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Nutrition and Cancer: Nutritional Management of Loss of Appetite

Nutritional management of treatment side effects

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

As each person's individual medical profile and diagnosis is different, so is his or her reaction to treatment. Side effects may be severe, mild, or absent. Be sure to discuss with your cancer care team possible side effects of treatment before the treatment begins.

Nutritional management of loss of appetite

There are many things that cause a loss of appetite. Nausea, vomiting, or changes in food’s taste or smell all may contribute to a person losing his or her appetite. Sometimes, the cancer treatment itself will make you feel like not eating. Your emotional state and how you cope with your cancer may also cause a loss of appetite. Talk to your doctor about these things because, in addition to the eating and nutrition tips here, there may be medications or other suggestions that will help you. Suggestions for managing a loss of appetite include the following:

  • If you feel you cannot eat regular food for any meal, try liquid meal replacements.
  • If you cannot eat very much at one time, eat throughout the day. Try eating small, frequent meals. Small high-protein, high-calorie snacks can make up for larger meals.
  • Keep easy to prepare and nutritious foods within reach so you can have something whenever you feel like it. Do not forget to take a snack with you whenever you go out. Try these snack ideas:
    • Cheese and crackers
    • Muffins
    • Ice cream
    • Peanut butter
    • Fruit
    • Pudding
    • Liquid supplements
  • If you cannot eat solid foods and cannot drink liquid supplements, try to drink beverages during the day. Juice, soup or broth, and other similar fluids can provide important calories and nutrients.
  • Change the way you eat certain foods or the time you eat them to make them more attractive.
  • Try soft, cool, or frozen foods.
  • If possible, 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.
  • Do not 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 friends.
  • Wine or beer may stimulate your appetite. A small glass of wine or beer during a meal may be okay. Check with your doctor or registered dietitian.
  • 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 help you develop an appetite.

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