Skip to Content

Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment

Loss of Appetite During Cancer Treatment

Losing your appetite or desire to eat is a common side effect of cancer and cancer treatment, and can lead to weight loss. Cancer patients who maintain their weight during treatment tend to have fewer complications from treatment and often feel stronger both physically and mentally. 

Suggestions to improve nutritional intake while experiencing a poor appetite:

  • Eat five to six small meals or snacks every day instead of three large meals.
    • A snack basket may take the guess work out of deciding what to eat. Take five to seven bites of a nutritious snack every few hours.
  • Recommended snack foods include: trail mix, dry cereal, individual packets of peanut butter, 200-calorie protein bars (several varieties and flavors available), shelled hemp seed (sprinkle on yogurt), packets of instant oat meal and dried or canned fruit.
  • Add extra protein and calories to the foods that you eat in order to consume more concentrated calories in a smaller amount of food.
    • Recommendations include: add ½ to 1 cup of non-fat powdered dry milk to boxed pudding, mashed potatoes or oatmeal; whisk eggs into soup while it’s cooking; stir canned coconut milk into sauces, smoothies or soups.
  • Consume protein-rich foods two to three times a day, such as lean meat, fish, tuna salad, poultry, eggs, nuts or peanut butter, seeds, dried beans, lentils, milk or yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese or soy foods.
  • Enlist friends and family to help in food preparation and shopping, or as eating companions. Most people eat more when sharing a meal with others.
  • Eat larger meals when you feel well and are rested. For many people this means eating a good breakfast with foods you can tolerate, even if they are not traditional breakfast foods.
  • Try foods outside of your usual menu, such as a fruit milkshake, yogurt and fruit parfaits or pureed fruits. As your tastes change, you may be surprised to discover what foods taste good to you.
  • Ask your doctor or dietitian about medical nutrition supplements such as Ensure®, Boost® and Carnation® Breakfast Essentials™.
  • Talk with your nurse or social worker if anxiety, fear, depression or other feelings affect your interest in food.
  • Get plenty of rest. Fatigue is a common symptom during cancer treatment. It is hard to eat well when you are tired.

Be as physically active as possible with your doctor’s permission. Walking or other physical activity stimulates appetite and decreases fatigue.