an animated stomach with a cartoon face winces as the lungs above expand and squish the stomach

COPD & Appetite

Appetite and COPD do not seem to go well together from my own personal observations. I weighed at least 235 pounds when I was first diagnosed in 2011. Talk about a “spare tire!” – yeesh. I now weigh approximately 195-200 pounds. It fluctuates (lol).

Spreading out meals

I don’t have a super-strong appetite and I usually eat 2 meals a day as opposed to the traditional 3. Oftentimes, I’ll eat a number of small meals – slices of roast beef, cheese and crackers, cold cuts, and cold salads – and spread them out as much as I can during the course of the day.

I’ve also cut way back on red meat which is very unusual for an Irish-American. But I find I don’t have the desire for steaks and chops that I used to have. Although, with summer BBQ’s I find myself asking for one (or two).

Malnourished or undernourished

According to the National Institue of Health:1 “The majority of the patients with severe COPD are lean, and frequently in a malnourished or undernourished state, referred to as “pulmonary cachexia syndrome” (PCS), which is characterized by loss of fat-free body mass causing muscle wasting.” Wow. That is a mouthful (you should forgive the pun).

That said, losing weight too quickly may be a sign of severe COPD. As the disease progresses, the lungs can become extremely damaged. This can result in increased lung volume, a flattened diaphragm, and thus less space between the lungs and stomach. Eventually, the lungs and stomach might press against one another, causing intense discomfort during eating and breathing. No wonder many COPD patients struggle in these areas.2 So while weight loss may make us look “better” in our summer bathing suits, it may not necessarily a good thing.

Exercise and weight control

The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine summarizes an all-too-common problem for COPD patients very well: “Unplanned weight loss affects as many as 40 to 70 percent of lung disease patients. Why? Because patients require more energy just to breathe and need between 430 and 720 calories a day just to keep breathing.”3

For others though, COPD and gaining weight is an issue. I don’t think any of us are exercising or walking as much as we’d like to (except for those “superstar” COPD bicycle riders and athletes, about whom I have a healthy amount of skepticism) which means the weight begins to pile up.

It’s difficult, especially when you need to use external oxygen to get through the workout. This is partially why it is a constant struggle for lung disease patients to maintain a healthy diet and not be over/underweight. It's important to remember that everyone has a different journey with COPD. Therefore, you should consult your doctor before making any changes to your diet or exercise routine. Keep them in the loop so they can provide you the best possible care.

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