Maureen Fraîche

Mixing Business and Pleasure in the Kitchen

Ad Nauseam

Anyone who has experienced prolonged nausea knows that awful doesn’t even begin to describe it. As with many other persistent conditions, the thing can start to take on a life of its own, dominating your thoughts and actions. Simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, and even brushing your teeth can seem insurmountable.

Over the past several years, I have worked with countless individuals struggling with nausea, including more severe cases involving chemotherapy patients as well as expectant mothers with hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme and debilitating nausea and vomiting beyond normal morning sickness).  Below I’ve put together a list of tactics that have been helpful.  Of course, no single to-do list will work for everyone; some strategies work famously for some and send others bolting for the bathroom.  If you or one of your loved ones is struggling with nausea, I hope this list will give you some effective strategies to try.  If you have any you’d like to add, please do so in the comments!

  1. If you are prescribed medications for nausea, take them as prescribed. While it might be tempting to skip your anti-nausea/anti-emetic when you’re feeling well, nausea is a lot like pain; once it gets out of control, it’s harder to rein in.
  2. Fluids are essential. When you’re nauseous, you are at double risk for dehydration due to poor intake and increased losses if you’re also vomiting. To add insult to injury, dehydration can also worsen feelings of nausea. Hydration has to be your top priority.
  3. Oftentimes, it can be easier to drink than eat. Make your fluids do double-duty by choosing caloric beverages. Juice, milk, chocolate milk, nutritional drinks, smoothies, sports drinks, soda, ginger ale, cocoa, cider–stock up on lots of options and keep track of your intake. Just think, if you shoot for 8 cups and each cup has at least 100 calories, that’s an extra 800 calories.
  4. Go for ‘wet’ foods. Not only do they provide fluid, but they usually require less chewing and don’t sap what little saliva you might have if you’ve been vomiting and are bordering on dehydrated. A few ideas might be canned soups, applesauce, fresh and canned fruit, pudding, yogurt, smoothie pops, popsicles, ice cream, sherbet, and sorbet.
  5. Smells are a huge trigger for nausea. While nasty smells are obvious, other seemingly innocent odors and fragrances (like lotions or perfumes) can also spell trouble. Do what you can to keep your surroundings odor-free, such as switching to fragrance-free products (unless a particular smell is enjoyable for you) and cracking a window to let fresh air in.  The cool air might be helpful in its own right.  Getting on the subway?  Tuck some pleasant smelling thing (lemon slices, a yummy lip balm, mint gum, etc.) in your bag to sniff in case there’s a stinky situation.
  6. More on odors. Food odors, to be specific. If you’re in the grips of nausea, cooking can be a horrendous thing. And, even if you manage to cook that meal without getting sick, odds have it you’ll have little desire to eat what you’ve just prepared. Make life easier for yourself by buying pre-cooked food when possible or food that requires a short cook-time. Keep the fan on and open the windows while you’re at it. If it’s nice out, cook outside. If friends offer to bring dinner, take them up on it and provide suggestions for what you can tolerate.  Another way to limit food odors is by serving food cold or at room temperature (assuming it’s been properly cooked first), thus cutting down on steam odors.
  7. Try refreshing tastes…and tastes that don’t trigger gastric flashbacks (AKA reflux). Fruit, sherbet, sorbet, and ginger (which has natural anti-nausea properties) are all good to try.  Greasy, acidic, heavily seasoned, strongly pungent or aromatic foods–like onions and garlic, for example–are best avoided for now.  They can be tough to get down and even harder to keep down, especially if you’re tasting them every time you burp.  While your food doesn’t have to be utterly bland and tasteless, go easy.
  8. While crackers and toast are well and good (and a common recommendation for nausea), studies have shown that adding protein will do more to quell nausea than carbs alone.  A bit of cheese, yogurt, or a few bites of left-over chicken would be quick and easy additions.
  9. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Take small portions and eat frequently. I often encourage my patients to use small cocktail-size plates and dixie cups. While you might feel a wee bit silly at first, a few sips or bites are much less daunting than a plateful of food.
  10. Distract yourself while eating. Read a magazine. Watch a show. Listen to a podcast. Sit outside.  Left alone to your thoughts and nausea, you’ll be more likely to either lose your appetite or lose your lunch.
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7 thoughts on “Ad Nauseam

  1. Brilliant! Thank you!

    I’ve learned to not use/eat any of my favorite scents or foods during my pregnancies so after the nausea has ended, I can still have my favorites without unpleasant flashbacks.

    Also to help ward off offending smells, I slather baby vicks vapor rub under my nose (less menthol so it doesn’t burn). It looks ridiculous, but it is easier for me to deal with one strong scent then a barrage of different smells.

    • Yes! Excellent! Food aversions can be a frustrating consequence–especially for children–so avoiding favorite foods can be huge.

      The Vicks trick really works–thanks for the reminder!

  2. Thanks, Maureen, this is all so true!! (I think #3 kept me from starving through my HG pregnancy!)

    I had to learn #1 the hard way – it doesn’t help that most insurance only covers 3.5 days/month of popular antiemetic, Zofran! You think you should be saving those pills like precious gems instead of popping them every 4 hours.

    One thing I would recommend others try, too, is rest and quiet. Being in a quiet (white noise only), dark room and lying down was as close to respite as it got. For the days I spent in the bathroom I even kept the lights off!

  3. Thanks so much for the input. I frequently have nausea I think due to my medications. It can be overwhelming. Although I rarely have problems with vomiting, the fear that I might when I have to go out is worst than the actual feeling of nausea. Hence, I often will stay home. I do put myself on a somewhat bland diet when these episodes occur and it does help.

    • When I had morning sickness, I would stash large zip-lock bags all over the place–my bag, the glove compartment, behind the couch, wherever. Somehow knowing I had *something* in case of emergency was reassuring.

  4. Jessi Riba on said:

    Thank you for the information. I am in my second pregnancy with hyperemesis gravidarum, and am really struggling with liquids the most. I haven’t been able to keep water or ice chips down for some time, and carbonated waters still make me so nauseous. I’ve only found luck with caffeine free coke, but it usually makes me feel even more thirsty because of the sodium. Have you come across this before and know anything that might be helpful? Thank you!

    • Hi Jessi-
      Remember that any liquid except for alcohol will hydrate you, so whatever you find you can keep down should be on your beverage list. As far as sodium goes, I wouldn’t worry about that. Sodium can be your friend anytime there is a risk for dehydration. Being an essential electrolyte, it can be depleted during times of increased losses–such as during HG–and consuming foods/beverages with sodium can help restore proper fluid balance. So experiment with all sorts of beverages and at different temperatures, such as various waters (mineral, sparkling, seltzer, club soda) plain or flavored (with juice, lemon, cucumber and mint, etc), teas, juice, sports drinks, sodas, frozen blended drinks or smoothies, etc. Remember those wet foods can really help, too–fruits, veggies, soups, yogurt, etc. Blessings on your second pregnancy and let me know if you have other questions!

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