Being Sick as a Trigger

Who likes being sick? Probably no one. It’s not the most fun way to spend a perfectly good day or three and it can feel so overwhelming. Though I’ve never been one to get sick that often, when I do, it reminds me not to take my good health for granted.

But there’s a darker side to getting sick that can manifest in someone who’s struggling or has struggled with an eating disorder or disordered eating. Being sick can act as a trigger, restarting disordered habits even if they’ve been absent for awhile.

What do I mean by this? Let’s look at a recent personal example. My sister was sick with a sore throat and other respiratory issues a week or so ago, and she ended up passing it onto me. The day I started feeling a little sick, I felt pretty wiped by the evening. I ended up skipping dinner and my nighttime snack in favor of plenty of water and some cold medicine. The problem with this? Later on that night, I was obviously starving–I hadn’t eaten since 3 or 4 that afternoon and my stomach hurt from hunger. But I ignored it because I figured, I was sick and my throat hurt a lot, so I wasn’t in the mood to eat.

So true. Being sick sucks.

So true. Being sick sucks.

The next day, I was even more out of it. I slept in a bit, then mostly hung out in my room for the rest of the morning and early afternoon. I also didn’t eat anything until around 4 in the afternoon…and then it was only some applesauce, watermelon and later some banana softserve. I didn’t feel hungry at all that day, and I was just focused on trying to make my sore throat feel better. However, the lack of food for most of the day made me feel tingly (like the pins-and-needles feeling) and even more out of it. Truth be told, if my mom hadn’t insisted on me eating something, I probably wouldn’t have. Not good, I know, but it’s hard for me to eat when I’m not hungry or feeling good. I also did not take a full rest day. I have a really hard time taking a full day off from exercise, and I had already planned on taking the next day off from exercise because I was going to be out of the house for most of the day (I ended up not taking a rest day the next day, because I was feeling a lot better and had more time to workout that I thought). So I ended up doing some yoga for half an hour, nothing strenuous, and it didn’t exactly make me feel better. The stretch felt good but doing it made me feel a little dizzy and tired. I know that exercise can improve sickness symptoms, but I think it would have been better for me to try to rest as much as possible. It’s just hard for me to rest–I always feel so lazy and unproductive.

It is kind of a big deal, especially when you're sick.

It is kind of a big deal, especially when you’re sick.

Being sick can be a slippery slope. You may be able to justify not eating or eating less when you’re under the weather, or working out through an illness, and then it becomes a trigger for further restrictive habits. I’ve experienced this even more when I had some stomach virus, and I could hardly make myself for a few days. I told myself it was because I didn’t want to make my stomach feel worse, but it ended up making it harder for me to return to normal eating. Same with working out. If you aren’t used to taking rest days regularly (which I’m guilty of), it can be hard to admit that you need to take a day or two off to let yourself recover. But exercising can make you feel worse, not better, sometimes, and in those cases it’s better if you take a break. It’s better to take a day off and feel better sooner than to exercise through it and end up prolonging your illness. Again, though, it can be hard not to let being sick start to control your habits again–you just have to be proactive and remember that taking care of yourself means continuing to eat while your sick and listening to your body. Even if you can’t eat your normal foods, it’s better to eat something than nothing. It’s something I’m still working on, but getting sick recently has made me realize that I still don’t have the healthiest mindset when it comes to getting sick.

Have you ever struggled with keeping up healthy habits while sick? 

8 thoughts on “Being Sick as a Trigger

  1. I can relate to this so well,Ashley.
    Actually,today is the perfect example: I woke up feeling super sick and weak and nauseous and just didn’t want to eat because I was scared that would make it even worse. Despite feeling so bad,I took my dog on an hour-long walk,did a yoga workout and the housekeeping. And now,I am feeling a bit better; even hungry somehow,but eating… Nah. Doesn’t sound appealing to me at all.
    I don’t know. It’s not that I am doing this every day or make up sickness just to get around eating or something – I’ve done that in the midst of my Eating Disorder,but that’s over now. However,WHEN I do feel sick,I take advantage of it… Or rather,my Eating Disorder does.
    This really bothers me to be honest,but I don’t know how to change it… Especially since I also take advantage of the heat wave at the moment,saying “It’s so hot,I don’t have an appetite,so I don’t need to eat”. Crap,I know,and the scale proves it – but I seriously struggle to make a change!
    This all makes me realize how much I am still struggling with my Eating Disorder,and this makes me sad. Sure,I’ve made progress,but I am far from recovered… Weight-wise as well as mentally.

    • I wish I could help you overcome this, but I fall into this pattern of thinking all too often and it’s hard to escape. I’ve been trying to eat intuitively and exercise intuitively but all I end up doing is restricting when I don’t feel hungry (which is a lot) and exercising daily because “I feel like it”. I think having a more rigid mindset might help, but that can feel restrictive as well.

  2. Aja says:

    I hardly ever change my routine when I’m sick unless I’m really, really sick. If it’s just a regular cold with a sore throat and runny nose I still do my normal exercise, maybe even a little more cardio than usual because for some reason I always feel my best when I work out. Like i’m not sick at all. But if I’m really sick I just lie around and do nothing and feel terrible for it. That’s normally when I stop eating like I’m supposed to.

    • I do the exact same. I only stopped working out when I was throwing up, because I knew it’d be bad if I did. But yeah, the no eating or eating way less thing is something I do every time I feel sick, because my hunger totally disappears and I figure there’s no real reason to eat if I’m not hungry.

  3. I can definitely relate to feeling antsy and anxious when sick; I don’t like to just lay around for long periods of time, and sometimes I think (very illogically) that I shouldn’t eat as much when I am sick, since I am not exercising or moving around very much. But you have to remember that your body is working hard to overcome the virus or bacteria, and therefore needs just as many calories to fuel it. That being said, I also think it is natural to not feel very hungry with certain illnesses, and some food just doesn’t sound appealing at ALL. Sometimes, when I have a bad cold, I usually crave soft and/or cold food, and shun vegetables almost entirely because the thought of them makes me feel slightly ill. Still, as you said, it usually isn’t a good idea to engage in strenuous exercise when you are sick, unless you just have a mild cold.

    • I think what gets me is that there are certain foods I prefer to eat on a daily basis, like veggies and nuts, and those things become totally unappealing to me when I’m sick, yet I don’t feel comfortable enough eating things like plain toast, so I end up eating next to nothing. But like you said, our bodies can’t heal without nourishment, so anything is better than nothing, even if we can’t get in as many nutrients as possible.

  4. qlmalesovas says:

    Ashley, I’m so glad you wrote this post! I know that in the depths of my eating disorder I would find any excuse (like being sick) to restrict or distract myself from hunger. There are many times- even now- where I will want to “listen to my body” and skip a meal because I’m not hungry.
    I’m all for intuitive eating but I also know that (given my history) I sometimes have to go against what I think is right. For example, I will still eat something small at a meal time even if I don’t want to because I know that fueling my body properly with enough food/nutrients is the most loving thing I can do for it!

    • “I’m all for intuitive eating but I also know that (given my history) I sometimes have to go against what I think is right.” —> Completely agree with you here! I love the concept of intuitive eating and it’s something I want to work towards implementing, but I think anyone with an eating disordered past can’t truly let go of all ‘rules’ and just eat when we feel like because it can lead back towards restriction. I also have days where I’m not as hungry but I try to eat something small so I don’t fall back into old habits again. And fueling ourselves is the most important thing we can do!

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