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Eating problems

It is important to eat well during cancer treatment. Eating well means getting enough calories to maintain a good weight and enough protein to keep up your strength. Good nutrition often helps people with cancer feel better and have more energy.

But eating well can be difficult. You may not feel like eating if you are uncomfortable or tired. Also, the side effects of treatment (such as poor appetite, nausea, vomiting or mouth sores) can be a problem. Some people find that foods do not taste as good during cancer therapy. Anorexia (the technical term for loss of appetite or desire to eat) is a common symptom in people with cancer.

Tips:

  • Try to catch up when you are hungry. If you happen to feel hungrier at breakfast time, have your main meal then and a light meal (such as breakfast cereal) at a time when you feel less like eating.
  • Eat small, frequent meals or snacks if your appetite is poor. Nourishing drinks (such as milk-based drinks), nuts and dried fruit make good snacks. Make meals as enjoyable as possible. Some light physical activity before you eat may also help increase your appetite. Try having something at bedtime. It won’t affect your appetite for the next meal.
  • Stock the pantry and freezer with favourite foods so you won’t need to shop as often. Keep foods handy that need little or no preparation, for example, peanut butter, tuna fish, cheese and eggs.
  • Prepare meals between treatments and freeze them for the days you don’t feel like cooking. Talk to friends or family members about helping with shopping and cooking.
  • If your sense of taste changes, try different ways of preparing food. For example, lemon juice makes many foods, including meat and vegetables, tastier.
  • If food tastes like metal, eat with plastic forks or spoons. Use a glass pot for cooking.
  • Getting enough liquids is important, but don’t fill up on liquids right before you eat or during meals.

The Cancer Council booklet, Food and Cancer, has more tips on coping with eating problems. Call the Cancer Council Helpline (13 11 20) for a copy.