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Eating extra calories when sick - adults

Alternative names

Getting more calories - adults

Self-care

If you are sick or undergoing cancer treatment, you may not feel like eating. But it is important to get enough protein and calories so you do not lose too much weight. Eating well can help you handle your illness and the side effects of treatment better.

Change your eating habits to get more calories.

  • Eat when you are hungry, not just at mealtimes.
  • Eat 5 or 6 small meals a day instead of 3 large ones.
  • Keep healthy snacks handy.
  • Do not fill up on liquids before or during your meals.
  • Ask your doctor or nurse if you can have a glass of wine or beer with your meals. It may make you feel like eating more.

Ask others to prepare food for you. You may feel like eating, but you might not have enough energy to cook.

Make eating pleasant.

  • Use soft lighting and play relaxing music.
  • Eat with family or friends.
  • Listen to the radio or watch TV.
  • Try new recipes or new foods.

When you feel up to it, make some simple meals and freeze them to eat later. Ask your doctor or nurse about "Meals on Wheels" or other programs that bring food to your house.

Ways to add calories to your food

  • Ask your doctor if it is OK to sauté or fry your food.
  • Add butter or margarine to foods when you are cooking, or put them on foods that are already cooked.
  • Add cream sauce or melt cheese over vegetables.
  • Eat peanut butter sandwiches, or put peanut butter on vegetables or fruits, such as carrots or apples.
  • Mix whole milk or half-and-half with canned soups.
  • Add protein supplements to yogurt, milkshakes, fruit smoothies, or pudding.
  • Drink eggnog, milkshakes, or prepared liquid supplements between meals.
  • Add honey to juices.

Ask your doctor about liquid nutrition drinks.

Also, ask your doctor about any medicines that can stimulate your appetite to help you eat.

References

Bozzetti F, Bozzetti V. Principles and management of nutritional support in cancer. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al, eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 106.

National Cancer Institute: Nutrition in Cancer Care (PDQ®). Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated February 26, 2014. http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/nutrition/HealthProfessional. Accessed May 7, 2014.

Rock, CL, Doyle C, Demark-Wahnefried W, et al. Nutrition and physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. CA Cancer J Clin. 2012; published on line at doi: 10.3322/caac.21142.

Updated: 5/7/2014

Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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