I’m experiencing a loss of appetite following my treatment. How should I adjust my diet and eating habits?

Kathryn MacLean, dietitian at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, California

KATHRYN MACLEAN: When you have a cancer diagnosis, loss of appetite can arise at any point before, during or after treatment. It may be related to your cancer, the treatment you’re receiving or any number of factors. Pain, stress and depression following a cancer diagnosis also can cause you to lose interest in eating.

While it’s hard to eat when you don’t feel hungry, healthy foods provide the essential nutrients you need to keep the rest of your body well when you have cancer. To help you get needed calories and nutrients, establish an eating routine rather than relying on your hunger. Eat several small meals and snacks throughout the day instead of fewer large meals. To enjoy mealtime more, eat with friends or family or while watching TV, and include more of your favorite foods. Prepare batches of meals for the freezer when you’re feeling good so you can easily reach for them on days when you don’t feel well or aren’t motivated to cook. Keep handy some favorite ready-to-eat foods for snacking.

If you can’t eat much, maximize your calories by choosing calorie-dense foods, including eggs, nuts, nut butters, cheese, full-fat yogurt, cottage cheese, ice cream, pudding, avocados and dried fruits. Aim for balance when you can. Pair starchy foods, such as bread, crackers, rice or pasta, with higher protein foods, including nut butters, meats, fish, tofu, beans, yogurt, cottage cheese and eggs.

If nausea is contributing to your low appetite, you may find bland and cold or room-temperature foods easier to tolerate. Be aware that foods with strong odors and fatty, fried or spicy foods might not settle well.

To keep from getting full too fast when you do eat, sip liquids throughout the day rather than drinking a lot with your meals. Choose higher calorie liquids, such as smoothies, blended soups, nutrition supplements, sports drinks or juices. Light exercise, such as walking or stretching, also might help you feel more like eating.

If you are unable to eat for a day or two, lose five or more pounds, or do not have a bowel movement for more than two days, consult with your doctor. Ask your care team if you should consider taking an appetite stimulant. If nausea contributes to your low appetite, your doctor can prescribe medications to help with this too.

APPETITE LOSS // The American Cancer Society explains what causes loss of appetite and how to address it. // Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center offers nutritious recipes for when you have cancer.