COPD and Nutrition: Managing Difficulties with Gaining Weight
Last updated: June 2023
Did you know breathing may require more energy if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)?
If you are living with COPD and are experiencing weight loss or are already underweight, you will need more calories to replace the energy used. When you do not consume enough calories to meet your body’s energy needs, your body breaks down stored fat and muscle. This breakdown causes both muscle loss and weight loss.
Weakened immune system
Also, if you are below a healthy weight, your immune system may be weakened. A weakened immune system puts you more at risk for lung infections. You may experience tiredness and fatigue, making it harder to complete everyday tasks. When you do not eat enough calories, it makes the muscles in your lungs work harder. This can further cause shortness of breath.
Suggested conversation topics
It is helpful to discuss with your healthcare provider your concerns and challenges in eating enough calories. Some suggestions include:
- The daily calories you need to maintain a healthy body weight
- Any concerns about your current weight
- Current challenges preparing and cooking the meal
- If you experience difficulty breathing or discomfort while eating
- Any other special dietary needs
Your healthcare provider may suggest you speak with a nutrition expert or attend pulmonary rehabilitation. Along with general education and exercise, pulmonary rehabilitation provides nutritional counseling.
It can be hard to meet your nutritional needs when you have difficulty preparing meals or experience shortness of breath while cooking. Choose nutritious foods that are easy to prepare. When possible, purchase fruits or vegetables that are pre-cut, pre-cooked meats, or unprocessed frozen meals. When preparing meals, consider cooking extra, so you will have food for the next day. You can also freeze additional portions for a day that you are too tired to cook. Consider asking your family or caregiver for help with grocery shopping and cooking. You can also consider meal or grocery delivery services that meet your dietary needs.
How much and when
“If you have a small appetite, feel too tired to eat, or get overly full from your meals, rethink how much and when you eat,” says Rachel Ram, CHES, Health Promotions Coordinator for the American Lung Association. “Focus on five to six small meals throughout the day rather than eating two or three large meals. Schedule yourself reminders so you remember to eat regularly and keep higher-calorie, non-perishable, healthy snacks easily accessible. Fluids, like water, are important but beware they can make you feel full quickly. Drink beverages after your meal, rather than at the beginning or during your meal.”
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), MyPlate provides quick and easy recipes to make the most of your meal planning. If you are having trouble grocery shopping or buying food, contact your local aging or senior service organization to find what services are available in your area.
Make the most out of the foods you eat and read the Nutrition Facts Label for fewer, higher quality ingredients. Focus on eating foods high in fiber, protein, and fats, with plenty of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables.
Fiber has many benefits, including keeping your bowel movements regular. High-fiber foods include whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, whole-grain cereals, vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, and rice.
Protein can help you build muscle mass and ultimately gain weight. Meat, poultry, fish, nuts and seeds, tofu, milk, cheese, and eggs are higher in protein. Mixed nuts and nut butter, like peanut or almond, are delicious, versatile, and easy to use. Spread peanut butter on cut-up apples, sandwiches, whole grain crackers, and toast. Add mixed nuts or seeds to yogurt, cottage cheese, and cereal. Try added protein powder to fruit smoothies and milkshakes.
Fats help you digest your foods and make vitamins. Foods like meat, dairy, eggs, nuts, and oils contain fat. Choose whole or full-fat dairy options rather than low or reduced-fat. Add cheese, cream, olive oil, butter, and dressings to meals when possible. You may find that eating too much dairy causes your mucus to thicken, so listen to your body. You can also talk to your doctor about adding supplemental nutrition drinks to your diet to add calories, vitamins, and minerals.
Connecting with others
Living with chronic lung disease can be challenging. Sometimes it helps to connect with others who are experiencing the same challenges as you. The Lung Association has resources available to support patients, caregivers, and loved ones. To learn more about COPD and nutrition, visit Lung.org/COPD or call 1-800-LUNG-USA.
What stage was your COPD diagnosed as?