Have you lost your desire to eat? If so, you're not alone. Loss of appetite is the second most common side effect experienced by cancer patients. It can be caused by a number of factors, including (but not limited to) the cancer itself, cancer treatment, certain medications, constipation, nausea, fatigue and depression and/or anxiety.
It's so challenging to eat enough to meet your body's energy needs when you don't feel like eating. Here are some tips and suggestions to try when overcoming your loss of appetite.
1. Schedule your meals
Right now, your appetite is not reliable. If you wait for your body to tell you when to eat, you'll not eat enough to support your body's recovery and healing. Set aside time each day for meals as a part of caring for yourself. Start with four smaller meals, and plan your eating times in a realistic way. For example, plan meal times around treatment schedules, naps, and other parts of your day. Consider how long it typically takes you to finish a meal as well.
2. Concentrate those calories
One way to help is by concentrating the calories in your foods. This means you can eat a smaller portion of food with the same amount of calories. The key is to add different types of fats to your meals and take note of foods that fill you up without providing the calories you need. For example, try full-fat dairy instead of low or no-fat. Add mild oils or cream to foods you already enjoy, like soups and oatmeal. Try a small serving of roasted vegetable soup alongside a sandwich instead of just eating a large salad.
3. Include protein every time you eat
Getting both enough total calories and enough protein can help you tolerate your cancer treatment better, help you maintain your strength, and support your immune system. While the specific amount of protein you need depends on several factors, including your height and weight, type of treatment, and activity level, knowing that protein is an important part of meals and including some form of protein each time you eat can be so helpful. Easy sources to consider include eggs, cheese and other dairy, nuts, meats, and protein powders.
4. Consider high calorie/high protein drinks for meals
When chewing becomes a chore and fatigue really sets in, try drinking your meals! You can use a combination of drinks to help meet your needs. Suggestions include fruit-based smoothies made with nut butters, milkshakes with full-fat ice cream, ready-to-drink nutrition supplement drinks, and even blended soups with added protein and calories.
5. Drink low/no-calorie fluids between meals
Any fluid, including water, can make you feel full. If you're used to drinking a lot of liquids with your meals, consider saving those beverages for between your meals (as hydration is important, too!). That way, you can save the room you do have in your stomach for foods or high calorie/protein drinks that provide the nourishment you need.
Written by Amber Thomas
Ask Amber Thomas, our resident cancer nutrition specialist
What can help with constipation during treatment? Are there any diet choices you can make to live better with cancer? How can you feel more calm and enjoy food again? What can you do to cope with fatigue?
These are some of the questions and areas Amber can help with.
If you have something on your mind, simply post your question on our Q&A Forum and she'll be in touch within 72 hours with a personalised response.
is a registered dietitian nutritionist and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition with over 15 years experience counseling men and women who have faced a cancer diagnosis.
Before starting her private nutrition practice Cancer Nutrition Solutions
in 2019, she counseled thousands of individuals undergoing and recovering from cancer treatment while being employed in hospitals, cancer clinics, and home health care. Amber
has in-depth knowledge of the side effects that come with cancer therapies and how nutrition and nourishing the body plays an important role in maintaining strength throughout treatment and healing afterward.
She now teaches cancer patients and survivors how to separate the guilt and shame from food choices, feel calm and confident when eating, and make choices that support both the body and the soul.
For more information, please visit Amber's website