Doctors worry about losing too much weight when we are ill. These shifts are not always down to the disease itself – sometimes medication and the anxiety around your illness can cause you to lose some of your appetite. The problem is that losing weight while we are undergoing treatment can alter our blood work and disrupt our body’s reaction to the drugs and therapies. If you're undergoing radiotherapy for cancer, losing weight can also complicate your team’s ability to accurately target the cancer, so it's best to check if weight loss is best avoided. It might be that if you’re carrying more weight than you ideally want, then you can focus in on this aspect of your health once you have finished your radiotherapy treatment.
Fortunately, there are lots of delicious, indulgent-feeling ways to tweak the simple foods we are eating, to make them that bit higher in calories and therefore more likely to help you keep your weight where it needs to be.
- Don’t be afraid to use fats, as they not only provide a great source of calories, but can also make a dish taste far better, which can be just what’s needed when you’re struggling with a jaded appetite. Add the classic butter, cream (single or double), thick, Greek-style, full-fat yoghurt, olive or avocado oil (one of my favourites), or some finely grated hard cheese such as Parmesan to puréed and mashed vegetables. Coconut cream or oil, or a nut butter, are also delicious if you want to use a non-dairy fat.
- Serve a thick creamy custard or a crème Anglaise with stewed or compote of fruits, and add a soft, melt-in-your-mouth buttery biscuit on the side.
- Make porridge (try buckwheat flakes or quinoa as well as the usual oats) with all milk (instead of water) and stir in some cream (the classic dairy cream or a coconut or almond) when serving. Top with a little caramel-tasting brown molasses-type sugar, a drizzle of honey, or agave syrup. A small bowl of this classic is a great calorie-intense hit of a morning. Click here for my Pick n’ Mix Porridge recipe.
- Add a good layer of butter or nut butter to toast, crumpets, pancakes, crisp and flat breads, etc. Not only will make it them taste delicious but they will also be easier to swallow and more enjoyable to eat, and the fat will help to boost the calories. You could also serve a small bowl of a lovely olive oil on the table, so that you can dip an Italian bread such as ciabatta or focaccia into it, small piece by small piece, to enjoy the lovely olive-y calorie hit.
- Take the pressure off eating. Sitting down to a meal when you have family watching every mouthful you’re eating can put you under too much strain so your appetite disappears. Instead, try having a plate of appetising things to nibble on when away from the table, say while watching TV or reading. When the expectation and pressure decreases, so often the appetite starts to return. Relatives panic when they see you losing weight, so they can become too over-facing, as can the portions they serve. Try to ease back on portion size, serve foods in small portions, say in ramekins, so that you are more likely to think, ‘I can eat that’. You can always have seconds.
- Eat chocolate! With many of my patients I find that chocolate can have an appetite-stimulating effect. It’s probably down to the theobromine inside the chocolate which can act as a muscle relaxant, and ease the ‘frog in the throat’ feeling which can take away appetite. You may like to try my chocolate trick, which is simply taking a few squares of a high cocoa bean chocolate, either nibbling on it whole or melting it in a small amount of milk and serving as an espresso cup-sized portion of hot or cool chocolate drink. It can really help to ease swallowing and interest a jaded appetite.
For more information on a nourishing healthy diet, see Nutrition Basics.
Discover enriching and fortifying recipes by clicking on the boxes below.