Managing Eating Problems

Challenges may arise from cancer treatment because side effects can change your eating habits and the way your body uses the nutrients. Eating problems from side effects vary from person to person and therefore diet recommendations for one may be different from another.   Note that you may experience problems outside of these listed below or none at all. Use the expertise of your health care team to manage and lessen these eating problems so that you can get the nutrients that you need during treatment.

 If you are experiencing: Try to: 
Loss of appetite or weight loss 
  • Eat several small meals a day instead of three big meals.
  • Keep high calorie foods and drinks around you for when you get hungry or have an appetite.
  • Plan your largest meal for when you are hungriest.
  • Snack routinely even when you are not hungry.
  • Exercise lightly to increase your appetite.
  • Drink beverages between meals rather than with the meals. 
 Weight Gain
  • Focus on foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and beans that are low in calories and high in fiber to help you feel full.
  • Watch your portion sizes.
  • Eat only when you are hungry.
  • Participate in physical activity to help manage your weight.
 Nausea
  • Eat foods that do not have a strong odor.
  • Avoid foods that are spicy, fatty, or overly sweet.
  • Track times, foods, smells, or events that trigger your nausea and accommodate your schedule or diet to avoid them.
  • Have crackers and ginger tea on hand. 
 Diarrhea
  • Drink plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration.
  • Eat small amounts of food throughout the day rather than three large meals.
  • Inform your health care team if you are having diarrhea for a period greater than 24 hours or if you are having large amounts of diarrhea; this may be a sign of infection.
 Constipation
  • Drink more liquids as it can help keep your stools soft.  Try water, prune juice and warm drinks.
  • Consider increasing your fiber intake with foods such as bran, fresh fruit, prunes, etc.  Talk to your doctor about increasing fiber intake because it may not be beneficial for you if you are experiencing weight loss.
  • Limit foods that cause gas such as carbonated beverages, beans, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, and cucumbers.
  • Consider a fiber supplement, over-the-counter medications such as stool softeners or laxatives if necessary. Always speak with your health practitioner first for specific guidance.
  • Inform your health care team if you are experiencing constipation that results in not having a bowl movement in greater than 72 hours, abdominal pains, or cramping. These may be signs of a bowel obstruction.
 Taste Changes
  • Pick foods that are your favorites or most appealing to you and have those on hand.  Try moist and naturally sweet foods or maybe tart foods and beverages.
  • Brush your teeth and tongue regularly and rinse your mouth regularly to clean your taste buds.
  • Eat foods at cold or room temperatures to decrease the food taste and smell.
  • Add sugar to foods to enhance the taste of food.
  • Suck on lemon drops or mint candies. 
 Dry Mouth
  • Avoid salty foods and alcohol, including products such as mouth rinses that contain alcohol, as it has a drying effect.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke whenever possible.
  • Stimulate saliva by sucking on lemon flavored candies or trying tart foods and beverages
  • Moisten foods with sauces and gravies
  • Avoid salty foods such as pretzels and chips.
  • Tell your health care team about any small, white patches in your mouth as it may be a sign of infection.
 Sore Mouth
  • Eat soft and easy to chew foods such as yogurt, pudding, and applesauce.
  • Add gravy or sauce to your food to help you swallow
  • Avoid acidic, course, spicy, or salty foods as well as carbonated beverages and alcohol.
  • Blend foods to make it easier to eat.

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