Tips to Combat Appetite Loss During Cancer Treatment

The following post is written by Paula Meeks, registered dietitian with Woman’s Hospital.

One of the most common side effects patients feel from their cancer treatments is a loss of or decrease in their appetite. The appetite loss can last for just one or two days after a treatment session, or it may persists throughout your course of treatment.

Nausea, vomiting and changes in how foods taste or smell are all possible reasons for a decreased appetite during cancer treatment. But your body needs food for energy, especially when undergoing treatment for cancer, and patients cannot let appetite loss stop them from getting the proper nutrients.

So how can you manage to eat enough to stay healthy when your body is telling you not to eat? Here are 10 quick tips that can make eating easier for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

  • When it is hard to eat, drink a liquid or powdered meal replacement. We recommend Carnation Instant Breakfast packets as suitable meal replacements or supplements such as Muscle Milk, Boost and Ensure.
  • Eat multiple small meals each day instead of three large meals. You may find it helps to eat smaller amounts at one time. This can also keep you from feeling too full.
  • Keep snacks nearby for when you feel like eating. Take easy-to-carry snacks such as peanut butter crackers, nuts, granola bars or dried fruit when you go out.
  • Add extra protein and calories to your diet. This includes putting cheese on a sandwich, using whole milk instead of skim milk or putting peanut butter on a piece of toast.
  • Drink liquids throughout the day—even when you do not want to eat. Choose liquids that add calories and other nutrients. These include juice, soup, and milk and soy-based drinks with protein. We recommend Ensure as a good calorie-rich liquid.
  • Eat a bedtime snack. This will give extra calories but won’t affect your appetite for the next meal.
  • Change the form of a food. For instance, you might make a fruit milkshake instead of eating a piece of fruit.
  • Eat soft, cool or frozen foods, which include yogurt, milkshakes and popsicles. This will also help avoid nausea that some patients get when smelling hot food.
  • Take advantage of eating when you feel well and are rested. For many people, this is in the morning after a good night’s sleep.
  • Sip only small amounts of liquids during meals. Many people feel too full if they eat and drink at the same time. If you want more than just small sips, have a larger drink at least 30 minutes before or after meals.

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