Cancer therapy can be an extremely physical and emotional time for the patient. In patients with cancer of the head and neck for instance, the immune system is often not functioning properly. The immune system does not destroy cancer cells. Causes of the failure of the immune system include severe malnutrition. To exacerbate the problem, radiation can severely effect the taste buds and saliva glands. The loss of appetite, difficulties in swallowing, no taste buds and the inability to dissolve food will result in a tremendous amount of weight loss.
To gain weight after radiation therapy it takes patience and focus. Some cancer patients have gone days without a meal because they simply did not think to eat. No hunger pains or cravings for food means the brain doesn’t doesn’t let us know to do so. It has to be a conscious thought to sit down and eat a meal.
There are a number of things to do and eat that can help the patient to gain weight. Some are obvious but need to be mentioned none the less.
1. It is important to eat and maintain good nutrition despite changes in taste. Prepare foods that appeal to you. Try and focus on foods from the food pyramid to help with a well balance diet.
2. Use a powdered or liquid diet supplement. Available on the market also include weight gain supplements in a gel tab form, with all the nutrition needed, enhance appetite and slow down metabolism to better absorb nutrition and calories. Even if you’re not very hungry, it’s important to keep your protein and calorie intake high. A weight gain supplement in gel tab form might be the answer. Doctors have found that patients who eat well can better deal with having cancer and with the side effects of treatment.
3. Eat five or six small meals during the day rather than three large ones. Eat when you are hungry, even if it is not mealtime. Moisten food with gravies and sauces to make eating easier. Try changing the consistency of foods by adding fluids and using sauces and gravies to make them softer.
4. Change your diet and try new recipes. If you enjoy people around while eating, try to have meals with family or friends. It may be helpful to have the radio or television on while you eat. Use low lighting, soft music, brightly colored table settings, or whatever helps you feel good while eating.
5. Keep easy meals in the freezer to use when you feel hungry. If other people offer to cook for you, let them. Don’t be afraid about telling them what you can eat. Keep healthy snacks for nibbling if you get the urge.
6. If you live alone, you might want to look into “Meals on Wheels” to bring food to you. Ask your doctor or local social service agencies about “Meals on Wheels.” This service is available in most cities and towns.
7. Add butter or margarine to your meals. Mix canned cream soups with milk or half-and-half instead of water. Drinking milkshakes between meals may help keep caloric intake high. Add cream sauce or melted cheese to your vegetables. Some people find they can drink large amounts of liquids even when they don’t feel like eating solid foods. If this is the case, take advantage of each glassful by making drinks enriched with powdered milk, yogurt or honey. A weight gain supplement in gel tab form may be a lot easier to manage. It can also help in making you hungry so you want to eat.
8. If the foods you like no longer taste good, try new foods and use different methods of food preparation.
9. Avoid spices and coarse foods such as raw vegetables, dry crackers or nuts. Remember that acidic foods and liquids can cause mouth and throat irritation. As you start to heal from the radiation you may be able to slowly add these types of foods to your diet.
In conclusion, be patient and focused on the task at hand. It is a task. Weigh yourself often to keep track of your progress. If you are doing what is suggested and you still are not gaining weight, ask your physician or dietitian for help.