Merran Findlay, Oncology Specialist Dietitian
The thing about cancer is that it can really affect your appetite. Between the nausea and mouth ulcers, taste changes and sheer exhaustion, it’s no wonder some people don’t feel like eating.
In this episode of The Thing About Cancer podcast, Julie chats to dietitian Merran Findlay, who has helped many people with cancer work out how to keep eating throughout their treatment.
The classic idea of cancer is that you lose a lot of weight and end up looking quite thin and gaunt. But is this always the case? Merran describes some of the physical impacts of cancer treatment, and how they may play out differently in each unique case.
– Merran Findlay, Oncology Specialist Dietitian
Why does cancer cause nausea and loss of appetite?
Why do cancer treatments often cause loss of appetite and nausea?
Merran says that a common cause is chemotherapy, which can affect different parts of the brain, such as the part that controls vomiting. When we feel unwell, food we eat at that time or certain smells may trigger that nausea again.
Tips to increase your appetite, and reduce nausea
During this episode you will learn different things you can do to reduce nausea and boost your appetite if your cancer treatment is causing these side effects. Merran says that the key to maintaining your weight is to eat several small meals throughout the day and to make sure they are packed with nutritional value.
This episode also covers important areas like how treatment can affect your taste and smell, and your ability to swallow.
It’s important to talk to your treatment team about managing side effects that affect your appetite. If you are finding it hard to keep eating well or are losing weight, you can ask to see the dietitian at your treatment centre.
Quirky diets probably won’t help, but exercise often does
Merran dispels some myths about quirky diets that claim to cure cancer, saying that there is no evidence to support these miracle cures that are often promoted on the internet.
She does explain, however, that research shows that exercise often helps reduce treatment side effects.
What kind of foods should you eat during treatment?
If you are going through treatment, or you’re caring for someone who is, Merran suggests types of foods that are easy to digest and gentle on the stomach.
She also talks about how carers can encourage someone to eat when they have little appetite.
– carer Georgie talks about how she prepared meals for her husband during his treatment
Want more information or support?
If you heard something mentioned in the podcast, you’ll find a link for it below. We’ve also added links to other sources of information and support.
From Cancer Council NSW
- Nutrition and cancer – visit this link to understand more about nutrition, and to learn about eating well during and after cancer treatment.
- Easy-to-read information about cancer – cancer types, treatments and issues
- Cancer Council 13 11 20 Information and Support service – call 13 11 20 Mon–Fri, 9am–5pm, to talk confidentially to a health professional about anything to do about cancer
- Cancer Council support for people coping with cancer – information and support online, in person and via phone
- Cancer Council Online Community – a supportive online community for people affected by cancer
- Exercise and cancer – research shows that exercise has many benefits both during and after cancer treatment. Watch these videos to learn more.
- ENRICH – learn more about this free healthy lifestyle program developed by Cancer Council NSW and the University of Newcastle
- Healthy Living After Cancer program – free health coaching over the phone
From other organisations
- Dietitians Association of Australia – find an accredited practising dietitian and learn more about what dietitians do
- American Cancer Society – learn more about poor appetite from US cancer support organisation
- Cancer Research UK – learn more about types of diet problems from UK research-funding organisation
- National Cancer Institute (US) – learn more about nutrition in cancer care from US government cancer control agency