Many of us are familiar with feeling less energetic and more rundown when we’re sick. Hitting the hay or taking a short nap usually means more time spent Vomiting, Coughing, or Sweating. While being sick certainly impacts our energy levels and ability to function, it’s not always clear why.
Scientists continue to debate the role of inflammation in energy balance, with mixed results. But recent research suggests that our bodies may also influence our energy balance in a way that’s more intuitive. When we’re sick, we tend to burn more calories and store more fat than when we’re not. The details are complicated, but here’s what you need to know.
Do You Burn More calories When You Are Sick?
A study done by the University of Bristol in the UK found that people who are sick burn more calories. The researchers asked participants to rate their energy expenditure and reported that people who were sick burned an average of 200 calories more per day than those who were well. The study found that this was due to the fact that sick people may have a higher metabolic rate, making them feel less sleepy and therefore burning more calories.
Why Do We Burn More Calories When We’re Sick?
Bacterial infections, viral infections, and inflammation can all wreak havoc on your body’s ability to function. Look out for these signs and symptoms!
You may not be able to eat anything because you’re vomiting up every calorie you consume. This is the body’s attempt to rid the body of harmful substances.
It may also happen if your immune system is overstimulated.
You may also experience abdominal cramps and diarrhea. This is a normal part of being sick.
If it gets persistent, you may have diarrhea connected with constipation or a blockage in your intestines.
Sickness also causes us to consume fewer calories than when we’re not sick. If you’re working around the clock and feel as if you can’t get enough energy, you might be burning fewer calories than you should.
Scientists have also found that our bodies are less efficient at storing fat when we’re sick. This may be why our bodies burn more calories when we’re sick.
Fever is a sign of an infection, which means that you’re burning more calories. It’s often a side effect of a cold or flu. However, fever can also be a sign of cancer or other diseases that may be affecting your body.
5. Muscle Pain
Muscle pain is also another sign of inflammation and infection. Muscles are used for everything from walking to breathing to digesting food, and if they’re injured due to an infection, you’ll burn more calories as a result. For example, if you have the flu, your muscles will be sore and weak for up to two weeks after being sick. You’ll also want to rest more than usual so as not to damage them further (and because it feels good).
6. Sore Throat/Sore Lips/Sore Tongue/Flu-Like Symptoms
Feeling run down or developing sore throat or mouth are signs that your immune system has been compromised. Your body needs to fight off the bacteria, viruses, and toxins that you’re exposed to every day. If it can’t do so, you’ll feel sick.
7. Headaches/Eye Pain
Headaches, eye pain, and other symptoms of a cold or flu are also signs that your immune system is working overtime to protect your body from the effects of infection. You may also experience muscle aches and fatigue from this increased strain on your body.
8. Jaundice (Yellowing of the Skin)
If you have yellowing skin due to your body’s attempt at fighting off infection, you’re burning more calories than usual because your metabolism is working harder and faster to digest food for energy because inflammation is causing a rise in temperature in the body (which speeds up digestion). This can be quite uncomfortable if it happens for long periods of time as it can affect our moods as well as our ability to function normally.
9. Changes in Hair Color
Hair coloring can also be a sign that you’re burning more calories than usual. People with alopecia areata, a disease that causes hair loss, are more likely to have dark patches on their scalp and face because they’re not producing enough pigment to color their hair. If your hair is coming out in patches, you may burn more calories than usual, but it’s not all bad news – the color of your hair will return to its normal shade once the disease has run its course.
10. Feelings of Stomach Pain/Bloating/Gas/Indigestion/Constipation
Feeling nauseous and bloated is another sign of inflammation and infection. You’ll be burning more calories as a result because your body is working extra hard to digest food for energy to fight off the infection and heal itself (this is especially true if you have indigestion or constipation). It’s important to drink more water, eat more fiber, and exercise if you’re feeling bloated and/or nauseous.
Why Does Being Sick Impact Your Body’s Ability to Track Calories?
Tiredness and Fatigue
Even if you’re not hungry, your body is still running on empty. When you’re sick, your immune system is on high alert and working overtime to fight off the infection. Your body also needs to make changes to your metabolism so that it can continue to produce energy while it’s under attack.
How Can You Help Your Body Recover?
As soon as you get better, get moving! Start with a brisk walk around the block or go for a short walk at lunchtime. If you’re not used to being very active during the day, consult with your doctor about how much exercise you should be doing during this time. You might also want to make sure you have plenty of water handy so that you don’t dehydrate when you’re feeling very tired and thirsty (and in order to keep hydrated).
Your body releases stress hormones like cortisol when it’s under attack by an infection or other stressor. Stress hormones can have a negative impact on your metabolism by making it more difficult for your body to burn calories. However, the effect of stress hormones is temporary and you should be able to return to normal levels of energy once you’re feeling better (you should also consult with your doctor if you’re worried that you might be dealing with a more serious condition).
One reason that being sick can make it harder for you to burn calories is that your appetite can get affected. Some people have very low appetites when they’re sick, while others have an increased appetite.
If this is the case for you, try eating small amounts throughout the day instead of just at mealtime so that you don’t feel hungry and reach for unhealthy snacks when your body needs calories (this is especially important if you’re throwing up). Be sure to drink plenty of water as well so that all of the food in your stomach stays where it belongs.
Some people (and their doctors) think that being sick makes it harder for you to be active because your body isn’t working as hard as it would when you’re feeling well. However, this is not the case. When you’re sick and your body is working at a reduced capacity, you still need to get in the same amount of daily activity as always in order to be healthy. The only difference is that your body might not be able to burn as many calories due to its reduced ability to function properly (you might also want to talk with your doctor about how much activity you should be doing during this time).
Stress and Anxiety
If you’re feeling stressed out and anxious about being sick, then it’s likely that these emotions are making it harder for your body to recover from the illness. While stress hormones can affect your metabolism, they should return back to normal once the stressor is gone or you’ve learned how to cope with it (you should consult with a doctor if you have any concerns about this).
The Bottom line
If you’re sick, you should definitely make an effort to increase your activity level and burn more calories. This will help your body recover and get better faster, which will also help you lose weight. In addition, if you’re feeling nauseous, it’s also important to eat a few small meals throughout the day so that your body knows that it’s getting all of the necessary nourishment.