Bright Line Eating When You’re Sick

There’s no way around it.

I don’t feel good.

Today it’s just lethargy, some green phlegm, and spurious tickles in my throat that erupt into coughing fits.

Last week it was nap….after nap….after nap.

And about ten days ago it was chills, body aches, and cold sweats.

All my kids had fevers, too.

One at a time, of course. Just to stretch it out.

I called in sick for nearly two weeks, either because of me, or because of Alexis, Zoe, or Maya.

Certain times of year are ripe for this.

I don’t usually succumb, though.

Since starting Bright Line Eating™ over a decade ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been laid out sick. Usually my kids, friends, and colleagues get sick around me and I just sail though.

I rarely even get a cold.

This year my system is compromised, I think, because I’ve been burning the candle at both ends, getting this Bright Line Eating™ movement off the ground while still showing up for my life as a full-time mom and a full-time professor.

When you’re stretched this thin, it’s natural for some holes to poke through the fabric.

Of course I’m not the only one. Lots of folks are sick.

It’s “going around.”

My Bright Line Eating™ Boot Campers are asking what to do with their food when they’re sick.

I just responded to a woman who is suffering with a wicked stomach virus.


When you’re committed to a plan that calls for three meals a day with lots of salads, cooked veggies, and proteins, and it’s been suggested that you always finish your food, getting sick must seem pretty daunting.

I don’t know about you, but when my tummy is sour, a big salad is the last thing I want to eat.


Here are my nuts and bolts recommendations for how to do Bright Line Eating™ when you’re sick.

Tip #1: Eat breakfast meals.

Three of them.

No lunch, and no dinner.

Just breakfast, breakfast, and breakfast.

The Bright Line Eating™ breakfast has three components: protein, grain, and fruit.

Breakfast proteins are gentle things like yogurt, eggs, soy milk, almond milk, nuts, ground flax seeds, scrambled tofu, beans, and cottage cheese.

Grains are things like oatmeal, cream of wheat, oat bran, rice, quinoa, sweet potato, or grits.

Really any whole grain will work, so long as there’s no sugar or flour in it.

And fruit is….well, fruit. Just whole, fresh fruit.

So a day of meals when you’re sick might look something like this:

Breakfast: Oatmeal, Greek yogurt, and a banana.

Breakfast 2 (a.k.a. Lunch): Rice, scrambled eggs, and some strawberries.

Breakfast 3 (a.k.a. Dinner): Sweet potato, topped with walnuts, ground flax seeds, mandarin orange slices, and sprinkled with cinnamon.

Sometimes when you’re really sick, some clear broth is good, too. That’s Tip #2.

I weigh my broth to 8 oz and only have it at meal times.

Tip #3: Don’t force yourself to finish your food. Eat what you can eat, and leave the rest.

But don’t go back for it later. Once the meal is over, it’s over.

Go rest. There’s another meal coming.

Those are the big changes I make to my food when I’m sick. I eat breakfast meals, I might have some broth, and I don’t worry about finishing my food.

The things I DON’T change are just as important.

I don’t snack in-between meals.

I don’t start hunting around the cupboards for sugar and flour because I “deserve a little something.”

(I’m not Winnie the Pooh.)

I don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s okay to go off the rails and start abusing myself with food, just because my body isn’t feeling good.

Sugar and flour are poison to me, and that’s just as true, probably more true, when I’m sick.


Now that the food part’s out of the way, let’s talk about the other big issue that comes up when you’re sick.

The Big Issue is: To stay home, or not to stay home?

That is the question.

This is related to the larger topic of how hard to push oneself in general.

Each person has to find his or her own fulcrum point, but the basic principle is that moderation is key.

Now, people who know me well might raise a hairy eyebrow at me claiming that “moderation is key” when it comes to “how hard to push oneself,” because….well, I push myself pretty hard.

It’s undeniable.

I take on more than most people would feel comfortable juggling.

But that just means my fulcrum point is shifted further to the right than most.

On a scale that measures degrees of activity and involvement, where 1 is “very low levels of activity and involvement” and 10 is “very high levels of activity and involvement,” my preference is to stay up in the 9 or 10 range.

That doesn’t change the fact that when I’m sick, I have to decide whether or not to cancel what I’ve got on the calendar for the day.

And this is where the moderation comes in.

There is no blanket rule that can be applied.

What’s really, truly best, simply and honestly depends.

Fairly often, I’ll feel better if I just shower, dress, and show up for my day. The benefit to just soldiering through is that I’m not setting myself up to have to play catch-up later.

Sometimes, though, wiping my calendar and staying home in bed is really the right thing to do.

And then there’s the Third Option.

The little-known, rarely-sung Third Option.

The Third Option is to trim back a little, and then move through the day getting things done here and there, but very slowly, with a soft dose of fuzziness and ease.

I’m a big fan of the Third Option.

I’m choosing it right now, in fact.

Here I am writing. With you.

That’s one of the things I need to get done.

But I’m doing it in bed, with the electric mattress pad on and a second heating pad on my feet.

My back is propped up with three pillows and a teddy bear.

I’m wearing pink flannel pajamas with little white flowers.

My laptop is perched on a pillow in my lap.

My kids are watching TV downstairs.

It’s past noon, and I haven’t even thought about rallying for the day yet.

This morning I crawled back into bed and slept for an extra two hours.

But here I am now, and one of my big “need to check it off the list” to-dos, my weekly blog post, is almost done.

And I haven’t exerted myself at all.

In fact, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

You know what’s amazing? Sometimes, when I slow down into sick-mode, my overall productivity doesn’t actually suffer at all.

I think the reason is that I’m not multi-tasking.

I’m just easing through the day, very slowly, but I’m attending to what’s right in front of me. When I’m focused on only one thing, I tend to be very productive.

And that’s really nice.

When you’re feeling sick, it’s beautiful to watch less turn into more.

With love,



  1. Jeanette

    Wish I’d seen this 3 weeks ago when I initially got laid up. Good advice. Thanks for all you fo SPT.

    Reply ·
    1. Bright Line Eating

      Hope you get feeling better quickly, Jeanette! 🧡🧡🧡

      Reply ·
  2. Jenni

    This was super helpful, thank you! I was only on Day 2 and wasn’t feeling right and unable to finish my dinner. Sat there for 20 minutes before deciding it was ok not to finish (I know it won’t be common practice) as long as when the meal is over, it is over. I then promptly went searching on the internet to find out what I should do in the future. What a relief to know I made a ‘Brightline friendly” choice!

    Reply ·
  3. Trish Stanley

    Simply Beautiful. The wisest what to do when you’re sick suggestions for people like me I’ve ever seen. Thanks, Susan.

    Reply ·
  4. Fran Yates

    Love reading all your blogs. Just can’t figure out how to get to your 3rd video about BLE, so can you email me with info.

    Reply ·
  5. Marianne Marsh

    My goal for today: slow down without having to get sick! Feel better soon, Susan.

    Reply ·
  6. Luci

    Thank you for sharing your method of dealing with illness – both the food and the behavior.
    I hope you take care of yourself and feel better soon!

    Reply ·
  7. Sue

    Yes, I agree with Joseph, the other important reason for staying home when you have something that is contagious is simply courtesy to others. It really is not nice to spread germs and viruses to others, especially when you have the option of working from home. But I know that often people don’t have that luxury if they are working in a situation where that is not possible. Perhaps in that instance we should get used to wearing face masks that cover the nose and mouth like many Asian societies do.

    Reply ·
    1. Joseph Fleischman

      Right Sue. It’s easy for me because I’m retired. But even when I was working I’d stay home when sick. I believed that I’d heal faster that way. It seems that in the long-run, to not stay home exposes one to the needless risk of making matters considerably worse, for one’s self and others.
      Joseph in the Yucatan

      Reply ·
  8. Monica Hunter

    Get well Susan! You know we can’t do without our fearless leader! I am a bit disappointed that I will not be able to have my usual hot toddy(with brandy) per the BLE guidelines. LOL.

    Reply ·
  9. Beverly

    Susan, your timing was perfect. I have either allergies or, more likely, I am coming down with a cold. The whole sneezy, drippy, sinus, throat thing. So, you are saying NO tea with lemon and honey and maybe even a little whiskey? Then, it’s not worth being sick! Just joking, but there is a drop of truth there too. Hope you are feeling much better soon and continue to take good care of yourself.

    Reply ·
  10. Joseph Fleischman

    I think that there is another element to the question of what to do when sick, and I’m reminded of it by something that happened in the gym not long ago. Someone in the locker room was sneezing and coughing, and when I asked him if he was ok he said that he had a “whopper of a cold” and was feverish. I stayed far away from him and wished him well. A coupe of weeks later I saw him again in the locker room and asked him if he got over his “cold” and he said that he did, finally, after two weeks of being dreadfully ill. That’s when I laid this into him: I said “When I get sick, I stay home, and for two good reasons. First, I need ample rest to get over it and that’s best done at home. But the second, which is probably just as important, I don’t want to infect others. A couple of weeks ago, you were coughing and sneezing your germs all over this locker room. Fortunately, you didn’t give it to me, and I hope you didn’t give it to anyone else either.”
    Joseph in Valladolid, Yucatan

    Reply ·
    1. Joseph Fleischman

      P.S. get better soon! We need you.

      Reply ·
    2. Krissy Hirtz

      Thank you Susan! I’m in bed sick, and was wondering what in the world to do about my food. I haven’t eaten since yesterday, and have zero interest in it at all. Over the past 48 hours I’ve established a strong friendship with hot tea. 😉 I’ll try to muster some interest in eating a little bit of breakfast food.
      Thank you!!

      Reply ·
  11. Kate Mazetier

    Thank you, Susan, for sharing the fruits of your BLE wisdom with us. I hope that you start feeling better, even good, very soon

    Reply ·
  12. Lynda Hahn

    So very glad that you are feeling less sick! Bless you Susan, you deserve your health, so be careful and continue taking it easy. Come back to us soon….we all miss you.xxxxxxx

    Reply ·
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