Caring for someone with weight loss

If you are the main carer for someone with cancer, it can be upsetting and difficult to know how to deal with eating problems such as lack of appetite or weight loss. People who are very ill often do not feel like eating. Cancer, cancer treatments and medicines can all affect someone’s appetite. Feeling sick and having diarrhoea or constipation can stop people eating. Or they may feel too tired to eat, have a sore or dry throat or mouth, or find chewing and swallowing difficult.

It can be frustrating and worrying when someone you are caring for cannot eat very much. Mealtimes are often an enjoyable and important part of family and social life. The amount someone can eat may change each day, and their likes and dislikes may also change. Knowing when their appetite is at its best means you can make the most of it and treat them to their favourite foods.

Tips to help build up someone’s diet

  • Take time to ask them what they would like to eat.
  • Try to talk openly about their weight loss and the different ways you could both manage it. This can help you both feel more in control of the situation.
  • Rather than aiming for three meals a day, it might be helpful to try having smaller meals and snacks more often throughout the day.
  • Try not to offer drinks before a meal, to prevent them feeling too full to eat.
  • Offer their favourite foods at the times when you know their appetite is at its best.
  • Make batches of a favourite vegetable soup and freeze some to have as a quick meal at another time.
  • Keep snacks in easy reach so they are ready whenever the person feels hungry. Have a look at the shopping list we suggest and stock up on some items you know they prefer, so you can prepare meals and snacks easily.
  • Avoid low-fat or diet products. For example, choose whole milk rather than skimmed milk.
  • Try offering a sherry or brandy half an hour before a meal, as some people find this stimulates their appetite. Or a glass of wine with their meal may help their digestion. Check with the doctor or specialist nurse that the person you are caring for can have alcohol.
  • Try using energy supplements to add energy to everyday meals and drinks. For example, you could try adding fortified milk to tea or coffee. We have more information on how build up your diet with food supplements and recipe suggestions. There are also recipes available from the companies that make the energy supplement drinks and powders.
  • Encourage regular activity, if possible, as this can help increase someone’s appetite. Start off gently with something that is easy to manage.
  • If the person you are caring for is experiencing nausea, vomiting, taste changes, a sore mouth or altered bowel habits, speak to their doctor or nurse. They can either prescribe something to help or refer the person you are caring for to a dietitian.
  • Make sure you have support and take time to care for yourself.

We have more information about looking after someone with cancer.

Serving

  • If the person you are caring for finds that certain cooking smells make them feel sick, prepare food in a different room if possible. Serve food in a well-ventilated room.
  • Try to create a comfortable eating environment.
  • Present meals so they look appetising.
  • Keep servings small. Offer second helpings rather than putting too much food on their plate to begin with, as this can be overwhelming and off-putting.
  • Try not to worry if they cannot always eat what you have cooked. Gently encourage the person you are caring for to eat, but try not to push them too much.

Back to Preventing weight loss

The building-up diet

If you have lost weight during cancer treatment, the building-up diet will help to give you more energy.

Shopping list

There are several types of food that can be particularly helpful in building up your diet.

Meal ideas

You can increase your energy intake by preparing your meals slightly differently. Our menus offer some suggestions.