Many people have been advised at one time or another to feed a cold or starve a fever. They may wonder whether there is any benefit in following this advice. So far, there is no solid proof that following this advice facilitates recovery. There may be some logic in this advice, however, as it seems to be patterned after what many people are likely to do when they are feeling ill. For example, people who are caught in the throes of fever may be less likely to feel up to eating anyway.
The feed a cold, starve a fever advice may have come from personal observations of behavior during colds and illnesses that cause fever. Often, people who have colds still have at least some appetite, even if it is somewhat diminished. Interestingly, a person’s appetite may be directly related to his symptoms. For example, a person’s sense of smell influences the taste of the food he eats. If a person’s cold includes a very stuffy nose, he may feel less enthusiastic about eating because the taste of his food may be altered; a person who has a sore throat may also feel less interested in eating, as swallowing may hurt.
An individual with a cold, even one that causes a stuffy nose or sore throat, may still have more appetite than a person with a fever, however. This may explain the reasoning behind the feed a cold, starve a fever advice. People who have fevers may experience short-term appetite loss, and the severity of the fever may directly affect appetite. Those who have high fevers may have less appetite than those with low-grade temperatures.
Fever is often accompanied by fatigue and headache, both things that can affect a person's appetite. Any other symptoms a person has, such as gastrointestinal changes or sore throat, may serve to further impair his appetite. If the fever is prolonged, a person’s lack of appetite may actually cause him to lose weight.
In general, it doesn’t matter much whether a person decides to feed a cold and starve a fever or opts to do the opposite. What does generally matter is that he continues to drink plenty of fluids. Physicians often recommend water and juice as the best options for those who are sick. Experts also say alcohol is best avoided during this time, as it can contribute to dehydration. If a person’s appetite is diminished for more than a few days or long after his symptoms have ended, he may do well to seek a doctor’s advice.