immune system
May 27, 2010 posted by

When Not To Diet

Over the past month or so Romney and I have been fighting a bug we picked up in Europe. While we’ve been able to perform through it—meaning we’ve been able to work and exercise—it hasn’t allowed us to train and diet with our usual vigor. I’ve written a lot about not training when you’re sick and other times when it’s best to back off of your training, but I don’t think I’ve written much on when you shouldn’t diet. Fighting illness is one of those times.

It probably seems obvious that your need nutrients when you’re sick. Illness is both the opposite and the same thing that exercise is to your body. It’s physical breakdown. So in the same way that your nutrient needs change while you’re training they change while you’re sick.

There is one big difference. Training is—-or should be—-planned and self induced. Illness obviously is not. This means that you can attempt to match your diet to your training. For example, you can both lose weight and gain targeted muscle mass if you eat well and target your nutrient intake properly. When you’re sick, however, you can’t guess exactly what is wrong and, therefore, you can’t be as precise with your diet. Attempting to reduce caloric intake when you’re sick could deprive your body of nutrients needed to fight your illness and end up prolonging it. So during times of illness I always err on the side of eating more.

Of course this is dependant on your daily lifestyle. If you’re over indulgent in general than you may end up eating less when you’re sick. You’re body doesn’t need a six pack, bag of chips, or pint of ice cream when it’s sick. It needs nutrients. If those are part of your daily regimen you can eat healthy foods all day long and still probably be reducing your caloric intake. But if, say, you’re doing Insanity and it’s lean diet plan you’ll, for sure, want to start eating more until you feel better.

Professional athletes during the height of their seasons, especially those in weight dependant sports, are always on the verge of getting sick. This is because they fine tune their bodies to the upmost; watching every calorie and training full bore. When you’re training hard and eating clean, especially if you’re trying to lose weight, you’re body is similar to one of an athlete. The more finely tuned a machine is the easier it is for something to go wrong. When you throw illness into the fray it’s time to stop redlining, throttle back your RPMs, and cruise for a while.

It’s always tough to shed germs picked up on a different continent. Adding a lot of air traveling into the mix makes it harder to shake. We’ve both been on the move since we got home and finally, a month later, we’re ready get our training and diet back on the rivet; eschewing extra calories and burning off the stored body fat we no longer need for protection with some hard training.


  • Great post! Thanks for the reminder. Many of us think that being sick is a great time to lose more weight since we don't feel like eating. Forgetting that our bodies need help to recover.I always find your posts very informative and inspirational. 🙂

  • What if you're going through withdrawal? Is that the same scenario? I had an incident where i fell asleep when driving, so i went on a caffeine binge for about a month and now I'm trying to detox, should I be eating more?

  • Does a person maintain his (raging in my case) metabolism during an illness or does it slow down in order to store fat?

  • It's the opposite, your metabolism increases when your sick so you actually can eat a little more. Of course, you're not exercising, at least as hard, so that's a consideration. But when you're ill it's a bit like being injured and recovery asap should be your priority. If you can get well quicker you can get back to hard training/dieting/whatever to achieve your goals and offset any damage done, which seems a much better tactic than trying to compromise your recovery ability and staying sick and, thus, compromising all of your training for a long period of time.

  • Coffee detoxing is quite simple and eating more could end up leading to other bad habits. For coffee detox I reduce myself to one cup of coffee/day for a week, then one cup of tea for a week, and then transition to no caffeine at which point it's fairly easy. No headaches and only a bit of habitual withdrawl.

  • Feed a cold, starve a fever dude.Grandma is pretty much always right.-Josh

  • Oddly enough I've written an article stating that very thing: this article I do cite a study that shows eating less could shorten a cold's duration. However, eating "less" is likely in reference to the way most people overeat on a daily basis.

  • Steve. As always thanks for a great blog article.Question..a man asked me about continuing with the regular P90X schedule because he's been reading a book that says older people should get in 4 days of cardio and 2 days of strength training. He's 60 and wanted to know what he should do. I said..I'll ask the expert. :)Anne

  • Who writes all this stuff? I keep getting questions with single definitive answers for every person. I tend to think they've interpreted it wrong and there may be a qualifier of some kind because definitive answers do not really exist. For example, say he's a 60 YO bodybuilder. Then it obviously would not be the correct tactic. 60 doesn't change much from 50 or 40. Your hormone levels decline but training is training and it's hard to even deliniate between cardio and resistance from a physiological perspective. Insanity, for example, is "cardio" but provides more resistance than, say, the resistance workouts in Project You. So from that blanket statement how would you define these two workouts? You can't.Training is individual and, therefore, that statement is wrong. This does not mean that there aren't better options for this guy than P90X but we'd need to do some q and a to find out. If he's interested you can send him to the boards and we can dig a bit.

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