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Getting Sick Is Not a Good Weight Loss Plan

The magic of vomiting and diarrhea doesn’t last forever (you hope)

To state the obvious, no one likes getting sick. You’re either freezing, boiling hot, vomiting profusely or shitting yourself like your drink got spiked with a weapons-grade laxative. If you’re really unlucky, you’ve got all four symptoms, slowly but surely reminding you why death is the only peace.

There is, however, one silver lining to being sick: The fact that you can sometimes lose a few pounds without even trying. It’s not exactly a healthy way to help you lose those last 15 pounds, but it is nonetheless the only way we know to drop weight just by lying in bed binge-watching Hawaii Five-O.

As for why this happens, well, it depends on what you’re afflicted with. “When you have gastroenteritis (more often called the stomach flu), the most common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea,” says Jeremy Korman, medical director of Marina Del Rey Hospital’s bariatric program. “If you have diarrhea and vomiting multiple times, you lose a lot of body fluid in a short amount of time.”

Furthermore, according to Korman, it’s unlikely that you’re able to keep any food or liquids down, so you can’t replace what you’ve lost. “This drastic change in fluid volume in your body can show up on the scale,” Korman explains. “If your symptoms last for several days, the weight change can be pretty drastic.”

Alternatively, if you’ve got the common cold, your ailing weight loss plan includes an entirely different formula. “Loss of appetite can occur when you have a cold, which can lead to a slight weight loss,” says Korman. “This symptom is caused by a release of cytokines from the white cells that fight off infection. Cytokines are chemicals that circulate in the blood to the brain and cause fever and fatigue, in addition to loss of appetite.”

Here, though, is the problem with the “get sick, lose weight quick program”: It’s temporary.

Really temporary.

“Since most of the weight that comes off when you’re sick is ‘water weight,’ it will likely come back when you’re feeling better and eating and drinking again,” says Korman. “This is because when you’re vomiting, you aren’t losing fat. Your body is trying to get rid of the virus, bacteria or other germs that’s making you sick. Once you’ve recovered and can return to eating like you did before, all (or at least most) of the weight will return because you are able to hold food and liquids down again.”

All of which is to say that what you might think of as the one silver lining to getting sick isn’t really a silver lining at all.