Tips to Live By

What to Eat After Food Poisoning or a Stomach Bug

July 13, 2023 - Katie McCallum

When stomach bug or food poisoning symptoms are causing you the most distress, eating is the last thing on your mind. Even taking a sip of water may seem repulsive, or just exhausting.

But once you are ready to think about rehydrating and replenishing your energy stores again, what should you start with? Knowing what not to eat after food poisoning is just as important as what foods and drinks you can try at your next meal.

"The specific guidance actually gets fairly personalized, based on how long symptoms last, how severe they got and how you feel along the way," says Dr. Neeharika Kalakota, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist. "Certain stomach bugs, like norovirus and rotavirus, are typically pretty short-lived. Other causes can result in symptoms that last for several days."

No two food poisoning recovery timelines will look the same, but here's a guide to the hours, days and weeks following onset of symptoms.

Hours 0-6: Ice chips only

You lose quite a bit of fluid while battling through those classic stomach bug and food poisoning symptoms — vomiting, diarrhea — which can put you at risk of dehydration. Once vomiting subsides, however, Dr. Kalakota gives the green light to start rehydrating by way of sucking on ice chips or a popsicle.

"In these first few hours, it's best to avoid chewing or swallowing," explains Dr. Kalakota. "And if you are more prone to dehydration, you might consider messaging your doctor to let them know your situation so they can provide specific recommendations, if needed."

Babies, toddlers and older adults are at greatest risk of dehydration, and health conditions like kidney disease and untreated type 2 diabetes can also increase dehydration risk.

6+ hours: Sip on clear liquids and assess your progress

Once you're able to suck on ice chips and everything stays down, Dr. Kalakota recommends sipping on clear liquids next. Ones that contain some calories can also help tide you over until you're ready to stomach solid foods again.

"You can have water, or this could be apple juice, grape juice — some people even like to sip on broth," says Dr. Kalakota. "Just be sure whatever you choose is flat and clear. Avoid drinks that are carbonated or you can't see through."

And this is when Dr. Kalakota reminds us that everyone's timeline will look a little different.

"You could feel up for this sooner than six hours," adds Dr. Kalakota. "This is just a general progression and timeline to consider. You can always accelerate these steps if you feel better more quickly."

You may also need to slow this timeline down, sticking with ice chips and popsicles a little longer — and even consult your doctor if your symptoms still aren't improving.

"If you can't even keep water down after six hours, it's time to start thinking about messaging your primary care doctor to see if there's anything they recommend you do," says Dr. Kalakota. "If things keep getting worse, and you feel like you can't manage your symptoms at home, head to the ER. Everyone has a different threshold for this, but it's something to keep in mind if you get worried."

In the ER, dehydration can be quickly tackled and managed via IV fluids.

"With a case of viral gastroenteritis where someone is vomiting a lot, I'll also usually start them on an antacid to help deal with the resulting esophageal irritation," adds Dr. Kalakota. "This can help provide some relief for the almost reflux-like symptoms that come with excessive vomiting."

After 24 hours: Try the BRAT diet

Next up are bland foods.

"You can start with what's called the BRAT diet, which stands for: bananas, rice, apples, toast," says Dr. Kalakota. "And if you don't like any of those, just be sure you're choosing something bland — crackers, plain grits, plain oatmeal."

Broken record here, but — again — the specific time frame for this depends on how quickly your symptoms improve and your stomach rebounds.

"Start slow," says Dr. Kalakota. "See how these foods and liquids make you feel and go from there."

The next few days to weeks: It's personalized, but here's what to avoid

Stomach bug and food poisoning symptoms can come and go as quickly as a couple of days, but they can also linger for several days to even weeks.

As you start to improve, you can incorporate more and more foods back into your diet — making sure to monitor how they're making you feel.

That said, here's Dr. Kalakota's list of what to consider altogether avoiding for a bit:

  • Caffeine (unless this causes withdrawal headaches)
  • Fried foods
  • Fatty foods
  • Spicy foods
  • Alcohol


"These are all things that can further irritate an already irritated stomach," says Dr. Kalakota. "And fatty and spicy foods can also make vomiting and diarrhea even more uncomfortable if either come back."

After a week or so: You should be back to your normal diet

Knowing what you can and can't eat after a stomach bug or food poisoning (as well as when) is pretty personalized, but the guide above can help you ease back into things without overdoing it.

"Most people typically feel better and are back to their usual diet after about a week, but everyone is different," says Dr. Kalakota.

Maybe you're ready for the BRAT diet by the end of the day but find that you need to avoid fatty, fried and spicy foods longer than a week. Or maybe you couldn't keep water down for more than six hours but once you started feeling better, your stomach seemed to rebound fairly quickly. Use the progression and timeline above as a guide, taking things slow and listening to your body along the way.

And don't forget: If you feel you can't manage food poisoning or stomach bug symptoms at home, go to the emergency room.

"If nothing else, you'll receive IV fluids to help rehydrate you, and you'll likely get some added peace of mind," says Dr. Kalakota.

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Categories: Tips to Live By