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COPD: Ways to Avoid Weight Loss

By Susan Bernstein
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD

Breathing is hard work if you have COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Your inflamed lungs and partially blocked airways make it a struggle to get air in and out. That effort to breathe burns a lot of calories -- way more than someone with healthy lungs, says Albert Rizzo, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Christiana Care Health System.

As a result, you could lose too much weight. And if you fall below a healthy weight, that makes it more likely your immune system won’t work like it should. It could set you up for more infections, Rizzo says.

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Long-term inflammation, like the kind that comes with COPD, drains your energy too. You may not feel like exercising, which makes it hard to stay healthy and fit.

To stay at a healthy weight, get the most calories and nutrition in each bite of food you have during the day, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University.

“You want to get good, healthy calories and enough protein,” she says. “Make every bite as nutrient-rich as possible.”

Follow these simple tips to help you get more calories throughout your day so you keep your weight and energy levels healthy.

Eat more often. Frequent small meals may help you get more calories than you would by eating one or two big meals a day, Rizzo says. Large meals might make you feel too full, and that may make breathing even harder, he says.

You might not have the energy to cook a large meal, either. So opt for small dishes that are quick and easy to prepare.

Tip:Top a turkey pita sandwich with a slice of cheese and fresh avocado.

Mix in natural protein sources. Protein-rich foods like nuts or eggs help build muscle mass that you lose when you shed pounds, Blake says.

Tip: Toss a handful of almonds or walnuts into Greek yogurt for breakfast or as a snack. Make a batch of hard-boiled eggs on Sunday nights. Grab these to add to meals throughout the week, or as a quick snack.

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