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October 09, 2005

What We Eat

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I'm down and nearly out with a bad cold. Since it's my first illness of any kind in more than two years, I'm not complaining. And, although I'm miffed that I'm spending weekend days rather than work days sick, I'm in fact having fun, if of a slow-moving, headachey kind: napping, blackmailing attention and sympathy out of The Wife, and solving Sudoku puzzles. Hey, free Sudoku puzzles -- including tons of the really, really easy kind that suit my mental capacities -- can be found here.

I'm also having a good time subsisting on the kind of all-carbs, lousy food so many people seem to like eating when they're sick. In my case, I've gotten through the past two days on little but Wheat Thins and orange juice. Did you know that Wheat Thins now come in a "Whole Grain and No-Trans Fats" variety? Not to fear: They're as heavily salted and full of corn syrup as ever.

My sick diet leaves me wondering: Do we eat the crappy way we do when we're sick because that's the way being sick makes us want to eat? Ie., is there some biochemical reason behind why we eat this way? Or do we eat the crappy way we do when we're sick because being sick gives us license to take a holiday from responsible eating? Searching my innermost soul at this moment, I have no idea what the answer to my question might be.



posted by Michael at October 9, 2005


I love puzzles of all sorts -- crosswords, even those dumb jumbles in the Daily News. But I've never seen something that has frustrated me more than this Sudoku craze. I just want to jump out the window trying to solve one.

Hope you're feeling better.

Posted by: neil on October 10, 2005 01:35 AM

I've found that lying under a heavy quilt while guzzling whisky does wonders for colds. And if it doesn't work, you're drunk anyway so what do you care?

Cold-Eeze works too, but I prefer whisky.

I wish I got sick more often, frankly.

Posted by: Brian on October 10, 2005 02:50 AM

When I'm (rarely) sick with a cold, I stick, these days influenced simply by taste, to my usual low-glycemic diet. (I'm a recovering sugar addict.) My favorite cold-fighting-food is an omelet, loaded with feta or bleu cheese, some spinach as a tip-of-the-hat to the vegetarian crowd, and plenty of bacon (from organically raised, shade-grown pigs (well, maybe the shade-grown applies just to my coffee (I get confused sometimes these days about what are the righteous growing criteria for which food)). And speaking of coffee, my beverage of choice when sick isn't sugar-ladened orange juice anymore: it is, yes, that antioxidant-rich ( elixir, coffee (my recent favorite brand being Farmer to Farmer (French roast): After an omelet snack like this, I can feel-- even hear-- my immune system humming (well, something's humming, and my bet is that it is the old immune system).

Good luck with your recuperation.

Posted by: Dave Lull on October 10, 2005 10:05 AM

Two words: tequila and jalapenos. Those nice fiery peppers open snotty airways faster than you can say Jose-can-you-see, and the tequila...well, the tequila works much like Brian's whiskey. Except, you get a full body cleansing.

Oh, and just to be more medicinal, throw those jalapenos into a nice tortilla chicken soup..

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on October 10, 2005 11:11 AM

I haven't commented on your site before, but my husband has and adores your site. N Davis. You have even linked to his blog before.
I too just recovered from the "flu" that has been haranging us all and I think that the foods we 'crave' when we are ill are biologically bad for us at most times, but that emotionally we don't care. We, as animals, are driven to consume as much high fat items as possible. If we were rummaging about in the wild like our ancestors we would try to hold onto as much fat as possible. However, our lifestyles and society make it all to easy to get such foods but our biology doesn't understand. Thus is born the conundrum of overeating. So, when we are ill it seems to give us license emotionally to say, "well, I am not feeling good I need to at least have my 'comfort' foods." When really we are just shutting off the societal voice that says, "don't eat trans fat, don't be overweight, look like movie stars" etc.
So, I say, enjoy those treats when your ill and let our primal urges find some satisfaction before you have to return to the 'civilised' world of low fat and eathing on plates at tables with cuttlery.
Hope you feel better.

Posted by: Ddavis on October 10, 2005 11:25 AM

Pattie, I was just going to suggest Pepper Vodka!

Posted by: Tatyana on October 10, 2005 11:37 AM

Our grandmothers knew about this remedy and now scientists are catching on.

Posted by: nate on October 10, 2005 11:38 AM

Poor little thing!

I second Pattie's reco, only in toddy-and-tom-yum flavor.

And puzzles are nice, but nothing beats bad TV and favorite children's books when you're feeling poorly.

Posted by: Colleen on October 10, 2005 11:44 AM

When your sick the sense of taste and smell go wonky anyways. Suddenly healthy food tastes like hell. It takes a lot for junk food to taste bad. The cravings get less precise no more " I want french sourdough." instead you get " I want starch."

Posted by: Adela on October 10, 2005 11:45 AM

I know "studies" can prove nearly anything, but I happened to catch this about 4 seconds before reading your post:

Stupidly long url, but it basically says junk food can be good for you when you're ill. I say if you keep generally healthy, your body will give good advice on what to eat when, even if it doesn't agree with the latest science.

Posted by: Alice on October 10, 2005 01:15 PM

I've got to work on my illnesses, or something. I never get to stay home sick. (I haven't taken a sick day in years, really.) All my bodily discomforts happen in the middle of the night, or when I get home from work. They are always better the next day, so I have no excuse to avoid going back to work or taking care of the kids.

Words can't express how much I'd like to take time off and just watch bad T.V. lying on the couch. I don't think it's ever going to happen, though.

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on October 10, 2005 02:30 PM

Friedrich: "Words can't express how much I'd like to take time off and just watch bad T.V. lying on the couch."

I'll just say that it's less fun to lay about than you think when you can't actually follow the complex plot of a Hollywood action movie. Even one of the especially stupid ones.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth on October 10, 2005 06:45 PM

The ONLY time I ever like orange juice is when I'm sick, and then I love it. Macaroni and cheese is also good when sick. But the I'm-so-tired-I can't-move thing isn't much fun. I don't have the energy to do crossword puzzles when sick. I'd really rather have the day I had yesterday: Day off work, but perfectly healthy, kind of a chilly day---and I watched the "West Wing" marathon on Bravo. I hadn't seen any of them before, and I perfectly happily killed off 5 hours watching the Leo-has-a-heart-attck-CJ-becomes-Chief-of-Staff-Jimmy-Smits-is-introduced-as-up-and-comer-Tim-Matheson-tries-to-make-political-comeback episodes. Not that Jimmy Smits and Tim Matheson had anything to do with my enjoyment or anything. They are running a "West Wing" marathon on Bravo all week.

Posted by: annette on October 11, 2005 10:16 AM

Personal, and scientifically unfounded, opinion: if, when you're sick, you find yourself craving starchy foods and simple sugars, it could be due to the fact that these give quick glucose to the brain, without requiring as much digestive energy as protein.

A lot of times when I'm sick, I have no appetite at all, and won't eat. I really think that my body is strategically directing its energy toward my lymphatic system because, you know, going a couple days without eating won't kill you (if you're not diabetic or something.)

Posted by: Peggy Nature on October 11, 2005 11:31 AM

Last time I was sick (granted, with a pseudo-stomach issue) I drank white and green tea (bland) and ate nothing but those hot, chewy ginger candies from Indonesia (HOT) for about 24 hours. Then introduced canned chicken noodle soup (consuming only noodles). I'm still surprised that the sugar/ginger candies didn't kill me - but they actually seemed to fix me. Odd.

Posted by: M.J. on October 11, 2005 12:52 PM

I hope you're feeling better soon.

As for why we want what we eat when sick, comfort food sums it up pretty well. After all, what makes something comfort food? We have past experience with it making us feel better. Why did we like it initially? It tasted good, gave us a boost of some kind, and was probably easy to digest. I used to eat chocolate to settle my stomach (which worked for me), but I've trained myself to not go straight for the sugar option.

There's also something to home remedies... it seems like some of that must be biological when so many people swear by the same things. Or maybe we were all brainwashed as kids by what our parents gave us and told us would work.

Posted by: claire on October 11, 2005 09:02 PM

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