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COPD and Weight Loss: Improving Your Appetite

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


Loss of Appetite

One of the most common reasons for weight loss among COPD patients is simply loss of appetite.

Some say they eat less because food just does not taste as good as it used to. Others say they get too tired preparing meals. For some, the acts of chewing, swallowing and breathing all at the same time requires too much work. To reduce this factor, eat foods that are soft and easy to swallow. Sometimes, medicine side effects can interfere with appetite or with the proper absorption of nutrients.

To Make Foods Easier to Chew:

  • Cook vegetables until they are soft
  • Mince or grind up meats
  • Dip breads in liquid
  • Serve pasta, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, thick soups, creamed soups, casseroles, etc.
  • Try fruit smoothies, milk shakes and pasteurized eggnog
    Some people say they skip meals because the idea of eating is not appealing to them. This can occur when the taste of food does not seem to be as good as it once was. This can sometimes be the result of medicine side effects. Others say they have lost their appetite for food because they simply are not "in the mood" to sit down for a meal.

Try these Suggestions to Improve Your Appetite:

  • Make meal time as pleasant as possible. Use attractive place settings and present foods in an appealing manner. If you find it enjoyable, add soft music and candlelight (only if you''re not using oxygen at the moment.) Do not discuss stressful topics at the dinner table.
  • Have frequent healthy snacks during the day. Keep them handy in places where you are likely to see them (kitchen table, end table, bedside table and in your pocket or purse). Snacks such as dried fruit, nuts and granola, if they are not too hard to chew, can help improve your health.
  • When you know you should eat, but you are not feeling hungry, try eating some of your favorite foods.

Shortness of Breath

Carbohydrates provide the fuel supply you need for physical exertion, such as walking and lifting. Scientists know that carbohydrates give off carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product of metabolism. CO2 retention is a primary problem in COPD, so some have suggested that eating carbohydrates could make CO2 retention worse. When the body builds up an excess of carbon dioxide, this leads to a tendency to breathe faster. This increases the feeling of shortness of breath. Studies have shown, however, that CO2 retention associated with food comes from eating excess calories in general. It is not specifically from eating carbohydrates. Therefore, even among COPD patients, complex carbohydrates should be the greatest proportion of calories in a healthy diet.

Many people with COPD find that chewing and swallowing causes air to be cut off from the lungs. This then adds to feeling short of breath. The following guidelines may be helpful to stop shortness of breath at meal times.

Try these Suggestions to Decrease Your Shortness of Breath:

  • Try to rest for 30 minutes before meals. If you become short of breath use deep breathing and pursed-lip breathing techniques.
  • Use good body posture to make breathing easier. Sit upright and lean forward with your elbows on the table. (Forget what your mother told you!) Put your feet on the floor to allow for the greatest expansion of the lungs.
  • Have easily prepared meals on hand. Eat foods that are easy to chew like casseroles, soups, chicken and soft-cooked vegetables.
  • If you are on continuous oxygen therapy, ask your health care provider if you should increase your oxygen flow rate during meals. Do not increase the oxygen without asking your healthcare provider first. If oxygen flow is too high it can lead to respiratory failure.
  • Relax before and while you''re eating. Anxiety about making a meal can make shortness of breath worse. You may want to explore the use of relaxation techniques prior to meal time.
  • Eat six small meals per day to keep you from over-filling your stomach.
  • If you have lost your sense of taste, consider taking a zinc supplement for 2-4 weeks. If taste does not improve, stop taking it.

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