Eating When You Have Nausea and Vomiting


Almost all breast cancer treatments have varying degrees of risk for nausea and vomiting. Some people never have nausea or vomiting, while others experience it frequently. Many people describe having "stomach awareness," a type of discomfort in which a person is not interested in eating, but does not feel nauseated. Some people have nausea that lingers more than a week beyond chemotherapy. Thankfully, these side effects can almost always be controlled, or at least substantially reduced, by a variety of medications and lifestyle changes. Learn more about the causes and ways to relieve nausea and vomiting.

Don't force yourself to drink or eat if you're nauseated or vomiting. It's a good idea to avoid eating for about 4 to 8 hours if you're vomiting often. Along the way, try small sips of water or flat ginger ale. After your stomach settles down a bit, begin to replace some of the chemicals and fluids that you might have lost because of the vomiting. Try sipping chicken or vegetable broth, a sports drink, or small bites of gelatin. These will help keep you hydrated. Don't rely only on clear liquids for more than 2 days in a row — they don't have enough nutrients.

If you're nauseated from treatment, you may find that the odor of food triggers your symptoms. You might want to ask a friend, spouse, or partner to cook for you while you leave the house so you don't have to smell the food cooking. Staying out of the kitchen can help since it's so closely associated with foods and smells. Order take-out if possible. You also might find that your food likes and dislikes change from day to day. Try new things until you find something you can tolerate. It's also good to try to drink 8 or more cups of liquid each day if you can. See if you can drink another half cup for each time you vomit.

When and how to eat if you're nauseated:

  • Eat small meals frequently. If you feel sick to your stomach between meals, try to eat 6 to 8 small meals during the day and a snack at bedtime.
  • Eat food cold or at room temperature, not hot, to reduce its smell and taste.
  • Don't eat in a warm room. The air may seem stuffy and stale and may make your stomach feel worse.
  • Rinse your mouth before and after meals. This helps get rid of any bad tastes in your mouth.
  • Sit up or lie back with your head raised for at least an hour after eating if you need to rest. Keeping your head up helps reduce nausea.

What to eat if you're nauseated:

  • Eat poultry or soy. Try turkey, chicken, or soy foods if you find you suddenly don't like red meat. (This can be a common reaction.)
  • Eat dry foods, such as crackers, toast, dry cereals, or bread sticks, when you wake up and every few hours during the day. They provide nutrients and help settle your stomach.
  • Eat cool foods instead of hot, spicy foods. Consider non-fat yogurt, fruit juice, sherbet, and sports drinks. Spicy foods may upset your stomach even more.
  • Don't eat foods that are very sweet, greasy, or fried. They may upset your stomach even more. Consider baked, boiled, or mashed potatoes; rice; cream soups made with low-fat milk; fruit-flavored gelatin; pretzels; or low-fat pudding.
  • Try bland, soft, easy-to-digest foods on days when you're scheduled to have treatment. A poached egg on dry toast or a poached chicken breast with plain noodles is a good option.
  • Eat foods that don't have a strong smell. Smells may trigger nausea.

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