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Losing your appetite when you have lung cancer

By Nicole Erickson M.Sc, Registered Dietitian

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What should somebody eat if they have lost their appetite, or feel full very quickly?

Think about timing:

  • Make an effort to eat regularly- even if it is only a few bites or a sip of a high calorie drink. If you need to, set yourself an alarm every 3 hours and eat when it goes off
  • Try eating a bedtime snack – this will help increase the number of calories you take in on the whole
  • There may be times of the day when you have more appetite, or you don’t feel quite so full – use these times to eat the biggest meal of the day or your favourite high calorie foods
  • There is no bad time to eat, and no wrong food choices: eat whatever and whenever the timing is right

Make every bite, and every sip, count:

  • Choose beverages and food with calories in them. Look at food labels and choose the items with the most calories per 100 grams of the item
  • Keep food on hand at all times: small containers of crackers and cheese, biscuits, small cakes, dried fruit, trail mix, chips, granola bars or protein bars are easy to transport and provide small high calorie snacks. Tipp: Keeping snacks visible helps remind you that it is important to eat even if you don’t feel like it

Additional advice:

Worrying about not eating or pressure from concerned loved ones can further reduce appetite. Try to make meal times fun and ask your loved ones to help you by making the foods look appealing while ensuring a relaxed atmosphere. Ask them to serve you small amounts on a small plates to make the meal size not appear overwhelming.

Ultimately, your loved ones care about you and are trying to help, but sometimes it might make you feel anxious, or even a little annoyed after a while! If you are still struggling, consider having an honest conversation with them about how you are feeling and what your circumstances are. Explain that there are certain foods that you cannot eat – either because you have been advised not to by your doctor or a dietician, or you simply because it’s too difficult for you at the moment. Also gently let them know that their attitudes to your food and eating are affecting you and making things more difficult.

To improve things, try involving them in the process when it comes to eating and food – keep them up to date on any conversations you have with your dietician or doctor, let them help you prepare your meals, and just let them know if you don’t think you can manage a certain food.

Cooking meals has become difficult during treatment. How can I still ensure I get enough to eat?

  • Preparing larger amounts of food requires almost the same amount of effort as small amounts. Use the times when you have more energy to prepare foods and freeze them in small portions at the times when you need them
  • Food can also be prepared while sitting if it makes it easier for you
  • Frozen, canned, and convenience foods often require little preparation, yet are often high in nutrients. Do not hesitate to use these when you are struggling with meal preparation
  • Store any leftovers in single-serving containers in the freezer or in the refrigerator
  • Supermarket deli foods and/or carryout food from restaurants offer partly or fully prepared meals. While avoiding buffets is recommended for hygiene purposes, it is still possible to find a variety of partially or fully pre-prepared items in individual packaging
  • There are also a variety of delivery services that will pick up foods from participating restaurants and deliver them to your door
  • Don’t be afraid to accept help from family, friends, and your community
  • Consider using meal delivery services such as "Meals on Wheels"

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