Loss of Appetite

Loss of appetite or poor appetite is one of the most common problems that can occur with cancer treatment. Poor appetite may be caused by treatments, or by the cancer itself. 

Sometimes a loss of appetite is also related to side effects of treatment. Side effects such as nausea, vomiting, changes in the taste of food or the smell of foods may make you feel like not eating. Your nurse or the dietitian can help get these types of side effects under control. 

How Can I Increase My Appetite? 

  • Eat small frequent meals throughout the day rather than large meals. It may be easier to eat less and not get so full. 
  • Take advantage of times when you do feel well by eating a larger meal at those times. Many people have a better appetite in the morning when they are well rested. 
  • Make the foods you eat count by eating high-calorie, high-protein foods. Try high-calorie milkshakes and supplements instead of non-caloric beverages (water, diet soda, coffee, tea). Liquid or powdered meal replacements such as “instant breakfast” may be something to keep on hand for times it is hard for you to eat food. 
  • Try softer, cool or frozen foods, such as yogurt, milkshakes or Popsicles. 
  • Keep snacks within easy reach so you can have something whenever you feel like it. Cheese and crackers, muffins, ice cream, peanut butter, fruit and ready-to-eat pudding are good possibilities. Also, take snacks with you when you go out, such as peanut butter crackers or small boxes of raisins. 
  • If you do not feel like eating solid foods, try to drink beverages throughout the day. Juice, soup and milk-based beverages are good examples of fluids that can provide important calories and nutrients. 
  • Chew slowly and take breaks during mealtime. 
  • Make your meals attractive. Eat in a calm, pleasant atmosphere with others, if possible. Listen to relaxing music while eating. Add variety to your meals with foods from all food groups. 
  • During meals, only sip small amounts of liquids to avoid fullness. If you would like a larger amount of beverage to drink, have it 30 to 60 minutes before or after a meal. 
  • Avoid foods that will cause feelings of fullness, such as carbonated beverages and fatty foods. 
  • Make simple meals in batches and freeze them to eat later. 
  • Engage in light or moderate exercise two hours before meals. Check with your doctor to see which options are right for you. 

If you have further concerns about your nutritional status, please call the Cancer Center dietitian. 

Emotions such as fear or depression can also take away a person’s appetite. The Cancer Center social workers can help lessen these emotional difficulties.