While eating during chemotherapy is critical to sustaining strength and tolerating harsh treatments, it is also one of the biggest challenges. Chemotherapy drugs cause a variety of side effects, but the most common seem to work against a patient’s need to eat.
Most chemo drugs kill the appetite to the extent that the thought of food becomes repulsive. Because the therapy works by killing fast-growing cells, including those of the digestive track, patients can experience intense vomiting and other digestive problems, mouth sores and changes in their sense of taste and smell. Under these conditions, eating seems like a horrible idea.
It is critical for your body to get nourishment from your diet; otherwise it will start consuming internal resources, starting with muscle. Depleting the body at the same time that it is fighting powerful toxins can intensify fatigue, lengthen recovery time, or cause more serious problems, such as heart failure or seizures.
A few tips I learned during chemotherapy treatments:
1.Think of food as fuel. Don’t wait to be hungry; eat according to a daily plan, because it’s your job.
2. Eat small meals throughout the day.
3. Experiment with different foods.
4. Use easy foods, like mashed potatoes or rice, as “carriers” for more nutritious vegetables or meat/fish.
5. Steam vegetables or fruit to make them easier to digest.
6. Think creatively about how to get protein into your diet, such as peanut butter on toast.
7. If nausea is worse at night, load high-value foods earlier in the day and eat soups at night, or vice versa.
8. Don’t take vitamins or supplements unless your doctor approves. Remember, chemo works by killing cancer cells, so vitamins/supplements may diminish the effectiveness of your treatment.
If you still can’t eat and your antinausea medication isn’t working, tell your doctor. You need to give your body the best chance to succeed.