Eating when you're not well

It's always important to fuel your body with nutrition, and this is even more critical if you live with chronic illness. When faced with a cold, many of us put our faith in orange juice or chicken soup. But what can we do to help our bodies cope with long-term illness?

Chances are, if you've been diagnosed with a long-term illness, you've been to see many doctors. You may have been given instructions on specific rules of diet. The following are general suggestions to boost your nutrition intake and your immune system. Make sure you still follow your doctor's advice regarding your diet. If you haven't been given any specific information regarding diet and your particular condition, speak to your doctor or pharmacist. They may be able to help or may put you in touch with a dietician.

  • If you feel up to it, eat well-balanced regular meals. Your body needs as much as help as it can get – try to make the most of every meal.
  • If you feel too ill to eat meals, try to take in small amounts (such as fruit or yogurt) over the course of the day. Remember to vary the foods you eat, to give your body different types of nutrition.
  • Cook ahead. If you experience good days and bad days, prepare extra food on days when you do cook, and then freeze some for the times when you can't prepare a meal. Try keeping your freezer stocked with frozen fruit and vegetables for the times you can't make it to the grocery store for fresh produce. Or enlist friends and family to help you keep your fridge and freezer filled with groceries or prepared meals. Many grocery delivery options also exist – via your supermarket directly, or through special delivery companies. Find out what's available in your area.
  • Know the dietary needs for your condition. For example, many diseases such as hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS involve nausea and diarrhea. This may require you to drink extra fluids, take nutritional supplements, or find bland foods that don't upset your system. Consult your doctor for specific advice.
  • Keep an eye on your weight. If you're having trouble eating, you may lose weight. On the flip side, if you are eating too much, you may gain weight. Find out what body weight you should maintain and see your doctor if you're having problems.
  • Take care in the kitchen. If your body is already weakened, one of the last things you need is a foodborne illness! Always wash your hands before and after handling food, and make sure you prepare and store food safely. For more information, see "Avoiding foodborne illness" in this health feature.

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