Overcoming Eating Challenges - Part 3

Editor's note: This is part 3 of a 4-part series. Be sure to check out part 1, part 2, and part 4.

The nutrients we get from food give our bodies instructions about how to function. Food acts as medicine - to maintain, prevent, and treat disease. We all know how bad overeating and not eating enough can be on our bodies.  Several reasons are given why people with COPD do not eat properly. Some common reasons are loss of appetite, too tired to prepare meals, the act of chewing and swallowing requires too much energy, others don't like the taste of food anymore, and becoming too short of breath to eat.

Shortness of breath

Try to rest for 30 minutes before meals, use the right body posture when you eat to make your breathing easier. I sit upright and lean forward with my elbows on the table and feet on the floor to allow for the greatest expansion of the lungs. Have easily prepared meals on hand, ones that are easy to chew and swallow. If you are on continuous oxygen therapy, ask your health care provider if you should increase your oxygen flow rate during meals. Anxiety about making a meal can make SOB worse, so try cooking quick easy microwave meal or get precooked meals at the store. That way you can relax before and while you're eating. Use deep breathing and pursed-lip breathing techniques. Stop and rest in between bites. And don't overfill your stomach, it will make it harder to breathe. It is better to eat six/eight small meals instead of larger ones. Eating small meals will prevent bloating too. When you're SOB try eating soft or liquid foods. It is easier to drink a glass of V8 than eat a salad and you will get the nourishment you need.

No appetite, no taste

When you know you should eat, but you are not feeling hungry, try eating some of your favorite foods. Keeping healthy snacks handy in places where you are likely to see them, and eat several during the day.  Remember, the less you eat the weaker and sicker you can become. It takes energy to fight off the effects of COPD and if you don't eat you won't have that energy. If you skip meals because food does not taste as good as it once did, this can result from some meds side effects of your medication or because you stopped smoking. Smoking affects your taste buds, so when you stop smoking, your taste buds go back to normal and you taste food differently. If that is the reason you stopped eating, you'll get used to it and after a while your appetite should come back. If you have lost your sense of taste, consider asking your doctor about taking a zinc supplement for 2-4 weeks. Your body needs food to keep going, with COPD it takes a lot more food so, if taste does not improve, you'll have to learn to live with it and make yourself eat.

Food preparation

Try eating five to six small meals per day, rather than three large ones. Eating smaller meals means that you avoid filling your stomach up too much and give your lungs enough room to expand, making breathing easier.  To avoid wasting your energy, choose foods that are quick and easy to prepare, sit down when preparing meals, ask for help. Or you may be eligible for a meal home delivery service, (like Meals on Wheels). When making a meal, make a bigger portion so that you can freeze some for later when you feel too tired to cook. Make mealtime easier and stick to a healthy eating program.

A balanced diet

Protein-rich foods help the body in many ways. If you have a weight problem, try fat free dairy products too. Like fat free or 1% milk or low fat cheese. Whole grain foods are high in fiber which helps improve the function of the digestive system. Try using whole-wheat bread, rice, pasta instead of white and replace sugar with honey. Since I developed GERT I have a problem eating most yeast breads so I eat flour tortillas instead (except for peanut butter sandwich), they turn any sandwich into a wrap.

Fruits and vegetables are high in vitamins and minerals that are essential to good breathing and health in general. Many COPDers fail to regularly eat fresh fruits and vegetables, while eating heavily salted prepared foods instead. Some fruits and vegetables are more suitable than others; those containing high levels of potassium, including bananas, oranges, tomatoes, asparagus, and potatoes are a must-eat. Potassium is absolutely critical! Other good choices are: lettuce, mushrooms, dark leafy greens, carrot, squash, all type of berries, and most other fruits. On the other hand, apples, avocados, melons, beans, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, corn, leeks, onions, peas, peppers, and scallions can cause bloating and gas, which may lead to breathing problems. If they don’t cause a problem for you it can be ok to keep enjoying them. (Check with your doctor when making dietary changes.)

People with COPD should try to drink plenty of fluids throughout the day. However, if you have been diagnosed with heart problems as well as COPD, talk to your doctor. Sometimes it’s necessary for people with heart problems to limit their fluid intake. I have CHF and do not drink as much as others with COPD, although I do keep a glass of water handy at all times.

If you want to breathe better, live a better and longer life you have to eat properly. I hope some of the guidelines I've been giving helps. In part 4 I will give a sample of what I eat during the day and microwavable meals/recipes that from start to finish take no more than 15 minutes from the fridge to the table. As I live alone most are for one person, but, with a little calculating the recipes can be adapted to fit your needs. I will also include a variety of foods for those who have trouble chewing, are underweight or overweight. You'll be surprised to find that some of the same foods can be used to lose or gain weight depending on how they're used. Bon Appetit. Breathe deep and easy.

Editor’s Note: We are extremely saddened to say that on March 2, 2018, Mary Ultes passed away. Mary was an engaged advocate for the COPD community who strived to help people live fulfilling lives. She is deeply missed.

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