Why is it important to eat well when you have COVID?
It is important to eat the right foods while you are recovering from Long COVID because this helps your body to have the fuel it needs get better and recover.
- Rebuild your muscles
- You to gain weight if you have lost weight when you were unwell with COVID
- Improve your immune system, which protects you from illness and helps your body to get better
- Provide fuel to help you manage your symptoms and your body to try to recover
If you have been ill with COVID, you might:
- Not want to eat
- Find it hard to eat
- Lose weight from not eating enough
If you start to lose weight or feel weak and tired, you should speak to your healthcare professional.
You might have problems after COVID that stop you from wanting to eat or change what you eat, such as:
- Loss of taste and smell
- Being out of breath
- A dry mouth
- Finding it hard to swallow
- Feeling like you want to be sick
- Having an upset stomach
- Being constipated (finding it difficult to poo)
You might feel too tired to eat, cook or go shopping for food.
What can I do if I have problems eating?
Loss of taste and smell
Usually, your senses of taste and smell come back after COVID. Find out more about Taste and smell.
Being out of breath
- Try to eat 4 or 5 smaller meals during the day
- Try not to have a drink with your meals and instead drink between your meals
- Soft food such as mashed potatoes and soup can be easier to eat if you are out of breath
A dry mouth
- Take small sips of water or hot drinks throughout the day
- Suck on sugar-free sweets or chew sugar-free gum
- Try sucking on crushed ice, frozen fruit or ice lollies
- Have your food with: sauces (try to use low sugar and low salt sauces), gravy, yoghurt or low fat dips.
Contact your GP or pharmacist if your mouth is sore as they can give you advice about this problem.
- Take your time to eat your food and have a rest in the middle
- If you are too tired to cook, you can try a ready meal that you can heat up in the oven or microwave
- See if someone can help with cooking, or batch cook and freeze food
- Try to eat fruit and vegetables which require little preparation, for example, cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce
- Break the cooking into small sections with rest periods in between
Constipation means you find it difficult to poo or you cannot poo at all, this can be a side effect of medication or because you are not moving around much.
Here are some things you can try to help with your constipation:
- Drink lots of water (6-8 glasses during the day)
- Eat food such as: porridge, whole meal bread, nuts and seeds, beans, fruit and vegetables.
You can speak to your pharmacist about treatment options for constipation.
If you are getting stomach cramps or nausea after eating, consider keeping a food diary, and noting when you get symptoms. Your healthcare professional will then be able to review this.
If you continue to have problems eating:
- Ask your GP for advice and they may refer you to a dietitian for further support if needed – a dietitian can advise you on the right food to eat
- Speak to your pharmacist
Healthy eating and drinking
A good diet is important for health and can support your recovery from COVID. Eating a variety of foods can improve general wellbeing, reduce the risk of conditions including heart disease, stroke, some cancers, diabetes, and osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and help you manage your weight.
This is general advice only. If you have a medical condition that requires a special diet, for example, diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease, please ask for more advice from your GP or healthcare professional. They may refer you to a dietitian for further support if needed.
What should I be eating for a healthy diet?
To have a healthy diet you should be eating food from the four main food groups:
- Carbohydrates, for example, pasta, bread, potatoes
- Fruit and vegetables
- High protein foods, for example, fish, chicken, beans, pulses/lentils
- Dairy, for example, milk, yoghurt or a vegan option
The Eatwell Guide (below) shows you how much of these foods you should eat to have a well-balanced diet. The recommended daily calorie intake is 2000kcal for women and 2500kcal for men to maintain a healthy body weight.
Am I a healthy weight?
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body mass index (BMI) is a general way of identifying whether your weight is likely to be healthy. Other factors also influence your health risks, such as smoking or your family history of ill health, but BMI is a good starting point.
Work out your BMI by using the NHS BMI calculator to find out if you are a healthy weight, underweight, overweight, or living with obesity.
Warning (!): BMI is a useful measure, but it is not the perfect measure of your overall health. BMI does not consider your age or gender and cannot tell the difference between excess fat, muscle, or bone. This means:
- BMI can’t tell if you’re carrying too much fat or if you’ve got a lot of muscle – adults and athletes with lots of muscle may be classed as ‘overweight’ or even ‘obese’ when they have a low body fat
- Pregnancy will affect a woman’s BMI – if you are pregnant, you should use your pre-pregnancy weight to calculate your BMI as using your pregnancy weight may not be accurate as BMI increases as weight increases
Even though BMI does not always give a clear answer, BMI is a useful starting point for assessing someone’s weight. Talk to a healthcare professional if you have any questions about your BMI.
Underweight (BMI less than 18.5)
When your weight is lower than what is considered healthy for your height, it is not good for you. It can weaken your immune system, cause your bones to break more easily and make you feel tired. If you are concerned your weight is too low, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare professional.
Healthy weight (BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9)
If your BMI falls in the ‘healthy weight’ category it is likely that you are a healthy weight for your height. Being a healthy weight means that you are at a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke compared to individuals who are overweight or living with obesity. However, it is still important that you eat a healthy well-balanced diet and exercise regularly to lead a healthy life and maintain your weight.
Overweight (BMI is 25 or more) or living with obesity (BMI is > 30)
If you are overweight or living with obesity, losing weight can benefit your health and wellbeing:
Making small positive changes to what you are eating and drinking and how active you are, depending on your levels of fatigue, can have a big impact on your weight over time. Research shows that even losing a small amount of weight can improve your health. For example, for people who are overweight, losing about 5kg can almost halve their chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
To lose weight, you need to eat fewer calories. Exercising more is good for general health but can be difficult with Long COVID and tends not to be a successful strategy to lose weight unless you eat less as well.
Getting support that is right for you
You are more likely to reach and keep a healthy weight if you lose weight healthily with support. Decide what you need and who you can ask for help. This may be a friend, partner, healthcare professional, support group, or website. For example, you might ask a friend to attend an exercise class with you or ask a partner to follow the same eating plan as you.
There are lots of different weight loss plans that you can follow to help you successfully lose weight and keep it off, including the plans listed below.
Start the NHS weight loss plan
Download the NHS weight loss guide; a free 12-week diet and exercise plan. This plan is available as an app (App Store or Google Play) or you can download the plan in PDFs and print them week by week or all in one go – go to: https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-weight/start-the-nhs-weight-loss-plan
This plan is designed to help you lose weight at a safe rate of 0.5kg to 1kg (1lb to 2lb) each week by sticking to a daily calorie allowance. As part of this plan, you can set weight loss goals, plan your meals, increase your activity level – depending on your ability, and record your activity and progress.
Please read the fatigue page and avoid exercise if it makes you feel worse but try to consider what you can do. Find out more information on the getting moving again page.
‘A psychology based weight loss programme that teaches healthy habits and empowers you to make better choices’. This app-based programme can be viewed on a mobile phone or tablet device and costs around £4 per week.
‘Lose weight online and get slimmer, fitter and healthier’. This online programme aims to help you improve your wellbeing through healthier food options and physical activity see above re safe activity. You can join this programme for around £1 per week.
MAN v FAT
MAN v FAT is the UK’s biggest men-only weight loss community. Males with a BMI over 25 can sign up to the MAN v FAT challenge: a 12 week weight loss programme with weekly fitness and nutrition challenges. This challenge is online and may be free (after a 50p joining fee) if you sign up via the NHS better health website – go to: https://www.nhs.uk/better-health/lose-weight
‘Lose weight, stop-calories counting and fall in love with food again with this online programme that focuses on long-term results’. The tools in this app include a meal planner, weight and steps tracker, exercise toolbox and hundreds of healthy recipes. This app costs around £7.50 per week.
Healthier for life
‘Go plant-based, eat well, lose weight and feel great’. This online plant-based weight loss programme features a food and exercise diary based on plant-based eating, with real-life coaching support and lots of vegan recipes. This app costs around £1 per week.
‘Make a fresh start with new healthy habits for lifelong weight loss’. Slimming world prices start at around £4 per week.
‘A personalised plan with live and on-demand coaching to help you lose weight and stay healthy’. If you sign up via the NHS Better Health website, you may be able to get your first four weeks free. After this, prices start at approximately £15 per month.
To find out more about these organisations and their weight lose tools and programmes visit the NHS Better Health website – go to https://www.nhs.uk/better-health/lose-weight/
Alternatively, you could follow the ‘Facts not Fads’ simple guide to healthy weight loss created by the British Heart Foundation. This guide is available to download from: https://www.bhf.org.uk/
There are lots of different paths to lose weight and what works for someone else may not work for you. You might have to try a few different things to find out what works best for you. Talk to your healthcare professional for more help and advice.
Changing your diet won’t happen without thought and preparation. Think about the times you are likely to want to eat or which will fit in best with your job or family. Then plan for what you will eat. If you plan ahead, you can use this to plan your shopping too. Making a shopping list means you won’t have too much extra food in the house and won’t then be tempted to “finish it off”.
As part of your plan, set yourself rules. Rules stop you having to think too hard about everything you do. Only you can decide whether it’s better to say I won’t eat any cheese at all, or I will only eat cheese once a week.
Eat at regular times
Help your body know when to expect food by eating at regular times each day. This can also help keep your blood sugar stable, improving your blood sugar levels.
Eat mindfully – focus on what you are eating
Don’t eat while you are doing other things. Sit down at a table, avoid other distractions, such as TV or books, and enjoy what you are eating. Take your time eating so you can enjoy your food.
Eating food quickly increases the chances of eating too much.
You’re learning new habits and that is a tough thing to do. You need to keep a check on how you are doing. Here are some things you should check every week:
- Your weight – write it down and keep the book by your weighing scales
- Your physical activity – check how much you are doing and gradually increase the amount, bit by bit
- Your food -keep a food diary, perhaps not the whole time, but a few days here and there. Be honest and write down everything you eat. Have a look at this at the end of the week. How well does this meet your plan? If you broke your plan, what can you learn so that it doesn’t happen again?
Don’t let a small lapse trigger a big collapse!
We all have times when we don’t stick to our good intentions. The important thing is to get back on track.