Julie Lanford, MPH, RD, CSO, LDN, also known as "The Cancer Dietitian", is a board-certified specialist in oncology nutrition and a registered dietitian-nutritionist. She's been a registered dietitian for over 10 years, most of which has been focused working with cancer patients. Julie recently discussed on Patient Power what to eat when you don't feel like eating.
Many cancer patients deal with lack of nourishment to the body because of lack of appetite or digestive issues. Why do digestive challenges occur? What side effects should you be looking for?
This is the bottom line: if you do not get enough nutrition, your body will have challenges. These difficulties could include things like unintentional weight loss, which frequently happens because patients don't feel like eating.
Typically the weight lost during treatment is muscle mass, which is a concern because muscle gives energy and support to the immune system. Those biological effects can lead to weakness and fatigue and that can make healing especially hard.
Julie gave some tips to those who are struggling with not feeling like eating:
- Understand that having something to eat is better than nothing. For example, if a patient is very concerned about the quality of food in their diet (i.e. many fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, etc.) and then he or she loses appetite, it is okay to give permission to one's self to eat foods that usually he or she wouldn't, like milkshakes or white grains.
- If you don't feel like eating, drinking something can be an option. There are many different nutrition supplement drinks, whether it be the big brands like Boost or Ensure, or the store brands, or making your own. The point is to consume extra calories and extra protein.
- Optimize meals and snacks to get higher fat and higher calorie foods. For example, if you want crackers, you can add peanut butter, cheese, avocado, or anything with extra calories.
- Try Benecalorie by Nestle, which adds extra calories and protein to foods like eggs, soups, potatoes or oatmeal. You can order it here through Amazon.
- Eat on a schedule to avoid going too long without eating. Julie typically tells her patients to eat within an hour of waking up in the morning. It can sometimes be an important role for caregivers to remind their loved one if it's been 2 or 3 hours since they last ate or drank.
- Eat a variety of food. Try snacking with 2-3 food groups represented (i.e. an apple with peanut butter).
- You don't need to count calories. Just eat every couple of hours, and choose something that sounds good. Eat enough of it, aim to feel full, and eat again in a few hours.
- Stay hydrated!! A lack of fluids and dehydration can negatively affect so many things. Set a phone alarm to drink water/fluids if you have to.
- Talk to your medical team if you are having trouble digesting food, having constipation, or diarrhea.
- Consult an oncology dietitian if you're still having problems.
Julie has a YouTube channel called the Cancer Dietitian with recipes for nutrition supplement drinks, ice cream, pudding, smoothies, etc. She also has a website cancerdietitian.com to keep updated on oncology nutrition.
To watch the full video or read the interview, click here.
about the author
Myeloma Crowd Editorial Contributor, Nursing student, and cancer advocate.