Some people find eating a well-balanced diet difficult, especially if they have been seriously ill. Two common reasons for this are:
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick (nausea).
However, it is important to eat as well as possible. The following tips may help.
Loss of appetite
- Eat small but frequent meals – little and often1.
- Nutritious snacks may be better than one big meal.
- Try to eat something every two hours, however small.
- Tempt yourself with foods you like, you don’t have to have a ‘proper meal’; snacks are often easier to eat.
- Don’t force yourself to eat food you don’t like.
- Try to relax before and after you eat.
- Take your time over eating – chew well and breathe steadily.
- If you don’t feel like solid food, try a nourishing drink.
Nourishing drinks include homemade fruit milkshakes or smoothies and oral nutritional supplements. It is a good idea to check with your doctor or dietitian first to see if they are suitable for you.
Milkshakes and smoothies can be made by blending fresh fruits with milk, fruit juice, ice cream or yoghurt. You can also include honey and two to three teaspoons of powder drink supplement (see below)31.
Nutritional supplements are also available in sweet or savoury flavoured powder form and can be mixed with milk or water. Your doctor or dietitian may prescribe these. They can be taken in-between meals and before bed – this is especially helpful if you are only eating small amounts.
Non-flavoured high-energy or protein powders can also be prescribed. These powders are virtually tasteless and can be added to drinks, soups, sauces, gravies, casseroles and other foods.
- If some smells make you feel sick, try a breath of fresh air before you eat.
- Keep your mouth fresh by brushing your teeth, using a mouthwash or sucking mints.
- Don’t let yourself get too hungry – hunger makes nausea worse.
- Try to eat something every two hours, even if it’s only a small amount.
- Cold snacks may be easier to cope with than a hot main meal.
- Likewise, dry foods can be easier to face, so nibbling on crackers or plain biscuits can help reduce nausea.
- It is not essential to have a ‘proper meal’; small snacks can be just as nutritious.
- Is there a pattern? Do you always feel sick at the same time of day? If so, try eating at other times.
- Avoid eating when you are very tired; rest and relax first.
- If cooking makes the problem worse, try using ready-made meals or sandwiches.
- Try sipping cold drinks slowly through a straw.
- High-calorie and protein supplements may be a good idea if you find you are losing weight. If you feel sick for more than a few days, or if you start being sick (vomiting), then talk to your doctor.