Follow this ONE SIMPLE RULE and repair your immune system!
February 10, 2010 8:19 AM   Subscribe

What is the FIRST thing I should do to repair my battered immune system after a prolonged period of abuse?

I've been under a ton of stress lately, my diet is beyond horrible, I haven't been sleeping well, and my immune system has cracked under the strain. I've had multiple upper respiratory infections in the last few months, and my GI tract hates me. The stress is about to be lifted (mostly), and I will soon be in a healthier household and more stable environment.

I have a vague idea what I need to do to take care of myself (eat better, exercise), but it all seems so overwhelming. So I need ONE thing that I should do FIRST. I'll tackle the rest later.

FYI I don't smoke or use drugs, and I rarely drink. I'm a 35 y/o female, slightly underweight.
posted by desjardins to Health & Fitness (53 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: erm, I forgot to mention I have basically no money.
posted by desjardins at 8:21 AM on February 10, 2010

Stop with the coffee - if coffee's your thing.
posted by Jofus at 8:23 AM on February 10, 2010

Luckily sleep is free, and you'll probably be getting as much of it as time allows, if you are soon to be relieved of several huge stressors.
posted by chrillsicka at 8:24 AM on February 10, 2010

Eat a piece of fruit with every meal.
posted by something something at 8:24 AM on February 10, 2010

SLEEP. Take a warm bath, read a little in bed, then go sleep.
posted by castlebravo at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2010 [7 favorites]

Here's one sort of food you can add to your diet regularly - green leafy vegetables. Super healthy for you, and easy enough to add spinach or broccoli or chard to a salad or pasta sauce or whatever. Just no iceberg lettuce. That alone should help start boosting your immune system.
posted by Jupiter Jones at 8:25 AM on February 10, 2010

For me, it was scheduling my day. That sounds a little ridiculous. I know. Scheduling?! How is scheduling healthy?! But it is. I promise. Because scheduling makes everything else happen for me. If I don't have a grid in front of me that tells me that I'm allowed to read for 15 minutes, and then I have to exercise for 45 minutes, and then I have to eat for 45 minutes, and then I'm allowed to dick around for 15 minutes but then I have to go to sleep... I don't. I wont. I will stay up to all hours of the night having silly conversation on Twitter or surfing MetaFilter.

So in college I got a notebook of graph paper, because it has pretty lines. And I like pretty lines. And I sat down and I blocked my day out, pretty much in 15 minute intervals.

It was an exercise that was VERY effective - and lasting. Mostly, it was successful because it helped me better appreciate the value of time, and how long various things take. Now, I'm not so great at actually making a schedule for myself, but I have a good idea of what I should be doing at any given moment. And in playing around with my schedule, I have learned things like: when I can exercise, how much sleep I need to be human, that I'll never be a morning person (and that's okay), what time I'm going to start being ravenous and start eating like a pig, and other such valuable information to have about myself.
posted by greekphilosophy at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

Exercise -- on a schedule -- and the rest may follow naturally. Cheap yoga, perhaps? I don't know what's available in your area, but yoga combines the exercise and relaxation. It's like a workout and a pedicure wrapped in one big shiny package.
posted by brina at 8:27 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I vote exercise. It gives you more energy and helps reduce stress. The reduced stress (and being a little bit physically tired) will help you sleep. And, at least in my case, I find that I tend to eat better without thinking about it when I get more exercise, just because I crave more veggies, but YMMV there!

A few years ago, I was sick all the time, but now that I exercise regularly, I'm hardly ever sick. I had one cold last year, and that was it.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 8:29 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

The stress is about to be lifted (mostly), and I will soon be in a healthier household and more stable environment.

If the stress is about to be lifted and you'll be in a more stable environment, then if you are reasonably healthy, your immune system will improve lots no matter what you do.

But generally eating better, eating less, more veggies, and exercise does the trick. But here is the trick. To lessen stress don't overemphasize. You won't die or have your diet go straight to hell if you can't go to the gym every day or if you go out with friends and pig out.

The people who live the longest and are healthiest do things in moderation even healthy things. I say this because my wife's friend, who is a triathelete and who watches what she eats to a T seems to get sick more often than either my wife or me, but we you know, try to "mostly" eat right, and "mostly" exercise, but we like to go out and have fun every now and then. Professional athletes seem to be no more long lived than the general population (I understand that sports injuries, overtraining, and steroids etc. mean that the data can be skewed, but even in the old days, athletes didn't live longer)

No offense to Jofus but unless you're drinking like 8 cups of day, coffee is fine, really. If it were discovered today in the highlands of New Guinea and thus exotic everyone would be touting it as the latest "all-natural" health elixer. Have your morning cup w/o guilt. Have an afternoon one too!
posted by xetere at 8:40 AM on February 10, 2010 [8 favorites]

Seconding Blue Jello Elf's exercise recommendation. I used to get sick constantly, usually with respiratory infections, but now with regular exercise I am rarely sick. It's made such a huge difference in my life! I mean, there are many other benefits to regular exercise that I'm sure you know all about, but I didn't expect my immunity to increase so dramatically.
posted by zoetrope at 8:48 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Emergen-C, one a day. I drink one with seltzer every single morning and I have not yet gotten sick this year. Going for a walk every day counts as exercise as well and I find that just being outside for a little while each day works wonders with my general stress level.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:49 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am also voting exercise. I think 10 minutes of stretching and 30 minutes of brisk walking would do wonders for your outlook, your health and make you want to eat better. More vigorous as it feels appropriate.
posted by shothotbot at 8:52 AM on February 10, 2010

I do think that sleep is the most important thing. We underestimate how many other things are connected to sleep.

However, since you say you have trouble sleeping, I'm going to recommend something else as your FIRST. Every morning, as soon as you wake up, take a walk outside. Walk around outside for as long as you have time for, even if it's just around the block. It has multiple benefits. The exercise will be both good for your physical fitness and a stress reliever. Being in the sun gives you Vitamin D, and being in the sun first thing in the morning helps to regulate your internal clock, making it easier to fall asleep at night. And setting aside this time as your time to do something for yourself will give you time to catch your breath and think. So that's what I'd do FIRST.
posted by decathecting at 8:52 AM on February 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Sleep, exercise and meditation.
posted by studentbaker at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2010

Something you can do before you do your first thing: breathe.

Stress will kill you. I had a heart attack two years ago, at the age of 43. There are like a million things I do wrong with my life, and fixing it all may be beyond my abilities. But this breathing works.

Wherever you are, close your eyes and focus your attention on your lungs. Now focus on the rims of your nostrils. Breathe in as slowly and absolutely as deeply as you can. Do it slow enough so you can think about the breath as you are drawing it in. Visualize the air swirling around your nose...imagine it like oxygen is steam and your nose is a vacuum. See it going into your body. Imagine your blood (which really means your brain) being enriched with the one thing it needs...oxygen. Keep breathing in. As far as you can. And then just a bit more. Hold for a second. Count to three. Feel the top of your scalp tingle.

Now exhale slowly and steadily. Not in a rush. Visualize your breath as having collected stress from your body and now expelling it deliberately from you. Calm and slow. Discard everything from your lungs. Keep your eyes closed. Release the tension in your shoulders. Relax your face.

Do this two more times. Carry on with your day.

Good luck in finding the real first thing you can do. I'll be checking back here for those suggestions as well.
posted by nickjadlowe at 8:54 AM on February 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

Get some sunshine! I know it can be damned hard this time of year (I'm from Chicago) but if it's even mildly bright go outside for as long as you can stand and get some vitamin D going.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:02 AM on February 10, 2010

Cut down on sugar as much as you can. Candy, pop, chocolate, ice cream, white bread.

Fruit, fruit, fruit.
posted by 2X2LcallingCQ at 9:09 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

my diet is beyond horrible

I'd change this first. It affects everything else, and is fairly easy to swap out. Not knowing exactly what is in your definition of "beyond horrible" - I'm guessing pre-packaged foods? fast food? carb overload? - it's hard to be specific, but it's also hard to imagine how adding a bunch of fresh fruits and vegetables wouldn't automatically make you feel better, giving you energy to tackle the other stuff.
posted by jbickers at 9:10 AM on February 10, 2010

First, get a blood test to determine what sort of inefficiencies you likely have from whatever you've not been eating. For one example, you may be low on potassium, in which case simply eating a banana or two each day may be the cure for your woes.

I'm also underweight, same age, and have learned the hard way (via hospital stay) that it's important to get proper nutrition to build or maintain weight. But you can't do that correctly without knowing what's lacking in the first place. Multivitamins...they don't really target specific needs on what you may be low on.

Sleep all you want, but that's basically just stasis. IMHO, it's not going to help the root cause. Exercise I do agree can help, but it's also difficult to do when you may be malnourished in some aspect.

So, get a prick in the arm, find-out what's wrong, and take the appropriate measure accordingly.

/not a doc
posted by hungrysquirrels at 9:15 AM on February 10, 2010


1. GARLIC! It's delicious, and generations upon generations of old Italian grandmothers will back me up that it's good for your immune system. While you're at it, stop eating crap. And by crap I mean anything that has ever been individually wrapped in crinkly plastic.

2. RELAX! Take 30 minutes of your day to chill out. Listen to some music that calms you down. Read a book for the pleasure of reading a book. Sketch something cool that you see. Masturbate. Whatever you like doing. Just take time out when you're not running around doing a zillion things, you're just doing one thing, and it's for your own benefit. Every day.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:18 AM on February 10, 2010

Here's one sort of food you can add to your diet regularly - green leafy vegetables. Super healthy for you, and easy enough to add spinach or broccoli or chard to a salad or pasta sauce or whatever.

I agree, and don't forget kale. (Here's a whole blog about it.)
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:30 AM on February 10, 2010

When I was coming out of a stressful time (with pretty much all of the symptoms you describe) I found that my body just figured itself out for the most part. Some things that I did that probably helped:

1. Exercise. I was having horrible back pain from basically spending all winter laying on the couch and going to bed really early because I was pretty stressed out and depressy. I started riding my bike around when the weather got nice and I stopped having random back spasms after only two weeks. Since the weather still sucks, yoga or walking may also help just get you going again. Get a video from the library if you don't want to buy a gym membership or pay for a yoga class, there's also a lot of free stuff online.

2. New activities. That was the summer I started canoeing, found a bunch of new friends, started going out some evenings, and got passionate about a few areas of my life again. It is nice to be able to do something you WANT to do after coming out of a very stressful period. Even if it is just reading a book and chilling out by yourself.

3. Cooking more. I just tend to eat healthier when I'm not stressed out (poptarts for lunch again, wut?) and I think a big part of it is because I actually care about cooking again. Even if it is really simple salads, roasted veggies, whatever, just start packing tons of fresh fruits & veggies into your diet, and soon poptarts for lunch will fall by the wayside. Most of the time ;)

This is basically what got me out of my stress rut. My body eventually recovered from the stress, but it takes time and there is no magic bullet. Just give it time and start doing what you love to do again. Life was really great all of a sudden when I wasn't having a panic attack about 30 seconds after waking up every morning and I actually looked forward to meal times again. Hang in there!
posted by sararah at 9:38 AM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm going to second Emergen-C, but not as a replacement for also adding fruits and vegetables to your diet. I swear, I gave myself night blindness for about a year by eating mostly diner breakfast food and no vegetables. I am on Weight Watchers now and I can see in the dark. But, its a supplement that's easily digestible/absorbable (whereas vitamin pills don't always dissolve all the way in your system).

Sleep, but not too much. Sleeping all day or on a weird schedule isn't going to get you anywhere, but 9 or 10 hours a night if you can afford it is amazing.

Be hydrated. Your body is supposed to be 2/3 water but in dry winter weather and when you've been sick, the proportion goes way off. Coffee's not going to kill you but don't have more than 500 mg of caffeine per day.

I would say hold off on strenuous exercise until you're feeling a little better, but once you can handle it the adrenaline is really good for you.
posted by Tesseractive at 9:38 AM on February 10, 2010

Getting rid of the stress is the first and best thing you can do. Assuming that's taken care of:

Sleep. Learn to sleep first.

Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day. If you have trouble getting to sleep, don't sleep in to make up for it. Don't nap; it will disrupt your ability to get to sleep on time. When you begin to exercise, do it early in the day. Do something relaxing before bed. Use the bedroom only for sleep and sex. Consider adding white noise. Consider keeping a notebook by the bed for when thoughts are racing around in your head (particularly concerns and things that need to get done). It will help you let go of them.

Do as well as you can to establish a rhythm of better sleep every night. When you add exercise and a healthier diet, you'll sleep even better.

Second: eat three meals and at least one snack per day.

Third: exercise.

Refine and add as you can, e.g., add more fruits and veggies to your diet.
posted by moira at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

So much good advice here already, but here's my 2 cents.

If you've been on antibiotics for the infections, take some acidophilus as this helps boost the 'good' flora in your gut that has also been knocked out by the drugs. It also helps fend off a yeast infection (I'm sure you wouldn't need that added to the pile).

When I'm super run down I seek out extra b vitamin complex, rather than the usual multivitamin. I've taken this while in the UK. It's designed for older/younger people getting over illness and it really works. I guess something like Geritol is a good equivalent over here.

Diet is key, as others have mentioned. A great bit of advice is to chose food closest to it's natural state.

Sleep hygiene is important. Establish a routine, don't have the tv on in the bedroom, no caffeine or booze after early evening, have a bath, sprinkle lavender essential oil on your pillow, stick some hippy whale music on the cd player etc.

I've had long periods of intense stress which has totally knocked me out, and i've also had post viral problems, so I totally feel your pain. All the above works for me.

It takes a while to get out of the 'stress mindset' so don't beat yourself up if it doesn't happen immediately. Just set your course and let time be the healer. good luck
posted by poissonrouge at 9:49 AM on February 10, 2010

In order:

1. Sleep. This means actual sleep, not going to bed and reading or watching TV. Aim for the magic 8 hours. In order to facilitate this, discontinue any stimulant use 8 hours or so prior to your scheduled bedtime. (If you really need it, take half a benedryl no more than once or twice a week; and not for more than a week or two.)

2. Eat better. Eat vegetables. Eat them first. Stop eating grains and sugar. Stop eating packaged foods. Ground turkey is dirt cheap, a turkey patty and some sliced squash sauteed in butter and garlic/onion powder is mindless and cheap. Don't worry about fat, etc. for now, eat good food (eggs, lean meat, etc.) and just get rid of the processed crap.

3. Exercise. Start small. I would suggest weightlifting in preference to cardio, but that's because I find cardio impossible to deal with.

4. Refine 1, 2 and 3, progressively.
posted by rr at 9:52 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, and fuck supplements. Get everything else in order first.
posted by rr at 9:53 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Crap, I just realized you asked for one rule and not like all of them.

SO. Drink more water! That's my number one. It's easy, and probably not going to cost you anything.
posted by Tesseractive at 10:06 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Buy a bunch of pretty fruits and vegetables from the supermarket. They'll intrigue and inspire you and you'll eat them and the rush of nutrition will make your immune system say, hey, thanks.

You don't have to eat them and nothing else. Just add them where it's pleasant, have a salad, or some fruit for breakfast.

And nthing the others that first, get some sleep. Not sleeping will inspire me to nom my way through a bag of Doritos by noon. Sleep first.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:12 AM on February 10, 2010

Unless you have developed an actual, specific vitamin deficiency -- which is highly unlikely no matter how bad your diet's been -- than no amount of supplements, fruits + veggies, or other dietary modification will have any effect on your immune system, whatsoever.

Eating more fruits and other plants will, however, help you get more fiber in your diet, which will make your GI track much kinder to you, so it's not to say that eating better isn't a good idea.

One of the suggestions above I would heartily endorse is starting to get some exercise, particularly if you do so by taking part in some sort of weekly social physical activity. It's likely there are websites where you can join "meet up" groups for things like ultimate frisbee, soccer (indoor and out), dodgeball, etc. They're cheap, fun, they keep you coming back because your "team" is expecting you, and are generally a good morale booster when you've been locked away for a while.

One more really simple thing you can start doing to help fend off the upper respiratory infections is going out and getting a "neti pot" and engaging in a little nightly nasal irrigation. Your sinus areas don't get a lot of blood flow, which make them a great place for viruses and bacteria to hide out from your immune system after you thought you've fought off that cold/infection. Just a little saline wash will do a world of good.
posted by patnasty at 10:24 AM on February 10, 2010

One rule: No junk food.

I think that the easiest way to do this is to make a no-high-fructose-corn-syrup rule. I know, I know, it's just sugar...whatever you think about the HFCS debate, it does give you a simple RULE to follow. It'll cuts out soda, snacky-stuff, and almost all convenience foods. They're all loaded with too much salt, too much sugar, too many preservatives, too much white flour.

You don't need them. Anything you want but you think is hard to make, you come here and search Ask, and I bet we can tell you how to do it simply and cheaply.
posted by desuetude at 10:45 AM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I liked patnasty's post a great deal (seriously) but - rethink the neti pot thing, neti pots are kind of overrated.
posted by rr at 11:18 AM on February 10, 2010

As a fellow slightly underweight woman, I have to correct this statement.

But generally eating better, eating less, more veggies, and exercise does the trick.

It should read: But generally eating better, eating more, more veggies, and exercise does the trick.

I know, because the first thing that happens when my days are overscheduled is that I forget to eat. In the hurry to get out of the house, I leave my lunch on the counter at home, and then I don't notice that I've done that until 9am rolls around. Then I don't have time to grab something from even a vending machine (because my life doesn't put me near them these days. I miss being a student.), and by the time I'm ravenous and cranky and ready to eat my own eyeballs, it's time to leave work and get on a bus. At least in the subway in NYC there might be a kid selling candy bars that fell off a truck. Not here in South Florida.

So not eating enough stresses me out, makes me tired, screws my concentration, and causes my weight to drop alarmingly in just one day. Make it a habit to carry food everywhere you go. For me, this is (real) cheese and crackers, and a piece of fruit. Plus the lunch that I sometimes forget on the counter. But if I can get the cheese into my bag, I'm less screwed if the lunch is spoiling at home. Still screwed, but not as badly.
posted by bilabial at 11:34 AM on February 10, 2010

Response by poster: Here is what I have eaten/drank in the last 36 hours:

Monday dinner: Half of a sub sandwich. Apple juice.
Tuesday breakfast - Nutrigrain bar, vanilla frappucino
Tuesday lunch - some microwaveable turkey sandwich thing. Can of coke.
Tuesday dinner - chicken tacos, leftover from some Mexican restaurant (not Taco Bell). Orange juice.
Today breakfast - chocolate mini donuts (2), vanilla frappucino

How horrible is this on a scale of 1-10, 10 being omg you're gonna die?
posted by desjardins at 11:49 AM on February 10, 2010

I agree with sleep. Stress is tiring, your body needs time to recuperate (and there are direct links between your imune system and your sleep cycle, sleep isn't just stasis or a waste of time). Sure exercise is nice but it's tiring too, not what you need right now. So worry about exercise later, rest first until you feel better. The only way to right chronic sleep debt is by sleep, and working out how/when/where to exercise will be much easier once you've done that.

There's no one thing you can add or remove from your diet to fix up your immune system (note: this is the area I research in, if it was as easy as some people up there are making out my PhD would be done by now). But eating better all around will make you feel better in general, which will then set you up for more specific taking care of yourself stuff. So improve the quality of the food you eat as much as you can without stressing about it (whole grains, lean protein, complex carbohydrates, fresh fruit and veggies replacing processed food and junk food, the standard 'good diet' stuff) and you can look at your diet in more detail when you're feeling stronger, more rested and less overwhelmed.

Um, yeah, and totally forget supplements unless you have an actual measurable deficiency, last thing you need now is expensive pee.

Probiotics can most definitely be helpful for GI problems but keep in mind it's totally transitory. The 'good' bacteria in them don't stay in your gut and colonise, they flush out within a day (plus, you know, we've only characterised something like a few percent of the organisms in there so anyone who claims to understand gut flora is lying). Also probiotic therapy is assuming your gut flora are out of whack, recent research suggests there are mechanisms in place for it to replenish and self regulate it's own flora (absent any other pathology) so the negative effects from antibiotics etc were likely transitory too. Plus some people just get the shits form yoghurt in general. So if taking probiotics makes you feel better than do it for a while, otherwise don't worry about it. Less stress and a more balanced diet should help your sad tummy right itself anyway.

Take home message: Don't fret about making everything better now, your body will do a lot to recover on it's own. Just catch up on sleep and relaxation, make small changes wherever you can, then work on the rest of it as and when you feel up to it.

I can find you research to back this stuff up and show why other are wrong where I contradict them, as I said I specialise in the interplay between diet, immune system and gut health, but I figured you don't really need the technical crap right now.
posted by shelleycat at 12:05 PM on February 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

How horrible is this on a scale of 1-10, 10 being omg you're gonna die?

Heh, not bad enough that you're gonna die :-P But you're probably not eating enough and I don't see any fruit or vegetables in there. Plus donuts for breakfast strike me as kind of sugary and unselfsustaining, they'd give me an early sugar spike followed by a crash before lunch, ouch.

How I'd change Monday's diet based on my own personal preferences:
- add a pot of yoghurt to breakfast, being sure it contained live cultures (but then I love strawberry yoghurt)
- possibly a boiled egg for morning tea as I'm trying to up my protein intake during the day, I boil a whole batch in the weekend and just throw one in my bag
- have a turkey sandwich for lunch that was made of whole grain bread and possibly had some salad type stuff in there too
- have fruit for afternoon tea, right now it's fresh plums and nectarines (one of each) but in winter it would be citrus or imported pineapple
- have a big salad with the tacos (which I would probably make myself because mexican is one of the few things I can cook, the meat is easily made in the crockpot with any spicy sauce I have around, then I just buy tacos and refried beans and add salad)

Even if the sandwich and tacos and salad are all bought and all have extra dressing or whatever on there and aren't the most nutritious food in the world, adding those extra fruit and veggies and calories would go a long way to making it a reasonable day's diet. Hell, I even buy single serve tubs of precut fruit sometimes, I'm that lazy, it's still fruit after all.
posted by shelleycat at 12:17 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Popping in again to add:

There are a lot of different opinions here on the best route to take. Stress reduction, sleep, diet, and exercise are all backed up by studies, but I don't know that there is any comparative data saying which has the largest effect. My personal kryptonite is even the smallest amount of sleep deprivation. I can get by indefinitely on a crappy diet and no exercise, but throw in a week's worth of poor sleep and I'm barely able to cope with mild stressors, and my body is open to any random bug flying around. For somebody else, though, diet may be the essential ingredient. Give some thought to your own past experience. Which kills you the fastest?

In the end, it probably matters less which of The Big Four you chose to start with, and more that you simply start with one of them and add the others as you can. Whichever your starting point, I wish you luck.

(On preview, shelleycat has some beautiful advice.)
posted by moira at 12:32 PM on February 10, 2010

1) Eat good food and sleep.
2) Frappucinos are not even remotely good food.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:32 PM on February 10, 2010

Wow all that sugar can't help things. Those frappucinos, you might as well be having a milkshake. I mean, have some whole grain cereal or oatmeal with banana or toast with peanut butter.

When I'm really feeling awful I usually take extra vitamin C, just some fresh squeezed orange juice, or maybe some Emergen-C, though only part of a packet at once (you can really only absorb a certain amount in one day). Sometimes I'll get one of those smoothies in a bottle, you know, the superfood thing, though again.. it is very sugary, that's not an every day thing, but if I feel a cold coming on and don't care to have much solid food, I'll have one. Also fresh vegetables (broccoli, spinach, etc) if possible. What about some chicken soup? Processed stuff and fast food is really not good for you..
posted by citron at 12:40 PM on February 10, 2010

20 minute walks every day. You get exercise, you get stress relief, you get time for yourself. I would recommend doing some of them without headphones, just to let your mind clear itself. Walking is free and can be done anywhere. If it's cold, bundle up! If it's pouring rain - well, skip it, don't beat yourself up over it. I would urge you to go outside over walking on a treadmill but if a treadmill is all you have, go for it.
posted by micawber at 1:04 PM on February 10, 2010

I'd try to add fruits & veggies to your diet before worrying about cutting out the sugar. When I'm stressed out, taking away my comfort food doesn't tend to work as well as adding more healthy stuff. You probably know what's going to work better for you in that regard though!

I have trouble getting enough fruits & veggies too. I find it helps if I can cook up a bunch of something (steamed broccoli, green beans, or whatever you like) once during the week and then eat the leftovers at subsequent meals. (If I have to think about cooking veggies every day, it's... unlikely to happen.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010

Vitamin D, 2000 IU per day. Given that it's winter and you're under stress, you're probably pretty depleted.

It's one of the cheapest vitamins (about $4 for a bottle of 100), with the least risk of overdose.

Alternatively, eat lots of herring. That gives you Vitamin D plus Omega 3 fatty acids too :-)
posted by Araucaria at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010

Monday dinner: Half of a sub sandwich. Apple juice.
Tuesday breakfast - Nutrigrain bar, vanilla frappucino
Tuesday lunch - some microwaveable turkey sandwich thing. Can of coke.
Tuesday dinner - chicken tacos, leftover from some Mexican restaurant (not Taco Bell). Orange juice.
Today breakfast - chocolate mini donuts (2), vanilla frappucino

Ohhhh, honey, you need more food in your food. You're not going to omg die, but this is a lot of classic sugar-high-CRASH stuff. A little more planning to give you better convenience food could go a long way.

Do you have a fridge at work? I buy a big box of multigrain crackers and some cheese, and have that for breakfast at the office. (I cheat a little on the cheese and get the individually wax-covered rounds of Laughing Cow sometimes because they do fine w/out refrigeration.)

For yogurt, I like to buy a big thing of plain good-quality yogurt and dump a tablespoon of honey in it, myself. (I'm not anti-sugar. I love sugar.) Hard-boiled eggs are a lot of nutrition in a small cheap package. I don't like them plain, myself, but I like almost anything smeared on whole-grain crackers or flatbread. See also hummus.

Remember microwave cookbooks? Go get one used for like 2 bucks. Giggle at the pictures, yes, but you can make full-on meals, fast, in that microwave at work.
posted by desuetude at 1:23 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

How horrible is this on a scale of 1-10, 10 being omg you're gonna die?

The problem is, people eat all the time an people die all the time, so the amount of false predictions based on imagined causality could be high. Every eat-healthy system points out something else as lethal.

That said, reducing the average sugar intake to about a quarter of the amount quoted above, and replacing some of that for honey and fruit, while even otherwise increasing vitamin intake, preparing your own food, using a lot of garlic, olive oil, yogurt (and meditation) and other real unprocessed ingredients instead of eating prepackaged stuff, eating slowly, and, say, walking to the shop instead of driving (or whatever else will be doable in terms of regular albeit moderate exercise) would probably serve both your health and greatly spare your purse.

Ah, and: for me, all this would in fact be "ONE thing I'd do FIRST"
posted by Namlit at 1:37 PM on February 10, 2010

Nthing sleep first. I'd been under a lot of deadline driven, sleep-deprived stress for five years before I got a chance to sleep until I was satisfied, every day. I don't know how reflective skin is of the state of your immune system, but my skin cleared up and looked healthier. After I got sleeping sorted out, diet and exercise were much easier to deal with because I could think more clearly and act with discipline.

There are other suggestions already for helping you get to sleep, but here are some others that worked for me:
-light stretches to relax
-setting up your bed/bedroom so that it encourages sleep: make it quieter, dimmer, and try to get it to the temperature you like for sleeping, surround yourself with textures that are very comfortable

Also, yes, add more fruits and vegetables to your diet if diet is the thing you want to tackle. This thread has some good suggestions, and I'm sure there are plenty more if you look in the archives.
posted by millions of peaches at 1:40 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

In case it wasn't obvoius my second comment was actually referring to Tuesday's diet. I've spent the whole week trying to work out what day it is, bleh (Thursday, for future reference).

Removing sugary crap is usually good diet advice but, as bilabial has pointed out, desjardins is underweight and by the looks of things probably not eating enough. So worry about swapping out that stuff later, for now focussing on adding fruit, veggies and low GI energy sources is probably more important.
posted by shelleycat at 1:41 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely seconding Vitamin D supplements. An article in the New England Journal of Medicine a few years back basically said that a large portion of the population is likely vitamin D deficient, and clinicians have been finding more data to support that vitamin D deficiency can cause all sorts of issues (including immune-related ones).

Vitamin D is fat-soluble, so fortunately you'll store any extra that your body doesn't need.
posted by sciencemandan at 3:46 PM on February 10, 2010

Translating the food just to give some perspective:

Monday dinner: sandwich + sugar water
Tuesday breakfast: candy + a milkshake
Tuesday lunch: sandwich + sugar water
Tuesday dinner: chicken tacos + sugar water
Today breakfast: candy/pastries + a milkshake

You are an underweight 35 year old woman who eats an awful lot of sugar and primarily highly processed empty calories. You are setting herself up for long term issues. Please consider eating better (and eating more, if you are honestly underweight [be careful here: slender is not "underweight"]).
posted by rr at 4:24 PM on February 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

1 thing? Get your sleep back on track. You'll be able to pursue the rest of the amazing advice above much more effectively.

I'd say "Luck!", but I think "Fortitude!" is going to be a bigger help, here.
posted by batmonkey at 5:05 PM on February 10, 2010

P.S. I bet most of us who are coming down hard on your diet are doing so 'cause we've subsided on largely empty calories and sugar ourselves at some point. And maybe even have had a similar day recently despite our fanatical devotion to the best-tasting and healthiest food ever.
posted by desuetude at 6:26 PM on February 10, 2010

Fewer dessert-beverages, more vegetables. You need to eat plenty of vegetables every day.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:35 PM on February 10, 2010

Um, what about water? I say sleep and drink lots of water, followed by exercise. Even if you just cut out sugar w/out doing anything else to your diet, you will feel a lot lot healthier.
posted by Rocket26 at 7:36 PM on February 10, 2010

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