Tips for Managing Your Appetite During Cancer Treatment

Many people who begin treatment for cancer find they face eating challenges at some point. Cancer treatments can make you very tired, to the point that eating feels like too much work. Both chemotherapy and radiation can affect healthy cells, too, including the ones lining your mouth and digestive tract. Other eating and digestive problems can develop, depending on your type of cancer and the therapy. Here are some tips for handling appetite challenges during treatment.

Know that eating problems usually come and go.

While eating challenges will seem frustrating, for most people they go away once treatment is complete, or soon after. Just about all of them can be managed, too. Work with your healthcare team to come up with specific strategies to help you manage the challenges you face, and remember that your appetite issues are likely temporary.

Take advantage of good days.

When you have an appetite, eat well and amply—and, if you’re up for it, prepare meals to stock in the fridge. On bad days, rely on easy food options and let others help you.

Aim to eat every few hours.

You might set an alarm to remind you to have a snack. Eating according to the clock rather than only when you’re hungry is often advised because your appetite might not match your body’s needs for food and fluids.

Eat what you’re able to.

It’s common to have days where only one or two foods appeal to you. You might develop aversions to a food, then like it again later. Maybe nothing will taste good to you for a while. Be sure to let your healthcare team know, so that together you can find other ways to bring in nutrition you can tolerate.

Make every bite count.

If you’re finding it hard to eat a lot at a time or if you’re losing weight and need to add calories, reach for nutrient-dense foods like nuts, nut butters, eggs, cheese, dried fruits, tofu, beans, poultry, fish and meal-replacement shakes.

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