Oliver started daycare last Thursday. One of my first thoughts upon entering the centre and seeing 11 other little vectors sharing toys and a single change table was, “Oliver is going to get sick. A lot.” At almost six months old, Oliver’s immune system is far from mature — and everything he touches goes into his mouth. He is still breastfed, of course, but breastfeeding has its limitations, especially when a baby is exposed to a pathogen to which his mother has not been exposed.

The daycare had a notice posted declaring that their recent gastrointestinal outbreak was officially over — that is to say, there had been no new infections within the preceding 48 hours. Apparently they failed to take into account that six new children started attending the centre within that 48 hour period, all of whom would have been susceptible to any lingering germs on toys and other surfaces.

As predicted, Oliver got sick.

J and I were extremely diligent about washing our hands and sanitizing surfaces after every diaper change or vomit, and by the time we went to bed Saturday night, we were feeling pretty good about our odds of having escaped the affliction.

But it was not to be, and both of us woke up sick Sunday morning. We are past the worst of it now, but still unable to eat much in the way of solids without, um… consequences.

So how does a Paleo adherent survive and recover from a stomach bug without resorting to the decidedly un-Paleo BARF (bananas, applesauce, rice cereal, formula) and BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diets that are commonly recommended for babies and children/adults respectively?

Firstly, it must be said that for babies, vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydrationa life-threatening condition that can deteriorate very quickly. As soon as we realized Oliver was sick, we called HealthLink (8-1-1) to speak to a nurse and determine whether we needed to bring him to see a doctor. Once it was determined that Oliver was not exhibiting any signs of dehydration, we began treatment at home.

The nurse suggested administering Pedialyte, but we were not keen to give Oliver a product containing sucralose, acesulfame potassium and artificial flavour (though we would of course do so in an urgent situation). My instincts told me that the very best thing I could give to Oliver would be unimpeded access to breast milk. I began to feed him in brief but frequent sessions, which helped both to keep the milk down and to prevent dehydration (since foremilk has a higher water content than hindmilk). We did not give any solids, as we knew they would only serve to further upset his compromised digestive tract.

We also increased Oliver’s consumption of baby probiotics, in order to repopulate his gut flora and hopefully help him to fight the bug more quickly.

The vomiting ceased immediately after switching to shorter feedings, and three days later, Oliver seems mostly back to normal (save for being a little bit more tired and cranky than usual).

Breastfed babies are easy, but what about older babies, children and adults? Here is how we have been dealing with the unpleasantness, without deviating from our Paleo plans:

In the acute phase, the less one takes in, the less comes violently flying out one end or another. Because dehydration is always a concern, we tried to take tiny but frequent sips of water (note: if this causes you to run to the toilet after every sip, it is actually better to wait until water is tolerated than to risk losing more fluids). Later, we tried some herbal tea (e.g. mint and chamomile) to settle the stomach and diluted coconut water (about one third coconut water to two thirds water) to help restore electrolytes.

Once we could keep things down (and in) for any length of time, we began drinking bone broth, which helps to restore minerals lost through vomiting and diarrhea. Homemade broth is always best, but in a pinch, broth made from scratch in a restaurant or grocery store is infinitely better than the processed, packaged stuff you’ll find on the grocery store shelves. We had a friend bring us some chicken broth from Whole Foods (made in store) and it was actually quite good.

Once we started to feel a little bit better, we made smoothies from coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk, a little bit of fruit and a dose of Bio-K+ probiotics. I have learned from past experiences that high-potency probiotics help me to tolerate regular food much sooner than I otherwise would. I particularly like Bio-K+ because it is live, raw and extremely potent. It is expensive, at more than three dollars per single-dose bottle, but worth its weight in gold during times of illness. I start by taking half a bottle a day, and increase to as much as two bottles per day until all of my symptoms are gone. I prefer the original, unadulterated, fermented dairy version, but for those averse to the taste of sour milk, there are sweetened and flavoured varieties, as well as rice and soy based versions.

Next, we tried some solid food: scrambled eggs. This was relatively well tolerated, and we thought we were on the mend. J also had a little bit of roast chicken without much trouble. Then, this morning, we got excited (starving, actually) and decided to try bacon and eggs for breakfast. This was a stupid idea, and I think we both knew it at the time. Animal fats do not help an upset stomach. We have probably set our recovery back by a day, if not more.

Tomorrow, if we’re feeling better, we will stick to eggs, chicken, small amounts of fruit and cooked vegetables. Hopefully, by being kind to our stomachs for another day, we will be able to resume eating our regular favourite foods by  the end of the week.

The last two times I suffered from gastroenteritis, I followed conventional wisdom and ate easily-digestible carbohydrates, à la BRAT diet. In both cases, it took me two to three weeks before my digestion was fully back on track, and even longer to overcome the resultant carb addiction. I can’t help but think that this experiment will result in a faster recovery, with the added benefit of not having derailed our Paleo eating.

Have you ever tried sticking to a Paleo diet when you’re feeling sick, or do you reach for the carb-laden comfort foods of days gone by?


  1. Does the entire first 16 1/2 weeks of pregnancy (not that I was counting) count as an illness? I tried so hard to stick to and recommit to paleo so many times but am sad to report I was mostly unsuccessful. I wish I had thought of broth. I also wish I had known about animal fats bothering the stomach. I was forever trying to eat bacon thinking any protein was better than none. Love this post and I will keep this info in mind.

    • Sixteen and a half weeks? 😮 Oh my gosh, poor you!!

      I was lucky to have dodged the morning sickness bullet, but I’ve heard from many other Paleo moms that basically all they could eat during the morning sickness period was starch and grain products, despite their best intentions. I think when you’re having trouble keeping food down for such an extended length of time, you really do have to resort to eating whatever appeals to you, even if it’s not the type of food you’d normally want to eat.

    • Agree with C. I was mildly sick the first 16 or so weeks too. I found that protein before bed and throughout the day was most helpful to me. I think if I didn’t get ahead of it with the protein at night, I could never really feel better and reached for the crackers and ginger ale. I was not thinking paleo back then… More traditional and whole foods so I made these delicious crackers for myself, trying to be good. The love of my life and father of my children ate them all in like two days ;-). Not worth it. I digress.

      I found this page because I was trying to understand how in the world the brat diet is supposed to be good for my little girl with GI issues. It seems so counterintuitive to what our bodies need. Reading this just sounds so much more nutritious and it just makes sense! It does not surprise me at all that you recover quicker by restoring nutrients and probiotics and actual nourishing foods. Just because your body can’t handle much doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to, right? You don’t give a child candy just because it’s the easiest thing to make them eat. Why would you do that to a sick belly? So thank you for the advice. Sounds great for my girl and yummy too.

  2. Hi C,

    Wow, sorry to hear that. We just started daycare as well, and though nothing happened yet, it does indeed seem to be a nexus for all sorts of infections. Being summer over here in Sydney helps though, but we’re crossing fingers for when the weather will become colder.

    Many thanks for your recommendations on probiotics, for adults, but also especially for infants. I’ve put them both on Healthy Living Tribes for reference. You access all 2 pages plus your own’s here:

    I would love to have your recommendations on HLT. Your posts are so well researched, it would be a truly great honor to have your own recommendations on HLT for the community’s benefit. If you want to, I can quickly create new pages for the stuff you would recommend, based on a list of links you send by email. Or I could help reduce the time on your side in other ways. Just let me know if you want to 🙂

    Best of luck for the recovery!

    – Julien

    • Hi Julien,

      I have been contemplating starting to add selected product reviews and recommendations to my blog, but am still struggling with how I can implement the process without turning this blog into a product promotional vehicle (which is not, and has never been, my intention). Once I do so, however, there will be a category or two on the righthand side bar that will link to any of my reviews and/or recommendations, which would make it easy for you to then pull the links and add them to HLT.


  3. Pingback: FabBecky's journey to Primal Fabulousness - Page 5 | Mark's Daily Apple Health and Fitness Forum page 5·

  4. Pingback: 10 WAYS TO SURVIVE A STOMACH BUG « daisyandzelda·

  5. Hi, I am currently recovering from a stomach bug. I’ve seen many people advocate bone broth as something to drink when your stomach is unwell, but as you said, animal fats dont help, so my question is, should I skim off the fat of the bone broth??

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