Poor appetite is one of the most common side effects of having cancer and undergoing treatments for your cancer. It can be frustrating for patients and their family members when a patient has no appetite and their food and beverage intake decreases and they lose weight as a result. In many cases, appetite does not generally improve during cancer treatments (unless an appetite stimulant is prescribed), though eating well is essential to helping the body tolerate treatment and heal appropriately.
If you or a loved one has a poor appetite during treatment, consider the following ideas to help:
- Set a schedule and stick with it. Eat every 2-3 hours according to the clock.
- Pre-plan your meals. On the weekend or whenever you have some free time, make a list of all of the foods planned for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks for the week. If mealtime comes around and the patient would prefer something else, be flexible and change to that food. Otherwise, use this structure to be providing consistent meals.
- It can often be difficult to think of foods to eat when you have a poor appetite. The caregiver could consider providing 3 food options and letting the patient choose which of those sounds the most appealing.
- Just because your body’s internal hunger signals aren’t working properly doesn’t mean you don’t need to eat. Use external cues to remind you to eat, such as trying to eat or drink something during every TV commercial; setting an egg timer, alarm clock on your cell phone, or reminder on the computer to eat every 2 hours.
- Use salad plates instead of dinner plates to serve meals on. Larger plates can often make food sizes overwhelming, whereas smaller plates can make them seem more manageable.
- Oftentimes high calorie liquids can be a great way to get quick calories down and may be an area to focus on. Since it requires less effort to consume liquids than solid foods, it may be helpful to push high calorie fluids. These could be cream soups; black bean, split pea, ham and bean, or broccoli cheddar soups; chili; commercial nutrition supplements like Ensure or Boost; homemade milkshakes or smoothies.
- Avoid foods or beverages low in calories like diet pop, black coffee, tea without added ingredients, and jello. Try to get as much “bang for your buck” as you can and consume beverages with calories.
- Take medications with a high calorie beverage.