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COPD Health Center

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Unplanned COPD Weight Loss Causes & How to Eat More Calories

WebMD Medical Reference from the COPD Foundation


Unplanned weight loss affects as many as 40 to 70 percent of COPD patients. Why? Because COPD patients require more energy just to breathe! An individual without lung disease uses about 100 calories a day expanding and contracting the muscles involved with breathing. A person with COPD, however, needs between 430 and 720 calories a day just for the work of breathing. This is true even if they are unaware of this extra work.

When your caloric intake is not enough to meet your energy needs, your body resorts to breaking down fat and muscle tissue. It does this to supply the energy it needs in the form of calories. This results in weakened muscles and weight loss. A vicious cycle occurs where loss of respiratory muscle strength leads to worsening shortness of breath. This leads to a further decrease in appetite. This vicious cycle causes a downward spiral in your health.

Proteins are the building blocks of your muscles. So some think that eating more protein will replace the muscle protein lost when muscle cells are changed to calories. This is not the case. What is needed are more calories as well as more protein. Eating enough calories may keep the body from destroying muscle to obtain fuel. If you are having trouble gaining weight eat six meals a day with the addition of fats. This will help boost calories. Fats have more calories than either carbohydrates or proteins. If you are having unplanned weight loss, check with your health care provider or a registered dietitian to decide what amount of your daily caloric intake should be from fat. Also, try the following tips.

Weight Loss Can Also Be caused By the Following:

  • Chronic mouth breathing and altered taste sensations.
  • Medicine can affect appetite in various ways; (for example, antibiotics can cause nausea and/or diarrhea that can decrease food intake); speak to your pharmacist or doctor about potential side effects of your medicine
  • Symptoms of your lung disease

To Add Extra Calories to Your Diet

  • Mix a teaspoon of butter, margarine or olive oil into hot foods such as vegetables, soups and potatoes; it adds 45 calories
  • Eat mayonnaise instead of salad dressing; mayonnaise has 100 calories which is about twice that of salad dressing
  • Use peanut butter liberally; it has lots of protein and about 90 calories per tablespoon
  • Use honey generously for sweetening and as a snack
  • Drink milkshakes made with high-fat ice cream; try adding protein powder or egg substitutes for added calories and proteins
  • Keep high-calorie, healthy snacks around and easy to grab; examples: olives, walnuts, raw almonds and dried fruits
  • Add flaxseed oil or olive oil to cottage cheese with fruit
  • String cheese is easy and bite-size with 80 calories per stick

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