Evaluating Your Weight (cont.)
"When you have to start depending on others for your basic needs, like groceries, you're at increased risk of malnutrition," Lloyd tells WebMD. The isolation that can come with some illnesses can be a risk in itself, sometimes leading to depression.
Food might also just not taste as good as it used to. Many medications can cause foods to taste bitter, metallic, or bland.
Tips for Keeping a Healthy Weight
Unintended weight loss is common with certain conditions and treatments, but there's still a lot you can do to avoid it.
- See a health care provider regularly. You should consider seeing a dietitian, especially one who treats people with medical problems. For certain conditions, insurance covers visits to a dietitian.
- Don't ignore side effects. In many cases, loss of appetite is caused by medications. "Go over a list of all your medications with your physician to make sure that you really need all of them," says Lloyd. Ask which ones might be affecting your appetite and see if they can be replaced.
- Eat five to six meals a day. If your appetite is off, you may not be able to eat very much at a single meal. That can make it hard to maintain a healthy weight. Instead of the traditional three meals, think about five to six meals instead -- breakfast, lunch, dinner, and several planned snacks.
- Use nutritional drinks as a supplement. "I'm a big fan of the meal replacement drinks, like instant breakfast drinks or the ones made by pharmaceutical companies," says Moores. They're ideal for people who have trouble eating solid foods. Moores recommends keeping them chilled, since they taste better cold than at room temperature.
I think there's a role for fortified drinks," says Lloyd. "But I don't think they should be used as a replacement for regular foods. They're best as a snack rather than a meal."
- Spice it up. If old favorite foods taste too bland these days, think about adding some spice. Marinate foods to heighten their flavor, or use a tangy barbeque sauce. Moores recommends adding some garlic to plain mashed potatoes. Or try a chicken curry soup instead of staid chicken noodle.
In general, Lloyd says you should opt for pepper or herbs instead of salt, because salt may be a problem for people with high blood pressure. However, she also observes that for people at risk of losing weight, it's often more important to get protein than to stick to a low-salt diet. "If meat just doesn't taste good without salt and you won't eat it, I say add a little salt," she says.
- Use assistive devices if arthritis or another condition is making it hard to use utensils or kitchen appliances. Plenty of devices are designed to provide easier gripping or extra leverage for people with arthritis. Think about a wall-mounted jar opener or an electric can-opener. Lloyd recommends looking for utensils with large handles or thicker plates that make them easier to grip.
- Prepare for bad days. "Often, people will have good days during [cancer] treatment and some not-so-good days," says Moores. "We encourage people to stock their kitchens with very simple-to-prepare foods for the not-so-good days." She recommends instant breakfast drinks, frozen soups, easily prepared pastas, and anything that's simple and you genuinely enjoy eating.
- Don't eat alone. Conditions like cancer or arthritis can be isolating. You may find it simply too difficult, exhausting, or painful to get out of the house or see other people. But you should try to eat some meals with other people. "We eat better when we're eating in a group, or even just with one other person," Lloyd says.
"It's a terrific idea to start cooking and eating with a neighbor," Moores tells WebMD. "You'll get some variety to your diet and it's also fun." Also, think about joining a local meal program -- such as the ones at senior centers -- that will allow you to share meals with others. If getting out of the house isn't possible, ask your doctor about a local meals-on-wheels food delivery program.
- Stay active. "It may sound like a contradiction, but keeping active can help you maintain a healthy weight," says Lloyd. "The more active you are, the better appetite you have." She also points out that activity helps ward off depression and may help connect people. Try to be active whenever you can -- even walking or gardening can make a big difference.
- Build up before starting treatment for cancer or other illnesses that may cause weight loss, Lloyd says. Before treatment, start taking a multivitamin and eat a diet with a good proportion of fat, protein, and carbohydrates. People about to start treatment "should not be on a low-calorie or fad diet," she says.
- Add some calories if your health care provider feels that you've lost too much weight and need to regain some pounds. You might:
- Switch to whole milk instead of skim.
- Add cream to your coffee or tea instead of milk.
- Add a spoonful of sugar in your orange juice.
- Eat foods you like, even some fatty or salty foods.
- Eat whenever you're hungry, regardless of time of day.
- Eat plenty of high-protein foods, such as eggs.
- Add sauces, dips, and gravies to your meals.