Five Things Friday: Helpful Tips for Loss of Appetite

Happy big family having fun while they lunch around a picnic table in summer.

Are you going through treatment and don’t feel like eating? Loss of appetite is common. Good nutrition is vital if you have cancer because both the illness and its treatments can change the way you eat. Breast cancer treatments kill cancer cells. But these treatments can also damage healthy cells, and damage to healthy cells can cause side effects that lead to eating problems. Though you might not feel like eating, it’s important to maintain your calorie, protein, and fluid intake during breast cancer treatment.

The Benefits are Real

Eating well while you’re being treated for breast cancer can help you:

  • Feel better
  • Keep up your strength and energy
  • Maintain your weight and your body’s store of nutrients
  • Tolerate treatment-related side effects better
  • Lower your risk of infection
  • Heal and recover faster

Tried and True Tips

Always call your doctor first if you experience any eating problems during treatment. Use these tips to help plan meals and snacks that will be more appealing and provide the nutrition you need to get healthier.

Small portions of food1. Eat Small, Frequent Meals.

If you have no appetite or feel full quickly, try eating several small meals, several times a day. A few tips:

  • Smaller portions may be easier to digest.
  • Be sure to eat more when you’re hungry.
  • Take advantage of the times when you feel your best to eat more.
  • Schedule mealtimes if you never seem to feel hungry. It is often better to eat according to a schedule, rather than to rely on your appetite.
  • Keep snacks handy.

2. Increase Calories the Easy Way.

Every person with breast cancer will have different nutritional needs, but people being treated for cancer sometimes need more calories (energy) than usual. High-calorie snacks requiring little or no preparation include cheese, ice cream, canned fruit in heavy syrup, dried fruit, nuts, peanut butter with crackers, cheese with crackers, muffins, cottage cheese, and chocolate.

3. Boost Protein Intake.

People with breast cancer often need more protein than usual to heal damaged tissue and help fight infection. We need protein for growth, to repair body tissue, and to keep our immune systems healthy. When your body doesn’t get enough protein, it might break down muscle for the fuel it needs, lowering your resistance to infection and making it more difficult to recover. Good sources of protein include:

  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Lean red meat
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Milk

Protein shakes4. Drink Plenty of Fluids.

Staying hydrated is important. However, try to drink liquids between meals instead of with meals if you’re already struggling with your appetite. Drinking liquids at mealtime can often fill you up. Also, when you don’t feel like eating, try liquid meals, such as flavored supplements, and use a straw if it helps. Studies show that fluids:

  • Control your heart rate and your blood pressure.
  • Keep your body temperature steady.
  • Remove toxins and waste.
  • Carry nutrients and oxygen around your body.
  • Protect organs, tissues, and joints.

5. Gentle Physical Activity.

Whether you have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer or are undergoing treatment, one of the best ways to take care of yourself is to stay physically active. Add some form of regular exercise to your daily life. Moderate aerobic exercise can enhance your physical well-being and spur your appetite. Try some of the following:

  • Ride a stationary bicycle.
  • Take a daily walk.
  • Perform light aerobic exercises.
  • Use light weights for strength training.

Always discuss with your doctor or your physical therapist the type of exercise you are considering, to ensure it will be safe.

Set the Mood.

Finally, create a pleasant atmosphere for your meals and make mealtime as enjoyable as possible. Try eating with friends and family, playing music during your meals, or eating by candlelight. These tricks can help make food more appealing, contribute to an increase in your appetite, and inspire you to maintain a healthy diet.

Take Care of Yourself

Use the information provided here to help plan meals and snacks that will be more appealing and provide the nutrition you need to get better. Always check with your physician or dietitian if you have concerns about the changes in your appetite during breast cancer treatment or are experiencing any physical discomfort that is affected by or brought on by eating.

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