Eating Well

Having a lung disease or lung cancer and experiencing symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness or nausea can make it difficult to prepare meals and maintain a healthy diet. However, we know a healthy diet plays an important role in better wellbeing, both physically and mentally.

Why is healthy eating important for people who have lung conditions?

Food provides your body with energy, including the energy to breathe. If you are living with a lung condition, a healthy diet is important in managing your condition because:

  • Your body will require more energy. Studies have shown that people who have chronic lung conditions use 25% to 50% more energy than healthy people due to the increased work of breathing. [1]
  • Your condition or prescribed treatment may impact your appetite. Some people will experience a reduced appetite as eating becomes more difficult, while others will have and increased appetite due to their medications, such as steroids.
  • Your body may require more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to help with energy supply and fight off illness.
  • You may be at an increased risk of infection. Good nutrition helps the body fight infections.


What effect can your body weight have on your condition?

If you are underweight, you may become weak and tired more often, which in turn makes it more difficult to do your usual activities, such as shopping, cooking or even eating. Being underweight may also increase your risk of getting infections.

Being overweight can increase your symptoms, mainly breathlessness, making it hard for you to do your everyday activities, like walking upstairs or carrying the groceries. If you are very overweight, stress is placed on your body, possibly impacting your lung function and increasing your risk of high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Your GP, treating healthcare team or an accredited practicing dietitian can help you to develop a plan to manage your weight.

It is important to monitor your weight regularly, generally once or twice a week.  Your doctor may   recommend weighing yourself more often.  If you are taking diuretics (water pills) or steroid medication, such as prednisolone, you should weigh yourself daily since your weight might change.  If you have unexplained weight gain or loss, contact your doctor who may want to change your food or fluid intake to better manage your condition.

Tips to creating healthy habits

When you are tired or unwell, it can be difficult to maintain a healthy diet. However, this is usually the time when good nutrition is most important. To reserve energy try having five smaller meals or snacks rather than three large meals per day. You may find it helpful to choose foods that are soft and easy to chew, as chewing can increase fatigue. Remember to eat a variety of foods from all the food groups to get the nutrients you need.

Tips for eating:

  • Eat slowly and chew foods well to avoid swallowing air while eating. Try putting your cutlery down between bites.
  • Maintain a good posture while eating to ease the pressure on your lungs.
  • Drink liquids at the end of the meal to avoid feeling full during meals.
  • Stop eating if you need to. Listen to your body and take a few deep breaths before continuing to eat.
  • Eat meals when your symptoms are best controlled – eating your big meal when your energy levels are highest is less taxing on your body and may make it easier for you to get through your meal.

Tips for managing meal preparation:

  • Ask your family to help with food shopping and meal preparations. Prepare extra meals when you are feeling well and freeze for later use.
  • Consider meal delivery services, such as Meals on Wheels which can provide a three-course meal for about $7–$10. Healthy pre-prepared meals can also be purchased at your local supermarket, for example, Youfoodz.
  • Choose easy to prepare meals, such as scrambled eggs on toast or a rice sachet with tinned tuna/canned beans and steamed frozen vegetables, for when you lack energy to prepare a meal.
  • To reduce prep time, pick whole foods that are ready-to-eat in their natural form like apples, bananas, carrots or cucumbers.
  • Keep nutritious snack options on hand such as yoghurt, dried fruit, nuts or cheese and crackers.

Physical Activity

Exercise is an important aspect of maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Participating in physical activity can help stimulate your appetite and can assist with weight loss. Lung Foundation Australia offers specialised exercise programs, such as pulmonary rehabilitation and Lungs in Action, which support people with a lung disease to exercise in a safe and friendly environment.

Mental Health

If you are experiencing a decrease in appetite it may be due to mental reason rather than physical. Speak with your doctor to develop a plan to combat any mental or emotional distress. Your appetite is likely to improve when your mental health has improved.

[1] Lung Foundation Australia, Better living with COPD A Patient Guide (2016)