Eating to Manage Fatigue

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You can fight fatigue by eating enough and trying to get all the nutrients you need. Create a healthy diet that is full of fruits and vegetables and whole grains. Make sure you eat foods that help you meet any new nutritional goals you and your doctors have set.

If you're fighting fatigue, it's important to make sure you're getting enough protein as well as total calories. These amounts will be different for different people. Together, you and your registered dietitian and your doctor can come up with an eating plan that works for you.

Here are some general guidelines for how much protein and calories you need:

  • If your weight is staying about the same during treatment, you need 15 calories a day for each pound you weigh. So if you weigh 160 pounds, you need 2,400 calories a day to maintain your weight.
  • If you've lost weight during treatment, add another 500 calories to your daily diet. So if you weighed 130 pounds and lost weight during treatment, you need 1,950 plus 500, which equals 2,450 calories a day.
  • Protein helps heal and rebuild tissues. During treatment, eat half a gram of protein for each pound you weigh. So if you weigh 160 pounds, try to get 80 grams of protein in your diet each day.

You should also make sure to get enough vitamins and minerals. Getting these nutrients from foods rather than from supplements is best. But if you aren't eating very much because of treatment side effects, ask your doctor about taking a multivitamin.

Also make sure you're drinking enough liquids, especially water. If you have side effects such as vomiting and diarrhea, you need to drink more liquids than normal. Besides water, good choices are fruit juice, milk, and broth. Caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, soda pop) actually can dehydrate you, so stick to other choices.

How to eat if you're fatigued

  • Cook in bulk. When you have the energy to cook, make a large batch of something nutritious (vegetable pasta, tuna casserole, rice and beans) and freeze it in single-serving containers. Then when you're too fatigued to cook, you can quickly heat one container and eat. If your friends or family offer to cook for you, ask them to do the same.
  • Eat a lot when you're feeling good. Try to eat your biggest meal when you have the most energy and the biggest appetite. If you get tired by the end of the day, eat more at breakfast and lunch.
  • Eat several nutritious snacks during the day to boost your calorie and protein intake. String cheese, raisins, yogurt, baby carrots, and cut-up vegetables are easy to keep handy. This way you don't have to face eating a big meal.
  • Try a prepackaged liquid nutritional supplement or an energy bar rather than skip a meal entirely. Every little bit helps.

Expert Quote

"Any time you abruptly change the medication you're taking, your body goes through a change that can influence how you feel, including your energy level. And depending on what kind of medications you are taking, or you just stopped taking, the effect can be small or substantial."

-- Marisa Weiss, M.D., president and founder, Breastcancer.org

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