By Daniela Fierini, RD, PM Clinical Nutrition Practice Leader, Registered Dietitian for the Hematology-Oncology Program

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Changes in appetite, weight loss and disinterest in food are common occurrences when undergoing chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. The good news is that your nutrition will gradually improve when the side effects of chemotherapy - such as nausea, mouth sores and diarrhea - resolve.

If you require a few cycles of chemotherapy treatment there is often a two to three week break between cycles. This break may provide you with an opportunity to improve your nutrition.

Here are some suggestions to get you through the tough times.

​​​ Maximize food consumption when you feel the hungriest

If the morning time is when you feel the best, then enjoy breakfast and a mid-morning snack. If the morning is the worst time of day, then just nibble on a few foods and sip on fluids until later in the day when your appetite is better.

​​​ Make each mouthful count

When just a small amount of food satisfies your appetite, choose foods that are a good source of protein and calories. For instance, eat trail mix (a mixture of nuts, seeds and dried fruit) instead of potato chips or have a smoothie made with milk, yogurt or soy beverage instead of juice.

​​​ Satisfy cravings

Sometimes the rules for proper nutrition need to be broken in order to wake up an appetite. Just make sure it will not make any other side effects worse. In order to be sure ask your health care team.

​​​ Drink instead of chew

People often find it takes less energy to drink liquids than it does to chew and swallow food. If this is the case for you or your loved one, switch to a liquid diet. By choosing liquids that contain both protein and calories, you can gain just as much nutrition as you would from a regular diet.

Examples of nutrient dense fluids are:

  • Whole milk
  • Soy beverages
  • Yogurt
  • Smoothies
  • Custards
  • Blended soups, made with dried beans and peas like lentils or black beans

​​​ Be patient with yourself and loved ones

If appetite and consumption of food are poor, focus on the other joys of spending time with your family and friends. Who knows - you may manage to enjoy a couple of mouthfuls of food and that is a great start!

If your chemotherapy treatment plan includes steroid medication, your appetite may actually increase. You may develop a temporary increase in blood sugars often referred to as steroid-induced diabetes. Ask your health care team for a referral to a Registered Dietitian.

Last reviewed: 9/28/2023
Last modified: 9/29/2023 12:40 PM
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