The 11 Best Comfort Foods For Chronic Illness

by Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro
Two friends are eating a meal together at a restaurant. Comfort foods can be soothing to people livi...

There are times that living with a chronic illness can make it nearly impossible to cook yourself a meal, much less find the energy to do the dishes, or clean the kitchen. For people living with chronic illness, having go-to comfort foods to reach for during a flare can be an especially important form of self-care. When you're stressed, depressed, or in pain due to an influx of symptoms, nothing is more satisfying or filling than having your favorite meal. Sometimes, comfort foods can mean the difference between eating or not eating on certain days.

"I hate the concept of depriving myself of things I love. [...] When we're dealing with the challenges of [an] invisible illness, we need to find the small things in life to enjoy," Harper Spero, the host of Made Visible, a podcast that highlights the stories of people living with invisible and chronic illnesses, tells Bustle.

Sometimes finding the "small things" to enjoy, like Spero says, can simply mean dishing up something delicious when chronic illness-related symptoms start to arise — whether that means getting late-night delivery from the local pizza joint you love, or having someone bring you a homemade meal. From fast food to fresh fruit, here are the comfort foods that 11 people living with chronic illness reach for during a flare.


Harper, 34


Spero says, "Although I know that when I'm dealing with a flare-up I should be eating healthier, my body immediately craves carbs and dairy. My go-to food for that is pasta. It's comforting and satisfying."


Matt, 40

Matt says that though he doesn't necessarily experience physical flares with his kidney disease, he has depressive episodes after doctor visits. "My disease has a lot of dietary restrictions so I treat myself with something kind of 'against the rules' on the way home for being brave. Usually, it’s a massive bean, rice, cheese, and potato burrito."


Anna, 29

Joshua Resnick/Shutterstock

For Anna, pizza is her feel-good meal for when she's in the midst of dealing with PCOS, bipolar disorder, or complex PTSD symptoms. Because who doesn't love pizza?


Alexandra, 21

"When I am struggling, I tend to go to pasta. Something about pasta just makes me feel better at least for a short time," says Alexandra. "However, when I am really struggling, I eat a lot of berries and other foods with antioxidants, because I know those vitamins help my anxiety."


Jordan, 23

"I love good cheese and crackers," says Jordan. "Also, if I’m feeling up to it, some meat and pears."


Kelsey, 29


"For me, comfort food during a flare up is one of the only things that helps. It has to be easy, though. Chipotle is always a good choice because it's filling, and can be delivered," Kelsey says. "I also usually keep pre-made casseroles from Costco around because they are usually pasta, super rich, and filling. [...] Wendy's is a go-to also. Really, all comfort foods from my childhood."

She adds that, "Getting a big burrito and eating it while watching my favorite show is extremely comforting because it's really distracting on every level."


Alexandria, 29

Alexandria, who lives with bipolar disorder, says her "go-to comfort food is macaroni and cheese, or some kind of fried food."


Jenn, 53

Having multiple chronic illnesses can mean craving different comfort foods depending on the flare. "Migraines want carbs like mashed potatoes, fibromyalgia wants juice, [and] depression wants bread — sometimes with cheese," Jenn says of her go-to bites.


Megan, 21


"I believe that people should enjoy food, and I have slowly begun to learn how to do that," says Megan, who lives with the chronic condition interstitial cystitis (IC). "When I have an [interstitial cystitis] flare, the first thing I have is tea with honey and juniper berry oil — for whatever reason, this seems to calm the symptoms. I alternate tea with medication until the flare passes. Also, tea just comforts the soul."

"My other favorite go-to during a flare is a fruit smoothie. [...] Smoothies are the perfect, delicious, and calorie-filled solution," she says, adding that toast with jam and honey, eggs, and occasionally Mexican food are her other go-to comfort foods during flares.


Sarajane, 41

"I get the big bags of Swedish Fish. It's something small and sweet. And, it doesn't require too much chewing," Sarajane says.


Athena, 20


For Athena, who lives with both chronic physical and mental health issues, comfort means having dessert for dinner sometimes. "I have a huge sweet tooth," they say. "My go-to food during a flare-up is always classic birthday cake."

Living with a chronic illness is difficult, and for those of us who do, feeding ourselves and cooking can feel next to impossible. Flares can be debilitating, but having someone deliver food, or stocking the pantry and refrigerator with favorite foods is one way to make sure you stay full. Comfort foods obviously won't cure chronic illness, but having some to reach for can make it a little easier to cope on the bad days.