COPD 101: Maintaining a Healthy Weight
When you have COPD, it’s so important to maintain your weight within a healthy range. Doing so will strengthen your body in the best way to face the challenges that having COPD brings to the table. It is possible both to weigh too much and to weigh too little. Both extremes occur with COPD.
When You Are Overweight
Two thirds of our population in the United States is overweight. That’s an unfortunate fact of modern life. For people in their 50s or older, the obesity rate has risen more than 60% in our lifetime! There are many reasons for this epidemic of overweight. We are less active than previous generations, we eat more processed, high fat and high sugar foods than our ancestors and being overweight is now so commonplace, people have begun to see it as the norm, rather than something that should be remedied.
People who have COPD are just as likely to be overweight, at least in the earlier stages, as anyone else. Unfortunately, though, when you are overweight with COPD, you are likely to find that your symptoms are worse. COPD makes it harder to breathe, as does carrying extra fat around your middle. The combination can really impact the ability to breathe well.
So, losing weight, even a modest loss of 5 to 10 pounds, can make a real difference in how you feel. It will be easier to breathe and you will be able to tolerate activity more readily. Staying active will help you keep the weight off or even lose more on a consistent basis.
Having a healthy weight also benefits you in these ways:
- Lower cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- More energy & endurance
- Better sleep
- Less aches & pains from stress on the joints
- Improved muscle strength and joint flexibility
- Lower blood sugar levels
- Improvements in mood
- Better self esteem & confidence
When You Are Underweight
If you were feeling the effects of COPD for a long time before you actually got diagnosed, or if you are in a later stage of COPD, you might be dealing with the opposite challenge. You might be having trouble keeping weight on.
When you have COPD, eating can take a lot of energy. You might even feel like it’s not worth the effort to get through a meal. In fact, the American Lung Association has even reported that people who have COPD use up lots of calories just from trying to breathe. You may also be less active when breathing is difficult. And that contributes to a smaller appetite.
Plus, preparing meals can be a real energy zapper. People who have COPD and who prepare their own meals often opt for the easiest thing possible… and that may not be the most nutritious choice.
But when you are underweight, your body will not have the reserves it needs to weather the storms of illness and infection. Your skin will also be more fragile and if you have a wound, it may not heal properly. Nor will you have the energy you need to get through the day.
How to Get to a Healthy Weight
Making healthy food choices is the key. Choose nutritious foods, especially whole foods such as fruits and vegetables, lean animal proteins and some whole grains. Avoid prepared foods, foods high in sugar or other sweeteners or snack-type foods. Portion size is also important. Keeping your portions smaller, but eating more often than 3 times a day, can be the best way to get through meals without it being a strain on your breathing, while still getting adequate nutrition.
Work with your doctor or a nutritionist to set up a meal plan and calorie load that is right for you, whether you are overweight or underweight.
Here are few more tips to help you breathe as well as possible during mealtimes:
- If you use a nebulizer, take a treatment before eating to help clear your airways. Of, if you don’t use one, then do some deep breathing and coughing exercises first, for the same reason.
- If you use oxygen part time, think about turning it on during mealtimes, to guarantee your oxygen level stays adequate.
- Eat slowly, and take frequent breaks to rest. If you feel short of breath or start coughing, take time to even out these symptoms before you start eating again.
- Keep your meals small and take small bites. Softer, easier-to-chew foods can help too.
- Sit upright while you eat. This allow your lungs and diaphragm to expand fully, which will aid in breathing.
In summary, working towards a healthy weight is just another way that you can be proactive in managing your COPD, so that you can have the best quality of life possible.