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How to Manage Loss of Appetite After Chemo

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on October 29, 2021

You know a healthy diet has an important role in helping you fight breast cancer, but your chemotherapy treatments may leave you feeling like you can't eat anything. Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy, which can affect your appetite by changing the way foods taste or smell to you or by causing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. All of these side effects can make even your favorite food look as appealing as a cardboard box. 

Loss of Appetite Caused by Nausea

When your appetite loss is caused by nausea or vomiting, managing the nausea may help you feel more like eating. Don't worry about following a perfect diet if you're battling nausea. Focus on eating the foods that look good to you. Some people develop aversions to the food they previously enjoyed. If this happens to you, just eat whatever is appealing. Some other tips to help you control nausea include: 

  • Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day if an empty stomach makes you nauseous
  • Eat a small snack before your chemo treatments 
  • Sip cold, clear liquids throughout the day 
  • Avoid fatty, fried, spicy, or greasy foods
  • Try eating your food at room temperature or cold to decrease any strong smells
  • Eat bland foods such as crackers
  • Suck on hard candies such as mints or sour candy to get rid of smells that bother you
  • Eat popsicles or gelatin if you can't keep anything else down

Tips for Increasing Your Nutrients

When you can't eat much, it's important to get as many nutrients as you can in the foods you do eat. Boosting the fat content of your diet can help you increase your calories even if you can only tolerate small amounts of food. Getting enough protein can also be important when you're fighting cancer. Protein helps your body heal. Here are some tips for getting more fat and protein in your diet: 

Increasing your protein intake

  • Make high-protein milk by adding 1/4 cup of powdered milk to a cup of whole milk
  • Drink high-protein shakes and supplements
  • Add extra meat, fish, cheese, or beans to casseroles and other dishes you're preparing
  • If you've developed an aversion to meat, get extra protein from cheese, eggs, beans, lentils, or yogurt

Getting extra calories

  • Instead of drinking water, try fruit juice, soda, milkshakes, or other high-calorie drinks
  • Add butter and oil to your food
  • Coat crackers in peanut butter
  • Add avocado to salads and sandwiches
  • Add whipped or heavy cream to your desserts
  • Use croissants to make sandwiches

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Cancer Society: "Loss of Appetite," "Managing Nausea and Vomiting at Home."

Mayo Clinic: "No appetite? How to get nutrition during cancer treatment."

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