These days, it seems like cold season is upon us all year round. While it all feels very overwhelming, understanding how to protect ourselves and how to take care of our bodies when illness strikes is the best way to preserve our health. This article covers what to do when you're already feeling under the weather, but if you're looking for more preventative measures or on day one of feeling symptoms of a cold please see my post on How to Stay Well through Cold Season.

All that follows is garnered largely from my studies of traditional healing modalities, particularly Chinese Medicine, and I've long experienced the benefits of everything I am about to share. This advice is largely applicable regardless of your particular malady, whether you are in the midst of a seasonal cold, recovering from a prolonged illness, exposed to someone who's sick, stuck with a bout of digestive distress, on your period with cramps, in the throws of a bad hangover, or otherwise exhausted, overworked, stressed and just not feeling your best.

The key takeaway here is that it all comes back to the diet. Our lifestyle is critically important, but what we consume directly affects whether our bodies become more inflamed or less. The 'under the weather diet' is far from fun and likely a far cry from your favorite foods, but the difference in how you feel – and how much more quickly you recover – can be remarkable.

Whenever we're feeling off, taking good care of ourselves becomes our most important task. It can be tempting to push through our busy schedules and indulge in bad habits when we're vulnerable, but in truth this is the most critical time to ensure that we're on a road to recovery. 

What to Eat

When deciding what to eat when you're under the weather, keep in mind these two words: warm and simple. All the of the meals we consume should be cooked and consist of minimal ingredients that are nourishing and easy to digest. While I've expanded on what to avoid further down, here I'll elaborate on my trusted food allies for getting well.

• Broths & light soups are easy to digest and help you stay hydrated. Keep your soups thin with plenty of water, vegetables, and warm spices for seasoning. Bone broths & veggie broths are wonderful to have on hand: make in large batches and store in the freezer in mason jars or other sealed containers for when you need them. 

• Congees, or porridges, are amazingly soothing for the body and often the best medicine for gut inflammation. Congee is essentially very well cooked grains prepared with a lot of water, so they are very easily digestible and soothing to the digestive system. 

– To make a batch, simply cook 1 cup of any grain with 6 to 8 cups of water or broth, either in a crockpot overnight (on high heat for about 8 hours), or on the stove (bring to a boil and then simmer for about 2-3 hours).

– I've made congee with barley, rice, wheat berries, oat groats, millet and buckwheat, but you can use any grain you like. Feel free to add spices (like coriander or sumac), vegetables (like sweet potatoes or greens), mushrooms or seaweeds. You can also make your grain porridge sweet instead of savory by adding spices like cinnamon & ginger and serving with nuts & fruit.

– Keep in mind that you can make larger batches and store them in the freezer so that you don't have to cook when illness strikes. See this post for a congee recipe from the Kosmic Kitchen.

• Vegetables that you easily digest and feel nourishing to your gut can be included in soups & congees, or you can steam or boil them for easy digestion. Make sure all veggies are fully cooked and served warm. Yellow & orange root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes are generally well-tolerated and help to nourish your digestive organs.

• Small amounts of citrus & berries over a boost of vitamin C and immune boosting nutrients; snack on bites of fruit such as oranges & strawberries but keep the servings small and stick to fruits that are not super sweet. 

• Stay well-hydrated with warm fluids. Keep a hot tea or water by your side at all times and sip consistently throughout the day. See the section below on herbal teas.

What to Avoid

What not to eat when you're feeling off will largely depend on your unique dietary needs. While certain foods have been labeled as 'inflammatory,' the reality is that any food (including 'healthy' food) has the potential to cause inflammation if it's not right for your body. Your specific set of inflammatory foods may not be the same as the people around you, including your family. Every body is built differently, and knowing which foods cause inflammation in yours is essential to experiencing better health.

For some people, identifying inflammatory foods can be more challenging, and the list may be long. The simplest way to discern inflammatory foods is to take note of how you feel after you eat a meal: are you energized and the food feels light in your stomach, or are you feeling heaviness and discomfort such as bloating and reflux? If you have any of the latter symptoms, something in your meal did not agree with your body and caused inflammation in your gut.

When we're under the weather, eliminating all of our personal inflammatory foods is necessary for an expedited recovery. If you're not sure which foods these are, please read my Guide to Gut Health for steps to create your own food journal and identify your specific triggers. Regardless of which foods are bothersome for you, the following are best avoided by everyone as they are more difficult to digest while convalescing.

• Sugar in all forms, especially desserts & other sweet treats, should be avoided entirely. Minimize your use of natural sweeteners and consume fruit in moderate quantities. Sugar physically thickens our blood (making it more like syrup), which mucks up our circulatory system, makes it more difficult for immune cells to go where they are needed, and eventually leads to increased inflammation.

• Steer clear of packaged, processed & prepared foods, especially ones with more than a few ingredients and 'non food' (unfamiliar / chemical) additives. These foods are often high in sugar, salt and hydrogenated oils, along with other manufactured ingredients that are poorly tolerated by the body.

• Avoid foods that are oily or greasy. Minimize your use of cooking oils; while healthy oils such as olive oil are generally very beneficial, they are heavier on the digestive system and harder to digest when we're feeling down. Cook with water as much as possible.

• Nuts & seeds are full of nutritional benefits, but are also hard to digest and should be avoided. This includes nut butters & milks.

• Many people are sensitive to dairy, which can also exacerbate mucus in the body. Skip the milk and yogurt while you're sick and stay away from any kind of creamy food.

• Raw, uncooked or physically cold foods require more energy to digest; stick to warm, cooked meals which help heat up our digestive 'burner.'

• Complex meals with lots of ingredients result in complex digestive processes. Keep each meal simple, with only a handful of ingredients, and gain nutrient diversity by varying each meal throughout the day.

Gentle Herbs to Restore Your Health

The last thing you want to do when you're sick is go shopping, so use what you have! The following herbs are extremely accessible, effective and gentle. Since all of these are considered generally safe culinary herbs, you can add them to your food or sip in tea. To make a tea, simply add 1 cup of just-boiled water to about 1 teaspoon of herb and let steep for 5-10 minutes before drinking.

Feel free to use whatever you have on hand, including powdered herbs from your spice rack. If you're using ground spices and want to make a tea, first mix a tablespoon or two of just-boiled water with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of powder to make a paste, then add the rest of the water to fill your cup.

• SCALLIONS ~ the best medicine at the first onset of a cold. Add to your meal, drink them in tea, or better yet: make a rice congee and put them on top.

GINGER ~ this warming herb helps boost circulation to encourage healthy immune function and keep us warm. Ginger is a wonderful herb for digestive recovery as well. Add a few slices of fresh Ginger or a teaspoon of the dry or powdered spice to a cup of hot water and sip for any kind of cold or digestive distress.

• CINNAMON ~ a deeply warming, circulating herb, Cinnamon is wonderful for heating the body when we feel cold and chilled, or when the body feels heavy due to environmental dampness. Add a Cinnamon stick or teaspoon of powdered herb to hot water.

• MINT ~ if you're sick and feeling hot, this a wonderful cooling herb that can help vent the heat. Sip on a few fresh leaves or teaspoon of dry mint in hot water. Any type of Mint, such as Peppermint or Spearmint, will help.

• CHAMOMILE ~ a calming healer that can relax the nerves and soothe the stomach. Sip on Chamomile tea when your gut is in a knot and if you're having trouble sleeping.

• ROSEMARY ~ if you have a headache or congestion, a sprig of this aromatic herb in your water can help open the vessels and alleviate tension. Crush a bit of the leaves and rub them on your temples to feel quick relief.

• MULBERRY LEAVES ~ the gentle, cooling leaves of the Mulberry tree help soothe a sore throat, coughs, and headaches, and can help vent a fever. Add fresh or dry leaves to tea.

Elixirs for Symptom Relief

Our Topical Medicinals collection offers a plethora of herbal formulations to soothe your symptoms and help you feel better sooner.

• HEAD TONIC ~ this water-based roll-on is cooling & refreshing to ease headaches, congestion, pressure & tension.

• BREATHE RELIEF BALM ~ apply this Eucalyptus-infused balm to open the nasal passages and on the chest to relieve congestion.

• BLUE MOON BALM ~ soothe stomach discomfort & achiness, cramps & sore muscles with this warming Ginger & Chamomile rub. 

• SOLVE ALL SALVE ~ protect yourself from dry air and germs by coating the inside of your nostrils. Also works great for cold sores.

• PAIN HEALER SALVE ~ massage on to a stiff neck, aching joints, and anywhere else that hurts to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

• DIGESTIVE HARMONY TEA ~ this warming herbal blend relieves an achey stomach and helps improves digestion.

Take the Time to Rest

Everyone knows you should rest when you're not feeling well ~ but putting this into practice can be difficult. Resist the urge to get everything done and focus instead on getting yourself back to health so you can accomplish your to-do list. Minimize your time in front of screens and maximize your time resting and sleeping, ideally with a cup of hot tea at your side. Go to bed early and sleep in if possible.

If you have the energy to exercise, keep it light and low-cardio with a gentle activity like stretching or walking. Do less than you think you have the energy for.

I know all of the above can be especially challenging for parents, caretakers, and people with essential jobs, but please keep in mind that taking a few days to minimize your obligations as much as you can and prioritizing your health will most likely alleviate the burden on your body and shorten your recovery time.

So to wrap it all up: eat simple, warm & nourishing meals; avoid foods that will cause digestive inflammation and exacerbate your illness; incorporate healing herbs and alleviate your symptoms with topical formulations; move your body gently and take the time to rest. I hope you get well soon!

If you have any questions, please reach out to Deanna by emailing herbalist@indigoelixirs.com