Loss of Appetite
Last Modified: February 2, 2012
Loss of appetite is when you do not feel hungry, or you have no desire or interest in eating. If this happens to you during cancer treatment, there are things you can do to improve your appetite. It is important, especially during treatment, to keep yourself well-nourished, maintain your weight as much as possible, and to keep hydrated.
Certain symptoms can contribute to loss of appetite and you should contact your doctor or nurse if you are have any of these symptoms or if your appetite does not improve:
- Depression and anxiety
The following tips may be helpful during cancer treatment to maintain weight/nourishment, deal with loss of appetite, and keep hydrated:
Eat high calorie foods and beverages
- Choose foods that will provide the most calories per serving.
- Avoid diet and low fat foods.
- Drink high calorie beverages such as juices, fruit nectars, milk, cocoa, malted milk, shakes, smoothies, Ovaltine®, Carnation Instant Breakfast®, and commercial nutritional beverages such as Ensure® and Boost®. Find out how to make a smoothie and some recipe ideas on the OncoLink website.
Eat small, frequent meals
- Eat small meals throughout the day rather than 3 large meals. Try to eat 5 - 6 mini-meals.
- Schedule your meals and snacks. Eat a few mouthfuls, even if you aren't hungry.
- Serve small portions and use smaller dishes.
- Eat high calorie snacks such as peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, puddings, nuts, trail mix, breakfast bars, cereal, yogurt, cottage cheese, deviled and hard-boiled eggs.
- Make a smoothie with fruit and ice cream or yogurt (Greek yogurt is even higher in protein than regular yogurt!).
- Make a shake using ice cream and/or milk Ovaltine®, Carnation Instant Breakfast®, and commercial nutritional beverages such as Ensure® and Boost®.
- Keep snacks readily available to nibble on.
- Carry snacks with you when going to doctor appointments or doing errands.
- Try different foods and drinks. Foods that you dislike one day may be appealing on another day.
- Don’t be discouraged if foods you always loved don’t appeal to you right now. This is not uncommon during treatment. You may find new foods interesting and again, just keep trying as things can change from day to day.
- Go to a buffet and sample different foods.
Eat when you are the have the most hunger
You may find it easier to make breakfast or lunch your "main" meal of the day. Focus on the meals when your appetite is best and you are able to eat the most. Often, when going through treatment, your appetite declines during the day.
Soft foods and liquids
Soft and smooth foods are easier to eat and digest when you don't feel well. Try to choose soft foods that are also high in calories such as: casseroles, stews, macaroni and cheese, hearty and creamy soups, eggs, pancakes, waffles, French toast, mashed potatoes, pasta dishes, puddings and ice cream.
Eat high calorie foods first
- At meals, eat the foods with the most calories first. Start with the protein foods (meat, chicken, and fish). Then eat the starches (potatoes, pasta). Then eat the vegetables last.
- Limit your fluid intake during meals to sips, as liquids will fill you up.
- Drink your fluids between meals.
- Also, eat hearty or creamy soups since broth based soups do not have as many calories.
Write down everything you eat for a day and add up the calories. This will help you to see how much you are eating. It will also help you identify foods that give you the most calories per serving. The calorie content of foods can be found on food labels. You can also find the calorie content of foods on the internet or you can buy a calorie-counting book at most bookstores or find online trackers.
Other suggestions to help your appetite
- Try to do some physical activity before meals. Stretch or take a stroll.
- Go to a restaurant for a change of scenery.
- Have meals with family and friends.
Frequently Asked Questions
National Cancer Institute