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COPD 101: Maintaining a Healthy Weight

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The COPD.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • blackjack
    2 years ago

    Thanks for the advice. I’m underweight. I never feel thirsty and hardly ever feel hungry which makes matters worse.

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    Very interesting, blackjack! Have you talked with your doctor about this at all? Maybe they can help provide some additional support or advice? Drinking enough water and getting the right nutrients can be such an important part of your COPD journey! Also, I’m glad to hear you found this article helpful! -Casey, COPD.net Team

  • davidpatrick344
    2 years ago

    i need to lose 100 lbs i ea to much my sound crazy but if i eat something it clears my throat so taking a bite of something all day and drinking a no sugar soda all day

  • davidpatrick344
    1 year ago

    I had phnumiona that I had never gotten over that’s why I had so phlem when I would stand or sit had to do 3 courses of pills – still have some go back to dr next month on medicare advantage so only pays dr 1 every 3 months

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    Very interesting, davidpatrick344! Have you talked with your doctor about this? I totally understand where you’re coming from, but maybe they can help recommend something different to try that will provide you with the same relief? Just a thought! If you do get a chance to talk with your doctor, let us know what they say! -Casey, COPD.net Team

  • Paula
    2 years ago

    People – even my doctor – have looked at me like I was crazy when I mentioned how much energy eating required. Sometimes the act of chewing is just more than I have to give plus I just don’t enjoy food as much any more.

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    We SO hear you, Paula! That completely makes sense, and I’m so sorry to hear you’re struggling with this. Please know we’re here for you, and sending positive thoughts your way. -Casey, COPD.net Team

  • Beth
    2 years ago

    I am heavier than I have been in a long time. When diagnosed I was losing weight. Due to back and hip problems I can’t get as much exercise.so I eat. any suggestions are welcome.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Beth and thanks for sharing your situation with our community. It sounds like you have some challenges to deal with since you indicated because of your back and hip problems, your mobility is limited. And, as you said, you focus on eating. I thought, in view of your concerns, you might find it helpful to look over this article:https://copd.net/living-with-copd/pulmonary-rehab/weight-management/. Please check back with us and let us know how you’re doing. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • girlbybay
    3 years ago

    I have a super appetite and need to lose the 5 or 10 lbs, I kept my disease in the dark from husband and family for 8 years, then as it has gotten a bit worse and I decided to finally see a pulmonary specialist in 2014 , so I was formerly diagnosed, but have been on medicine for it for over 9 years, wondered how many smoke and take oxygen, I do neither,, also looking for any experiences on stem cell therapy by anyone, anyone in a clinical study for meds right now, I am .

  • Casey Hribar moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi girlbybay! I’m just now seeing this comment, and I’m so sorry for the late reply! Have you been able to manage your appetite at all? Has your family been supportive since you’ve told them about what you’re going through? I’m really hoping they have! I think we have a fair amount of both smokers, non-smokers, and individuals on oxygen in our community. You may be able to post a question on our questions feature to try to get more specific feedback, https://copd.net/q-and-a/ Also, as far as stem cell therapy, I found this article you may be interested in! https://copd.net/news/stem-cell-therapy/

    Please keep us updated, and we hope you’ve been doing well since you last posted! -Casey, COPD.net Team

  • nina46
    3 years ago

    hi , I have copd , and when I eat I have this funny feeling in my tubes when I swallow food or drinks ,I also have a lot of indigestion , do you know why ..

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Nina – we appreciate your inquiry. I see that Jenn has guided you in the right direction with an article from Mary Ultes that references indigestion.
    There is also mention of indigestion as a side effect of the medication Spiriva. You can access that article here: https://copd.net/treatment/medication-overview/medications/spiriva-respimat-spiriva-handihaler/ Of course it’s always best to contact your physician first about any new symptoms you are experiencing. We’ll look forward to hearing back from you. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Jenn Patel
    3 years ago

    Hi nina46 –

    Thanks so much for posting here. Any time one of our community members mentions a new symptom, we always encourage them to speak with their doctor to rule out any other possible underlying cause. Also, I thought you might be interested to know that in this article, Mary points out that stress can sometimes trigger indigestion in some people: https://copd.net/living/infections-exacerbations-and-stress/. I hope this is helpful – please keep us posted on what the doctor says!

    Best,
    Jenn (Community Manager, COPD.net)

  • raymondo
    3 years ago

    Hi I have just found out that I have Steve 3 COPD, gave up smoking 2 years ago, I have noticed when I eat my belly swells up like a footfall and I have this strange feeling in one of my ribbs, like some knuckle or lump, is this common.
    Kind Regards Raymond.

  • Jenn Patel
    3 years ago

    Hi Raymondo –

    Thanks for your comment, and I’m so sorry you’re experiencing this. By the way, CONGRATULATIONS on having given up smoking! As you know, that is one of the BEST things you can do in treating and managing COPD, and you have a lot to be proud of for doing so!!!

    In regards to what you described, you’re not alone in feeling bloated when you eat. I thought these posts by Derek would be of interest on the topic: https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-1/ and https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-2/.

    Additionally, this post might provide you with some helpful ways to deal with this: https://copd.net/living/3-simple-tips-for-eating-and-feeling-better/.

    I do hope this is helpful! Please feel free to come by any time!

    Best,
    Jenn (COPD.net Team)

  • lynda
    3 years ago

    I have had to figure this weight problem out on my own as my doctors respose is stop smoking you will eat more then you will gain weight and when I replied that I eat more than she could imagine and I do, I eat more than my 280lb friend, and get teased for the ammount of food I eat. She laughed and left the room…. since then ive added protien shakes to my diet and have brought my weight up from 102 to 114.

  • Meaghan Coneys moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Ljm13808 – thank you for your comment. Just wanted to send you a quick congrats on getting your weight up! I am happy to hear you have found something that works for you. Also, I thought you would like this article – https://copd.net/living/overcoming-eating-challenges-part-2/. It has a section on gaining weight and some food suggestions. You may know most of it already, however thought I would send it along just in case. Thanks again for your comment and keep up the good work! Have a lovely day. Best, Meaghan (COPD.net Team)

  • Kathi MacNaughton author
    3 years ago

    Hi Lynda… It’s not only important how much we eat; it’s also the quality of what we eat. Adding the protein shakes to your diet is certainly a step in the right direction. You might also visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/ where you can learn more about the proper proportions of various types of foods. If that doesn’t help, a consultation with a nutritionist might. You might also research “gut health” online. When our weight doesn’t respond as we think it should, often poor gut health is the root of the problem. Wishing you success–Kathi

  • Jean
    4 years ago

    If you’re overweight and have COPD, combining diet and exercise can be a real benefit. In 2003, I was terribly overweight, on O2 24/7, on lots of meds and generally a mess, with an FEV1 of 16%, after just having left the hospital after acute respiratory failure. With the approval of my doc, I started on a very aggressive exercise program along with a 1200 to 1500 calorie diabetic diet and over the next 18 months, lost over 100 pounds. What I didn’t realize was how much my breathing would improve. At the end of the 18 months, no only had I lost all the weight, I had gotten off O2 completely, put my C-pap machine in the closet, reduced my meds by way more than half and got a whole new wardrobe.

    In addition, I was able to continue to work until my planned retirement. Then I sold my house and moved to a retirement community from which I consult in my professional field, act as a COPD advocate and engage in many COPD activities on the national, state and local level, and am extremely active in my church. I travel by air at least twice a month (with a POC now). My life is really great, and if I hadn’t lost the weight, I’m pretty sure I would have been dead for 10 years.

    Jean

  • nina46
    3 years ago

    that’s wonderful ,you losing all that weight , I put a lot of weight on 5 years ago , I’m now trying to lose a couple of stone ,I know I will feel so much better , well done you .

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