4 Reasons COPD Patients Don’t Eat Enough Food

Man and woman sitting at table smiling and eating a healthy meal

Many COPD patients don’t eat enough, which can lead to unintentional weight loss. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder, or COPD, makes it a struggle to breathe. That struggle burns a lot of calories. In fact, COPD patients can use up to 40% more energy per day than someone without COPD because of the increased effort it takes to breathe.

Patients who are underweight have an increased risk for infection, hospitalization, and other problems. Solving issues with breathing, energy levels, and your appetite can take a little bit of creative thinking and flexibility! Here are a few reasons we frequently hear COPD patients aren’t eating enough:

“I feel bloated and can’t breathe well after a meal.”

Try eating several small meals instead of two or three large meals during the day. Healthy, hearty snacks that include both protein and carbohydrates can also be helpful! Avoid gas-producing foods that might contribute to a bloated feeling, like beans, carbonated drinks, and sugar alcohols like xylitol or sorbitol used to replace sugar in sugar-free foods.

“I don’t have the breath or energy to cook well.”

Prepare nutritious foods that require less energy to make like breakfast for dinner, hearty snack plates, and slow-cooker meals. Fix larger portions, and freeze some (safely!) to warm up later. Convenience foods that are pre-cooked or ready-to-eat can provide good alternatives, but keep an eye on sodium levels if you’re on a salt-restricted diet. Don’t cook? Meals on Wheels can be a great inexpensive option!

“I don’t have any appetite.”

Some medications (e.g. theophylline) can upset your stomach, but the most common cause is swallowing mucus. If you cough up mucus or have sinus drainage, avoid swallowing the mucus as much as possible.

Scheduling and planning meals and snacks and eating something, even if you don’t necessarily feel like it, can help keep you on track.

“I just can’t eat that much!”

If you can’t eat a lot, focus on nutrient-dense foods that are higher in calories. Adding a dish of ice cream as an end-of-day treat can help, too! High-calorie supplement drinks can be useful when you’re unable to eat well. Special formulations for people with breathing problems are available, but talk with your doctor or dietitian for recommendations. Eating a good meal is always best, but a high-calorie, vitamin-rich drink can serve as a substitute in a pinch.

Proper nutrition is especially important for patients with breathing problems. When COPD patients don’t eat enough and become underweight, it can lead to more issues and health complications. Always talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian before making changes to your diet.

Looking for more information about living well with COPD? See our COPD Resources page!

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