Coping with fatigue, nausea and loss of appetite


You may feel extremely tired (fatigued) during and after cancer treatment. This can affect your eating.

Here are some tips to help you.

• Eat small, regular meals and snacks throughout the day.

• Stock up on ready to eat foods such as tinned or frozen meals and snacks such as soup, yoghurt, muesli bars, dried fruit, nuts, crackers, cheese, tinned fish, hummus and dips.

• Look for food that is easy to prepare and local meal-delivery options.

• Plan ahead. If you have a freezer, prepare food when you are feeling more energetic and freeze these for use when you are feeling tired.

• Shop online for groceries if you do not have the energy to go to the supermarket.

• Take up offers of support from family/whānau, friends or neighbours to help with cooking meals or buying groceries.

• Avoid missing meals. Try a nutritious drink such as a smoothie or milkshake.

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You can find more about coping with fatigue here.



Loss of appetite

Changes in appetite can be normal due to the effects of your cancer, treatment, fatigue, pain, anxiety, or depression. Even though you may not feel hungry, your body still needs food to maintain your weight and support your recovery. Think of food as part of your treatment plan. The following ideas may help.

• Eat small, regular meals and snacks throughout the day.

• Do not rely on your appetite to tell you it is time to eat. Eat at regular times.

• Make the most of your appetite when it is good and you are most hungry.

• If you cannot face food, drink nutritious fluids such as smoothies, flavoured milk and supplement drinks.

• Use easy-to-eat, soft, moist food such as soup, eggs, casseroles, mashed vegetables and gravy, stewed fruit and yoghurt, and milk puddings.

• Eat calorie-rich foods like avocado, cream, butter, margarine or spreads, oil, or salad dressings and protein-rich foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, nuts, nut butter, hard cheese, or milk.

• Make your food look appealing by serving smaller portions and using garnishes like herbs, tomato, lemon or orange slices.

• Keep ready-to-eat meals and snacks handy for times when you do not feel like preparing food. Pre-prepared soups, frozen meals, tinned fruit, yoghurt, cheese, dips and crackers are good examples.

• Enjoy your eating by sharing it with friends and family/whānau when possible.

• Try to relax before meals or take a short walk to increase your appetite.


Nausea (feeling sick)

Nausea is a common side effect of cancer treatment. The following ideas may help you.

• Take anti-nausea medication as prescribed.

• Eat small, regular meals and snacks throughout the day.

• Try to avoid getting hungry as this can lead to nausea.

• Eat dry bland foods like toast and crackers.

• Aim to drink plenty of fluids, 1.5 litres is a good daily target. This will help reduce nausea. 

• Sip fluids throughout the day, such as ginger ale, lemonade, clear broth, supplement drinks, and ice blocks, or dilute fruit and vegetable juices.

• Limit smells by eating food that is cold or at room temperature food rather than hot food.

• Avoid cooking and the kitchen smells by asking for help with meal preparation or use convenience meal options.

• Try drinks and foods containing ginger, such as flat ginger beer, ginger tea, and ginger biscuits.

• Avoid fatty and spicy foods, which can increase nausea.

• Take your time over meals,

• Distract yourself with music, a favourite TV programme, or the company of others.

• Take a short walk in the fresh air before eating or try some slow, deep breathing. 


Vomiting (being sick)

Vomiting sometimes follows nausea and may be caused by treatment, stress, food odours or gas in the stomach or bowel. Some changes to your eating can help.

• Take anti-nausea medication as prescribed.

• Sip small amounts of fluids as often as possible. Try dry ginger ale, cold flat lemonade, soda water, Lucozade or chilled tomato juice. Sucking on a hard lolly, crushed ice cubes or an ice block can be soothing.

• If you cannot keep fluids down or vomiting lasts for more than 24 hours, contact your treatment team.

• Start drinking and eating slowly once vomiting has stopped. Try foods like dry biscuits, pretzels, toast or bread, jelly, cooked cereals such as lemon sago, porridge or boiled rice, and soft stewed fruits such as apples, pears, and peaches.

• Introduce small amounts of milk gradually, or try yoghurt.

• Gradually increase your food intake until eating returns to normal.

• Your GP or treatment team may advise you to take a nutritional supplement.

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