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Date: 13 June 2021
Managing unintentional weight loss
During your treatment there may be times when you might lose your appetite. Hopefully these times will be temporary but it is useful to try and monitor your weight and avoid any unintentional weight loss. (Any weight we do not plan to lose is called unintentional weight loss.)
Significant unintentional weight loss is defined as weight loss of equal or more than 5% of your starting weight in three months. For example, someone who used to weigh 60 kg up to 3 months ago and now weighs 57 Kg or less should inform their doctor to exclude serious medical conditions.
Unintentional weight loss can be measured by looking at your weight on measuring scales, or even by looking at how your clothes fit. If you notice any weight loss, you can measure your weight yourself no more than once a week. Look out for looser clothes and watches and rings not fitting properly, as these signs may mean you are losing weight.
Unintentional weight loss can be due to change of taste, nausea, changes in bowel habits and loss of appetite. These symptoms may develop as a side effect of medicines.
The following tips can help with loss of appetite or unintentional weight loss:
- Small and frequent meals. Eating little and often can help, as it all adds up at the end of the day. Try to have three small meals per day and three small snacks per day
- Try nourishing drinks to give you extra vitamins, minerals and energy, e.g. milk, hot chocolate and malted drinks such as Ovaltine, Horlicks or supermarket own brands
- Add extra nourishment to your meals, for example by adding fresh or powdered milk and margarine to mashed potato, rice or soups, or adding custard, ice cream or dried fruit to puddings
- Increasing unsaturated fats can be a good way of increasing your calorie intake in a healthy way. Extra oil such as rapeseed or olive oil can be used in cooking and added to soups, mashed potato, rice or pasta to help increase calories. Using peanut butter or having unsalted nuts as a snack is also a good way of increasing energy/calories in your diet. Try fruit and vegetables with higher calorie content, e.g. avocado, banana, and mango
- Try to have plain meals and snacks if you experience nausea, sickness or taste changes. It is importance you still try to manage small, frequent amounts of diet and fluid even if you don’t feel like it
- Regular exercisecan also help you to gain weight by increasing muscle mass and increasing appetite. Make sure you include a mixture of cardiovascular and weight-bearing exercises
Erratic bowel habits
- For symptoms of constipation, drink plenty of fluids (1.5l – 2l per day) and increase fibre in your diet using whole grain bread, keeping the skins on fruit and vegetables and trying high-fibre cereals such as fruit and fibre, bran flakes or porridge
- Episodes of diarrhoea can be eased by reducing caffeine, artificial sweeteners and fibre in your diet. Ensure that you mention your symptoms to the doctors, nurses or your GP if they persist
- Change of taste: For more tips on how to manage change of taste please read our leaflet, “Coping with taste changes” (available to download below)
If you are concerned about your appetite or are losing weight unintentionally, please ask to see the dietitian, who will happily make personalised suggestions to you.