Eating Well While Receiving Chemotherapy
A diagnosis of cancer can be one of the worst things that can happen in your life. But chemotherapy, the very thing that is used to treat cancer, can be frightening too. Chemotherapy brings with it several side effects. One of the most common is difficulty eating. Here are some strategies to help you eat healthy while receiving chemotherapy.
How Chemotherapy Affects EatingChemotherapy acts by targeting and killing rapidly dividing cells, such as cancer cells. But, other cells in your body divide quickly as well, including the cells that line the gastrointestinal tract. Because of this, chemotherapy can have a profound impact on your ability to eat. Some chemotherapy side effects that affect your eating include:
- Loss of appetite
- Changes in taste and smell
- Mouth tenderness, inflammation, and sores
- Nausea and vomiting
- Improve how you feel
- Maintain strength, energy, and weight
- Tolerate side effects from chemotherapy
- Decrease the risk of infection
- Recover faster
Tips for EatingAt times, it may seem almost impossible to eat when you are receiving chemotherapy. The following suggestions may help you to get the much-needed nutrients and calories, while minimizing other side effects like nausea and vomiting.Eat smaller, more frequent meals of easily tolerated foods. Avoid fatty, greasy, and spicy foods. They are be harder on your digestive system. Remember to keep your fluid intake up as well. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the course of the day.It is important to note that nutrition suggestions for a person receiving chemotherapy can be very different from what is recommended for daily healthy eating. This is a good time to ignore the rules. Eat what you want, when you want, and eat what makes you feel good. Try some foods that you may not have liked in the past. You may find that something that you thought was inedible is now pure heaven.
Dealing With Loss of AppetiteMost chemotherapy medications cause some degree of appetite loss, which can range from mild to severe, which can ultimately lead to malnutrition. Usually, the change in appetite is temporary. Your appetite should return once you have completed chemotherapy. Until this happens, try some of the following tips:
- Eat high-protein, high-calorie foods.
- Add extra calories and protein to meals by using ingredients like:
- Milk powder
- Protein powder
- Peanut butter
- Honey, jam, and sugar
- Cheese and cream cheese
- Use liquid supplements that are specially prepared with extra nutrients, which can be found in most health food stores.
- Drink shakes, smoothies, milk, and soup if chewing and eating solid food is a problem.
- Eat soft foods that are easy to chew and swallow, such as:
- Soft fruits—bananas, applesauce, watermelon, peaches, and pears
- Cottage cheese
- Mashed potatoes
- Macaroni and cheese
- Custards and puddings
- Scrambled eggs
- Oatmeal or other cooked cereals
- Supplement meals with snacks that are rich in protein and calories, like:
- Cheese—soft, hard, and cottage
- Avocado spread on toast or crackers
- Hard boiled eggs
- Full-fat yogurt
- Try to get a lot of calories at breakfast, as this may be the most tolerable meal of the day.
- Eat in a pleasant environment with other people.
Managing Nausea and VomitingNausea and vomiting are very common side effects of chemotherapy. If you are experiencing either, talk with your doctor. There are several drugs that prevent or alleviate nausea and vomiting. These medications can be used before your symptoms appear.Some things you can do to help manage nausea and vomiting include:
- Eat prior to chemotherapy treatment.
- Eat dry, bland foods like crackers, toast, or breadsticks throughout the day.
- Sit up or lie down with the upper body raised for one hour after eating.
- Avoid eating in the room where food was prepared. The odor may be too strong.
- Avoid eating in a room that is too warm.
- Rinse out your mouth both before and after eating.
- Suck on hard candies, like peppermints or lemon drops, if there is a bad taste in your mouth.