Appetite changes

Cancer and its treatment can cause changes in your eating habits and your desire to eat. Not eating can lead to weight loss, and this can cause weakness and fatigue. Eating as well as you can is an important part of taking care of yourself. Treatment-related side effects like pain, nausea, and constipation can also cause loss of appetite. Managing these problems may help you eat better.

What to do

  • Eat several snacks throughout the day, rather than 3 large meals.
  • Avoid liquids with meals, or take only small sips of liquids to keep from feeling full early (unless you need liquids to help swallow or for dry mouth). Drink most of your liquids between meals.
  • Make eating more enjoyable by setting the table with pretty dishes, playing your favorite music, watching TV, or eating with someone.
  • Be as physically active as you can. Start off slowly, and increase your activity over time as you feel stronger. Sometimes a short walk an hour or so before meals can help you feel hungry.
  • Keep high-calorie, high-protein snacks on hand. Try hard-cooked eggs, peanut butter, cheese, ice cream, granola bars, liquid nutritional supplements, puddings, nuts, canned tuna or chicken, or trail mix. (See the table of high-protein foods under “Tips to increase calories and protein” in the section “ Once treatment starts.”)
  • Review the tips on adding calories and protein to foods in the “Once treatment starts” section, and include these in meals and snacks throughout the day.
  • Eat your favorite foods any time of the day; for instance, if you like breakfast foods, eat them for dinner.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Last Medical Review: July 15, 2015 Last Revised: July 15, 2015

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