, lentils, tofu, wheat germ, and green leafy vegetables. Pick whatever source suits you during your illness, and try to squeeze a little in: I find it easy to nibble on cashews or eat simple oats when I’m not feeling well.

5) Take a probiotic. Healthy bacteria will help you to ward off whatever unhealthy virus or bacteria is making you feel poorly. And if you’ve had a stomach ailment, there’s a good chance that you’ve had irregular elimination or digestive upset, so these bacterial strains will help to set you straight. There are many vegan probiotics in varying price ranges: do a google search and make sure to check the label carefully for dairy, shellfish, gelatin, or eggs. I know that some of the Jarrow varieties, as well as at least one Garden of Life probiotic, are vegan friendly.

6) Do not be a martyr when it comes to OTC meds. I’m no different from any health/wellness enthusiast in that I try not to take drugs when I don’t need them; instead, I look to proper hydration/nutrition/natural remedies to help me heal. With that said, I understand that certain drugs exist for important reasons, and that we’re lucky to have them. I may not pop a Tylenol every time I have a mild headache, but I will not refuse an antibiotic for bronchitis, pinkeye, or a galloping ear infection. I won’t endure days of raging fever all to avoid taking an ibuprofen. If you know that a simple, well established OTC drug is likely to help ameliorate your symptoms, don’t feel that you need to suffer for the sake of being “natural.” Instead, think about what’s necessary to you in terms of allopathic medicinal support, and what’s not; have a sense of the situations in which you do want the aid of an OTC pill, and those in which you don’t. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

7) Try to drink some tea with lemon and ginger. Both of these foods have anti-bacterial properties. On top of that, the drink will help you stay hydrated and the ginger will soothe your stomach. For an extra kick, try adding some cinnamon, which also has antibacterial properties and compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation.

8   ) Don’t panic because your eating habits have changed. Illness, lack of appetite, and reduced consumption can be very triggering for people with ED histories. Not only is it triggering to eat less and lose a few pounds while you’re ill, but illness itself may evoke a deeper part of your ED story: many people’s EDs began when an illness compelled them to unintentionally lose weight, and then they couldn’t stop. If your recovery is very recent, you may feel that you have to keep eating “proper” amounts of food in spite of how sick you feel, or you may feel panicked by the reduced appetite.

Don’t worry. This illness is not the norm; it is the exception. As soon as you’ve been restored back to your normal self, you can continue to eat plentifully and in keeping with your healthy, recovered habits. And if you have lost a pound or two, you can rest assured that proper diet will help you to restore the weight as soon as you’re well. But right now, don’t add ED guilt and worry to your already anxious period of feeling sick; simply eat what you can, when you can, and remember that any routine bug is sure to go away soon.

Hope these tips are useful! What are your favorite tips for managing a little sick spell?

And now, speaking of wellness, I feel energized for some more flashcards. Can’t wait to report to you with some real food tomorrow and Monday!


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  1. Although I’ll take something to fight a fever, I’ve discovered over the years that the quickest way to get rid of a cold is *not* to take any over the counter cold medications, as most of them just dry up the fluids that are trying so hard to escape, which makes the cold last longer and longer. I drink as much fluid as humanly possible, and although it usually means one ugly night’s sleep, it rarely means more than that.

  2. Great tips! 🙂 My main trick usually includes high vitamin-C fruits, teas and light foods that help take the weight off digestion. If i’m having a sore throat, consuming a lot of solid foods is difficult for me, so i focus mainly on teas and fruit juices. I also find that staying alert and keeping busy helps fight off the virus faster than staying in bed, so i try to not let the virus get the best of me. 🙂

  3. These are great tips – I especially appreciate those at the end for people with ED histories. I have been queasy all week from penicillin after getting a wisdom tooth pulled and panicking a bit about not eating enough fresh greens and enough in general. Your advice helps me to relax a little!

  4. SO glad you are well enough to write this. I hope it was a short illness and you get much better quicker. So sad I related to so much of it for my daily basis, which is a sign for sure my stomach is screwed up. I do find that I love a nice clear warm miso broth, it doesn’t have many calories, but it’s salty and has electrolytes and nourishing. I put in sea veggies only if I can handle them that day. I think a raw green soup would be off putting to most with stomach issues. Heck even a green smoothie. I love the coconut water too from that brand, and the one with aloe is great for repairing the digestive tract and relieving heartburn.

    • Thanks Bitt!! It was definitely short lived. One of the downsides of volunteering in hospital pediatrics is WAY more little colds and bugs! But I guess it’s a small price to pay.

      The miso soup idea is a really good one — I’ll have to remember that for the next illness. I hope you have been feeling a bit better yourself!

  5. Great post, thank you! I definitely agree with incorporating ginger when you’re sick–or anytime for that matter. When i have a bad cold i head to my local juice bar and order a double shot of ginger with lemon and cayenne. It’s definitely tough to get down (so spicy!) but does the trick almost immediately. I’m always amazed how quickly and efficiently this works! Do it for two days in a row and your cold will be a distant memory 😉

  6. I’m so with you on the starchy things when sick! I love Suzie’s spelt cakes when queasy, and greens – no way! When I’m sick I love blended raw soups (but um, no greens please!) with carrot, tomato, and avocado. Yum yum!

    Thanks for your awesome tips! Natural remedies are always great to share and read about.

  7. Oh Gena. That last point – I’d never really thought of it like that, but it’s true that every time I get sick (and I’ve been sick more time than usual in this past year of starting full-time work in a building with recirculated air and no fresh air/open windows) I force myself to eat my normal amount of food despite feeling sick, because deep down I can now recognise that I’m scared of not eating, both in terms of the effect and the lure. Next time, I’ll try harder to honour myself and know that I won’t let myself fall into old traps.

    Hope you’re feeling sparklier by the minute!

  8. Gena I can’t believe you wrote such a thoughtful post, feeling sooooo awful…with a test and studying on top of it all! You’re amazing.

    I totally agree with “Traditional wisdom isn’t always right for you.” Sometimes moving around and going for a brisk walk makes me feel better when I’m sick with a cold even though many say you should just rest and do nothing to get better. But for me, the longer I sit around, sometimes the worse I feel and a little blood flow and moving around does a body, mind, and spirit good.

    Feel better!

  9. Way to bounce back, lady! I’m so glad you had company for that time too–must have been a huge lift.

    I think those tips are great and sensible–lemon and ginger are big ones for me too (I’ve had a cold/flu thing this week also)–echinacea, goldenseal and myrrh are awesome too, and foot baths, and my ND had me do a neti pot-type thing too–I hate it but it definitely helps!
    Citrus bioflavonoids! I was making smoothies with oranges and lemons (sometimes grapefruit) with all the pith (not the zest) left on, with ginger, turmeric, some sweetener and some irish moss–I even added some broccoli one time, which you couldn’t see–very medicinal and I am sick of it now, but it was really a help…
    Thanks for mentioning the ED aspect of it–naturally that was the first thing I worried about when I saw your post yesterday…
    Good luck on your exam!

    • Thanks, Ela. It’s one of the many dimensions of post-ED life that no one talks about. I felt fine about it, thankfully — just eager to chow down again 😉

  10. Good to hear you are feeling better, those bugs are the worst! Thanks for the tips. If I have a cold I find miso soup with lots of grated ginger ( and I put a whole clove of garlic in to steam but then take it out cos I don’t like things garlic heavy) and fresh coriander (cilantro) and if I’m actually feeling hungry some greens and soba noodles. It is always nourishing and the ginger and garlic helps the immune system and are what Chinese medicine would consider the yin/yang ‘warm’ to a ‘cold’ virus.

  11. Glad you’re feeling better! Thank you for this sage advice and really helpful information. It’s helpful to hear a nutritionist and health advocate promote a balanced approach to managing minor colds and flus, one that accounts for our own unique needs and preferences. Thank you for rocking, Gena!! Good luck on your orgo exam!

  12. Traditional medicinals teas! I swear by them when I am sick. Great tips though, thank you! February is usually my “sick” month so I’m trying to prevent as best I can but you can’t always avoid a cold! Feel better soon!

  13. Feel better soon, Gena! Feeling under the weather is the pits, especially when you’re used to being so active and productive. You’re right to listen to your body and rest while sick. Hugs, Carrie

  14. Thanks for reminding us that illness is not the norm! I often forget that when I’m sick and feel horrible for not exercise and getting tasks done.

  15. Oh, this was so wonderful to read, Gena. I’m glad you are on the mend. Rarely will you find, in a list of ways to manage a cold, suggestions including not panicking about ED triggers from getting sick. I don’t know if that previous sentence makes any grammatical sense but it’s comforting to read this from the perspective of someone who knows how getting sick/off-kilter from one’s eating patterns can be triggering.

    • It’s amazing how no one ever talks about that — the weirdness of being a recovered person and getting stomach flu, or dental work, or whatever, and going through a phase where you can’t eat. Definitely triggers me, though I’ve learned to keep calm and simply look forward to normalcy 🙂

      • This is such a perceptive observation, Gena. I can totally relate. So few events trigger those dark impulses these days, but illness and injury leave me feeling me scarilly vulnerable. Perhaps it’s the feeling of being out of control of one’s body, or the temporary lightness “high” one gets from an out-of-whack appetitie or a little of both. Yet, these are the times that we need to pay special attention to nourishing our bodies well to ensure proper recovery. In fact, about ten years ago, following a serious injury requiring emergency surgery, I succumed to those urges, despite having been recovered for so many years. In hindsight, I am certain my injury would have healed quicker/more completely had I treated my body more kindly during that period.

        Glad you’re feeling better…take it easy, love.

  16. Wow. You know you are a natural born healer when you use your own illness to bring comfort and insight to others. Love this post so much, especially your encouragement to those with ED pasts. You are so wonderful G, I really hope that you are feeling better.

  17. Number 6 really strikes a chord with me; I am so rarely ill that it’s not something I generally need to worry about, but when that once-every-few-years ailment comes about, I tend to dig in my heels about OTC meds. The only example that comes to mind is a year ago when I had a 103.7* fever (my 20-year-old kitty had died and my grief manifested in a high fever/sore throat a week later) and was told to take Tylenol every 4 hours to keep the fever down. Like you, I will take antibiotics as directed if I ever need them, but I was so upset about having to ingest Tylenol! Thank you for the “permission” and the reminder that it was only a couple days out of a whole lifetime of holistic well-being.

    • Pre-med has certainly helped me to take a gentler view of certain OTC drugs and their usefulness. Naturally that does not mean an indiscriminate appreciation–I really do consider them last resorts–but I don’t believe in needless suffering when a fairly well established and harmless drug can provide relief.

  18. Wonderful post and tips, starred this post! So true that eating habits tend to be all over the map when I’m sick, I usually crave salty and greasy popcorn for some reason and not a lot of raw veggies that could be harsh to digest.

  19. This is a really nice round up with both sound advice and helpful tips. I’m lucky to get sick very rarely but I always like to head the tide at the first signs of anything wrong with probiotics and ginger tea. Zinc is a great tip too! Hope you’re feeling much better soon.

  20. And you studied while you were feeling sick… a post bacc rock star indeed 🙂

    All of these are great tips and a well balanced mix of traditional/Western/intuition/natural. And the part about paying attention to what our body is needing is great advice. My virus held on for almost two weeks and it was starting to bother me that I couldn’t exercise, but I opted to listen to my body when it said rest.

    Well wishes to you 🙂

  21. Wonderful post Gena! I will definitely be bookmarking this one and keeping it in mind whenever I come down with a sickness. Feel better soon!

  22. I’m reading this as I down another bowl of broth soup. I got slammed with the worst cold I can ever remember and carby foods and broth soup are all I want. Perfect timing for a get-well read! I hope you feel better soon.