Does Illness Make You Crave Unhealthy Foods?

I don’t know about you, but we have struggled with illnesses in my family in the past. This past Christmas, almost all the kids had influenza thanks to a so-called friend of one of my children who decided to come to an event with a fever and spread the flu love. From what I’ve read and heard from my friends, this is a bad flu season.

I’ve noticed that when my kids are sick, or my husband is sick, or I am sick, I often crave certain foods. (Unless of course someone has a stomach bug and nobody wants food of any kind!)

Why Is That?

My thought is that when we are sick, our bodies and our minds are stressed, and for many of us, that stressful feeling often translates into the desire for comfort or junk foods. Unfortunately for most of us that have battled our weight, our long time comfort foods are not broccoli or salad. Our comfort foods are often those foods that we associated with feeling taken care of by our parents or the foods we used to satiate stress before we started to get control of our eating habits.

Childhood Comfort Foods

Your childhood comfort foods are probably different than mine, but I remember loving Sprite, salty soup, oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate cake. I have friends who tell me that their childhood comfort foods were biscuits, chicken and dumplings, apple fritters, ice cream, and spaghetti and meatballs. Feeling sick often brings back those memories of what foods made you feel good as a child, and so it is pretty natural to think about those foods when you or someone in your family is sick.

Stress “Reducing” Foods

These junk or comfort foods never reduced stress for me, but when I was obese these foods were the ones I often turned to when I was stressed. The truth is these foods added to my stress because I almost always felt guilty after I ate large quantities of Oreos, chocolate candy, ice cream, desserts, or bags of chips. When I am sick, I do think about these foods. The difference between now and then is that I rarely have them whether I am sick or not.

Managing The Comfort Food Craving

Can you turn off the comfort food craving when you are feeling under the weather? Well, I don’t think you can turn it off but you can manage it.

When I’m under stress, either from illness or other things going on in my life, I have to make a conscious choice not to give in to my cravings for junky foods. It takes a deliberate effort for me to acknowledge that I’m feeling stressed, acknowledge that I want junk food because of the stress, and reaffirm that no matter how I’m feeling,junk food is not going to help.

Because honestly, when does eating junk food solve anything? “

Now of course if you are sick and craving some salty soup, that’s different because chicken noodle soup is very excellent for illness according to my doctor, some studies, and myself. If you are sick and craving peanut M&M’s, they are not going to help you feel better. When we are sick we need to nourish our bodies with nutrient-dense foods that will help us heal, not foods that are full of sugar and unhealthy fats that will do nothing for our body.

It comes down to managing the emotions when you are sick just as you have to manage your emotions when you are well. It is definitely hard to manage our emotions when we are sick because we are not as physically strong as we usually are. The good news is that you can do it.

Do you crave comfort or junk foods when you are sick? What to you do with those cravings? Diane

9 thoughts on “Does Illness Make You Crave Unhealthy Foods?

  1. MaryAnn says:

    I can so relate to this post because we have just gone through a bunch of sickness. At one point I found myself sitting on the couch with a bag of fritos on my lap feeling sorry for myself.

    Such a great reminder that illness doesn’t have to cause us to overeat.

  2. Thomas says:

    My wife and I just had the flu and while we didn’t feel like eating for a day or two, once we recovered from the fever part and just had the fatigue – we both wanted chocolate, ice cream, and even McDonald’s fries. We kept reminding each other not to give in.

  3. Beth says:

    Another thing I do when I’m trying not to give into cravings when I’m sick is to write down foods that are good for me. Then when the craving hits, I look at my list. I have things on it like chicken soup, oranges or orange juice, yogurt, etc.

  4. Mandy Cat says:

    I’m coming down with a cold right now, something which rarely happens to me, and we’re at Day Three of gloomy overcast skies. This posting was a timely reminder; thanks. Low sodium chicken broth with a splash of fat-free half and half sounds like a winner.

  5. AdjustedReality says:

    Chicken noodle soup and crackers and ginger ale here. It actually all makes sense to me physiologically. You’re probably depleted on electrolytes from fighting the illness (hence the salt cravings) and something easily digestible so your body can focus it’s attention elsewhere. Ginger calms the stomach.

    When I’m sick, which is rare, I always have to force myself to eat enough, so I don’t stress about it until I’m better.

  6. Lori says:

    Hi Diane! I was never given anything like this growing up. In fact, because I was an overweight child, junk food was hidden from me. When I was sick my mother would make me poached egg with bread pieces tore up in it. Or dry toast. Chicken soup or one of the Italian soups we use to eat called Pastini (which was basically chicken soup with out the meat in it but it had egg ribbons in it). All pretty wholesome mostly. I do crave carbs when I am sick. But I think it is mostly because I am tired and there is actually a hromone thing with eating when you are tired.

    Now, when I am stressed I tend to stuff my face. There in lies my problem (not when I am sick). And really anything goes. It could be a whole slew of healthy food and it usually is. But the problem is portion for me- not content.

    I appreciate your sharing on what you do. I find it helpful and have been coming to these realizations.

  7. Kitty says:

    I very much do tend to want junk food….well, not necessarily junk food but more of food that I would ordinarily limit … when I’m sick. Frankly, I think I feel sorry for myself when sick and think that eating what I want will soothe me and I’ll feel better. And, truthfully, I usually do feel emotionally better when I eat those foods at that time. To a certain degree, if the food is not really unhealthy for me and I don’t eat way too much of it, I think that is fine. On the other hand, if the food is unhealthy or I eat too much of it I may feel momentarily better but will wish later that I had made a different choice.

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