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Nutritional Management of Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment

Nutritional management of treatment side effects

There's more to nutrition during cancer and cancer treatment than getting enough calories and protein. The foods you choose can also help you cope with side effects, such as loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chewing and swallowing problems, and taste changes.

Just as each person is different, so is their reaction to treatment. You may have severe, mild, or no side effects. Be sure to talk with your cancer care team about possible side effects you may have. It helps to know what to expect and what to watch for before the treatment starts.

Nutritional management of loss of appetite

There are many things that can cause you to eat less than usual, feel full quickly, or just not feel like eating. Nausea, vomiting, mouth sores, or changes in food’s taste or smell all may make you lose your appetite. Sometimes, cancer treatment and cancer itself can cause changes in your appetite. Your emotional state and how you cope with your cancer may also cause a loss of appetite. Talk with your healthcare provider about these things because, along with the eating and nutrition tips here, there may be medicines or other ideas that will help you. Tips for managing a loss of appetite include:

  • If you can't eat regular food, try liquid meal replacements. Ask your healthcare team what type they recommend.

  • If you can't eat very much at one time, eat throughout the day. Try eating small meals often. Small high-protein, high-calorie snacks every few hours can make up for larger meals.

  • Keep easy to prepare and healthy foods within reach so you can have something whenever you feel like it. Don't forget to take a snack with you whenever you go out. Try these snack ideas:

    • Cheese and crackers

    • Yogurt

    • Muffins

    • Eggs

    • Trail mix

    • Peanut butter

    • Fruit

    • Pudding

    • Liquid supplements or protein shakes

  • If you can't eat solid foods and can't drink liquid supplements, try drinking other beverages. Juice, soup or broth, sports drinks, smoothies, and other fluids can provide important calories and nutrients.

  • Change the way you prepare certain foods or the time you eat to make food more appealing.

  • Try soft, cool, or frozen foods. Eat food cold or at room temperature if smells bother you.

  • If you can, try eating something at bedtime. It will not affect your appetite for the next meal.

  • Take advantage of times when you have a good appetite and eat well.

  • Don't drink too much while you eat, and stop drinking a half hour to an hour before you plan to have a meal. This may improve your appetite.

  • Plan an enjoyable meal. Make food attractive and relax while you eat. Eat with family and friends.

  • Use plastic utensils if metal utensils create a bitter, metallic taste.

  • Do some physical activity each day even if you feel tired. Even a very short walk, a light housekeeping task, or playing with a pet can increase your appetite.

Talk with your healthcare providers about what you can do to get the nutrients your body needs. Ask them what changes you need to tell them about right away. For instance, you may be told to call if you can't keep food or liquids down for 24 hours or longer, have pain when eating, or lose 3 or more pounds in a week. You may need medicine to help you eat. And you may want to meet with a dietitian to learn what to eat when you don't feel like eating.

Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Sabrina Felson MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Todd Gersten MD
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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