- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Nutrition and cancer
- Treatment side effects and nutrition
- Loss of appetite
Loss of appetite
You may lose your appetite because of the effects of cancer itself, the treatment, or side effects such as feeling sick, not enjoying the smell of food, or feeling upset. This is a common issue for people diagnosed with cancer, but it is important to keep trying to eat well so your body gets the nourishment it needs to maintain your weight.
How to manage loss of appetite
- Eat small meals frequently, e.g. every 2–3 hours. Keep to a regular eating pattern rather than waiting until you’re hungry.
- Use a smaller plate – a big plate of food may put you off eating.
- Eat what you feel like, when you feel like it, e.g. have cereal for dinner or a main meal at lunch. Some people prefer to prepare their own meals so they can eat whatever they feel like at the time.
- Include a variety of foods in your diet as this may help improve your overall intake.
- Sip fluids throughout the day, and replace water, tea and coffee with fluids that add energy (kilojoules) and protein, such as milk, milkshakes, smoothies or soup. These are also good if you find drinks or soups easier to manage than a meal. See these recipes for ideas.
- Relax dietary restrictions. During treatment, maintaining your weight or regaining weight you have lost is more important than avoiding full-fat and other high-energy or high-sugar foods.
- Gentle physical activity can stimulate appetite, e.g. take a short walk around the block.
- Make meals as enjoyable as possible to encourage your appetite, e.g. play music, light candles or eat with friends.
For more on this, listen to our podcast on Appetite Loss and Nausea.
Jenelle Loeliger, Head of Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Rebecca Blower, Public Health Advisor, Cancer Prevention, Cancer Council Queensland, QLD; Julia Davenport, Consumer; Irene Deftereos, Senior Dietitian, Western Health, VIC; Lynda Menzies, A/Senior Dietitian – Cancer Care (APD), Sunshine Coast University Hospital, QLD; Caitriona Nienaber, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA; Janice Savage, Consumer.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Click below to download a PDF booklet on this topic.
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