Loss of appetite
Many people find they do not feel like eating as they near the end of life. This loss of appetite may be because of the cancer itself or symptoms such as pain, nausea, constipation or breathlessness, or because the body’s energy needs have slowed down and it’s no longer necessary to eat as much.
Eat what you want when you want it
Don’t force yourself to eat. Eating more than you feel like may only make you uncomfortable, and can cause vomiting and stomach pain. Instead, try having small meals or eating little bits of your favourite foods more frequently. Soft foods can be easier to eat.
You could also try food-type nutritional supplements. Ask your doctor, nurse or dietitian to suggest something suitable; some are available as ready-made drinks at pharmacies.
It’s common for family and friends to want to encourage you to eat, as preparing food for you is often how they show they care. They may worry that not eating will make you feel worse. You may need to let them know that you don’t feel like eating, and suggest other ways that they can show their love, such as sitting with you.
As the disease progresses, the body reaches a point where it can no longer absorb or get nutrients from food. You may not be able to eat, and clear fluids such as water or weak tea may be all you can handle.
There will come a time when even water isn’t wanted, and family or friends can help keep your mouth moist.
For more on this, see Nutrition and cancer or listen to the podcast below.
Podcast: Appetite Loss and Nausea
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Prof Jane Phillips, Head, School of Nursing and Professor, Centre for Healthcare Transformation, Queensland University of Technology and Emerita Professor Palliative Nursing, University of Technology Sydney, NSW; Prof Meera Agar, Palliative Care Physician, Professor of Palliative Medicine, University of Technology Sydney, IMPACCT, Sydney, NSW; Sandra Anderson, Consumer; A/Prof Megan Best, The University of Notre Dame Australia and The University of Sydney, NSW; Prof Lauren Breen, Psychologist and Discipline Lead, Psychology, Curtin University, WA; David Dawes, Manager, Spiritual Care Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rob Ferguson, Consumer; Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, Counsellor, Psychotherapist and Social Worker, One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy, NSW; Justine Hatton, Senior Social Worker, Southern Adelaide Palliative Services, Flinders Medical Centre, SA; Caitlin MacDonagh, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Palliative Care, Royal North Shore Hospital, Northern Sydney Local Health District, NSW; McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer; Palliative Care Australia; Belinda Reinhold, Acting Lead Palliative Care, Cancer Council QLD; Xanthe Sansome, National Program Director, Advance Care Planning Australia; Kirsty Trebilcock, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
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