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Eating extra calories when you are sick - adults

Alternate Names

Getting more calories - adults

Self-care

If you are sick or getting cancer treatment, you may not feel like eating. But it is important to get enough protein and calories so that you do not lose too much weight. Eating well will help you handle your illness and 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 health care provider or nurse if you can have a glass of wine or beer with your meal. 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 more 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 health care provider or nurse about "Meals on Wheels" or other programs that bring food to your house.

Ways to Add Calories to Your Food

Sauté or fry your food (ask your health care provider first about this). Add butter or margarine to foods when you are cooking, or put them on foods that are already cooked. Eat peanut butter sandwiches, or put peanut butter on some 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. Add honey to juices. Drink eggnog, milkshakes, or prepared liquid supplements between meals. Add cream sauce or melt cheese over vegetables.

Ask your health care provider about liquid nutrition drinks.

Also ask your health care provider about any possible medicines that can stimulate your appetite to help you eat.

References

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

Ottery FD. Cancer-related weight loss. In: Walsh D, Caraceni AT, Fainsinger R, et al, eds. Palliative Medicine. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 133.

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

Updated: 6/6/2012

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington; and Yi-Bin Chen, MD, Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplant Program, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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