If you have lost your appetite

If you find you have a poor appetite, these suggestions may help you:

  • If you can’t face big meals, eat little amounts as often as possible. Try to have a small portion of food every two hours during the day.
  • Try to make your food look as attractive as possible. Put small portions on your plate and garnish the food with lemon, tomato or parsley.
  • An aperitif such as sherry or brandy half an hour before a meal can be a good way of stimulating your appetite. Some people find a glass of wine with their meals helps their digestion. Check with your doctor that you can have alcohol.
  • Keep snacks handy to eat whenever you can. Bags of nuts or crisps, dried fruit or a bowl of grated cheese are quite light and tasty. If these are hard for you to swallow, a yoghurt or fromage frais may be easier. If you’ve recently had surgery or radiotherapy for bowel cancer you may need advice about the best foods for you. Discuss this with your specialist nurse, doctor or a dietitian.
  • Sweet or savoury nourishing drinks can be used to replace small meals and can be sipped slowly through the day (see our information on the the building-up diet).
  • Eat your meals slowly, chew the food well and relax for a little while after each meal.
  • Sometimes the smell of cooking can be appetising, but occasionally it can put you off eating. If cooking smells spoil your appetite, keep away from the kitchen and ask your family or friends to cook. Or try to eat cold foods that are attractively presented instead.
  • Everyone’s appetite changes and you may have good and bad days. Make the most of the good days by eating well and treating yourself to your favourite foods.
  • Try to eat your meals in a room where you feel relaxed and where there aren’t any distractions.
  • It may be possible to stimulate your appetite using medicines such as a low dose of steroids or the hormone medroxyprogesterone. Your doctor may prescribe these for you.

We offer some simple tips and advice for overcoming poor appetite after cancer treatment in this video here.

If you have an increased appetite

Some medicines, such as steroids, may give you a big appetite and might make you want to eat much more than usual. It’s important to try to eat healthy foods such as fruit and vegetables instead of sweets and crisps so you don’t put on too much weight. We have information on healthy eating and cancer.