Everyone responds differently to the side effects of cancer treatment, especially as it relates to appetite. It’s important to arm yourself with knowledge so that you and your family are prepared to deal with the side effects that you may experience from treatment, which can include:
- Lack of appetite
- Getting full too soon (after eating small quantities of food)
- Changes in the way things taste
- Metallic taste
- Dry mouth
- Mouth sores (which can really affect your appetite and make eating more difficult)
Many things can impact your appetite, or lack thereof, while you are undergoing treatment. But it’s also a time when getting the right nutrients into your body really can make a difference in your recovery. Arm yourself with as much information as you can so that side effects are better managed!
How to Manage Loss of Appetite from Cancer Treatment
Talk to your doctor about enlisting the services of a nutritionist, if he/she hasn’t already offered this option. Nutrition therapy is an important part of cancer treatment. Your nutritionist will create a diet plan to ensure you get all the essential nutrients you need for physical strength, the ability to fight off infection, and the strength to get through treatment without interruptions.
The nutrients you get from foods and supplements, as well as other appetite aids that your medical team may recommend, are designed to help you bounce back after treatment. Because treatment affects your immune system, you need to do your best to make sure you are eating the right foods to boost it back up – and not just during chemo, but also during radiation and the time in between. This is one time you don’t need to watch your calories – you need to consume them!
You and your family need to understand that what constitutes proper nutrition for you as you undergo treatment for any cancer, is vastly different than the recommended dietary guidelines for people who don’t have cancer.
1. Don’t worry about when or how often you eat. If you’re not hungry, try eating small meals several times a day.
2. Snack when you’re hungry and make a point of always having your favorite snacks around.
3. Don’t think about the amount of food you eat at one time. Let your body be your guide.
4. Avoid drinking with your meals because liquid fills you up. But make sure you don’t get dehydrated.
5. Keep track of the time of day or hour at which you consistently feel hungry and plan to have food ready to eat at those times.
6. Focus on higher calorie foods that are also high in protein, such as:
- Protein bars
- Granola bars
- Nut butters
- Dried fruit
- Ice cream
How to Make Eating More Comfortable
If you have trouble swallowing, look to nutrient-rich, high calorie and high protein drinks. Look for meal replacement drinks that are easy to digest and have essential vitamins and minerals.
If you feel uncomfortable because your mouth is dry, consider purchasing a spray for dry mouth that contains Xylitol. Xylitol is widely recommended by dentists for patients whose medications cause dry mouth. It’s also helpful for killing bacteria in the mouth. ACT and Biotene make lozenges, gels, and oral rinses in addition to sprays. Soothease™ Natural Chemo Drops are perfect for treating dry mouth, as well as mouth sores, lack of taste buds and the metallic taste that is common with treatment.
Use ginger to alleviate nausea. Ginger root, ginger tea, and crystallized or candied ginger products are widely available at gourmet, health food and many local or national grocery store chains. Ginger ale is another option. Queasy Drops and Pops can also provide relief from nausea and they are made from all-natural herbs and essential oils.
Don’t be afraid to let your family members, friends, neighbors or other volunteers do the grocery shopping and cooking, so you don’t have to worry about it. Your loved ones want to be helpful and be there for you. Just give them your list and let them take over!
Create an atmosphere where you eat by adding flowers to the table, or playing soft music in the background. Adopt different plate sizes, so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the quantity of food on a plate. A small amount of food on a large plate will look a lot less overwhelming. Eat with your family or friends. The presence of others and the conversation you can engage in at the table will take the focus off the food in front of you.
As hard as it can be to eat when you’re sick, don’t ever give up. Let your family work with your doctors and a nutritionist who specializes in working with cancer patients, because we are all in this fight together!