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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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor 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 doctor about liquid nutrition drinks.

References

Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment: An American Cancer Society Guide for Informed Choices. Doyle C, Kushi LH, Byers T, Courneya KS, Denmark-Wahnefried, et al, for the 2006 Nutrition, Physical Activity and Cancer Survivorship Advisory Committee. CA Cancer J Clin. 2006;56;323-353.

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.


Review Date: 9/6/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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