Holidays can also be a stressful and an overwhelming time — especially if you are not interested in food or eating because of cancer symptoms or side effects of your treatment. Well meaning friends and family go out of their way to bring “your favorite foods” only to be disappointed when you don’t find them appetizing. When you’re not feeling well, it can be very difficult to tell the people that care for you that you are not interested in their kind gestures and offerings of food.
These tips are from Tips for Managing Nutritional Needs During the Holidays, which was provided as part of the Cooking. Comfort. Care. Nourishment for the Pancreatic Cancer Fight program.
Reasons for Holiday Appetite Loss
1. Are you experiencing treatment-related side effects that are not being controlled?
- Are you experiencing nausea or upset stomach? – If you are nauseated, has your doctor provided you with anti-nausea medication? Are you taking it exactly as your doctor has directed? If your medicine is not working, let your doctor know and make sure they understand your symptoms. If your current medication is not working, you can discuss with the team about changing the medication, dosing, or timing. You may need something different to help control the type of nausea that you are experiencing. Most importantly, try not to go too long without eating. Try to eat small, more frequent meals or snacks.
- Are you experiencing symptoms of poor digestion such as gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea? – Eating small, frequent meals is often a very helpful way to manage digestive symptoms. Keep snacks on hand so you don’t go for a long period of time without eating.
2. Do you have a sore mouth or throat? Do you have sores or ulcers in your mouth or throat? Do you have pain when chewing or swallowing?
If you have a sore mouth or throat, let your doctor know right away. Your doctor may prescribe something to help soothe or numb these sore tissues. Rinsing your mouth frequently throughout the day with a homemade mouth rinse solution can also help to heal and ease oral pain.
Homemade Mouth Rinse
- 4 cups of water
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
Swish and spit before and after meals as needed; do not swallow. Mix fresh daily.
3. Does everything taste different or even taste bad?
Often when not hungry or eating regular meals we forget to take care of our mouths. Try these simple suggestions to keep your mouth clean and healthy:
- Brush your teeth after each meal or snack.
- Avoid commercial mouthwashes that contain alcohol and irritate your mouth.
- Rinse at least 3 to 5 times a day with the homemade mouth rinse to keep your mouth tasting and feeling fresh.
4. Does everything smell funny and unappetizing?
Try eating foods and beverages that are not piping hot. Foods that are room temperature, cool, or frozen have less aroma. Avoid eating in a room where there are cooking odors and other smells. Try avoiding cooking foods with strong odors such as fish, onions, or cabbage.
The holiday action often takes place in the kitchen, but you’re better off spending time with your family and friends away from the cooking food.
5. Are you too tired to even think about eating?
Have you let your doctor know about your tiredness and fatigue? It is important to talk about it to your healthcare team about it. They may have suggestions that can help improve your sleep quality.
When trying to eat, try to eat foods that are truly easy to eat. The holidays are full of appetizers and snacks to nibble on. Sip on soup, nibble on cubes of cheese, snack on nuts, take sips of a favorite homemade smoothie, and dip into some ice cream.
Let your family and friends take care of shopping, meal preparation and clean-up this year.
6. Do you not know what you can eat at holiday gatherings?
Many of your family and friends may offer to cook and bring some food over. Although they may want to bring your favorite dishes, you may not find them appetizing or they may even aggravate your symptoms. Here are some ideas on what you could do in these cases:
- Provide a list of your dietary restrictions so that they do not unintentionally bring foods that may potentially aggravate your symptoms.
- Provide specific ideas about what sounds good to you. Maybe it is just a special type of flavored water or carton of frozen yogurt, but every swallow or bite you can muster matters!
- Trying new things and not relying on old favorites can sometimes be helpful.
- However, sometimes eating your old standbys can be the best and most appetizing things to eat. Think about providing family and friends with your special recipes — so there are no surprises!
- Have family or friends help you make a shopping list and have them do the shopping!
Here are some fun and festive non-food holiday ideas:
- Fuzzy or silly socks
- A festive hat or head covering (especially wonderful if you have lost your hair)
- A new pair of holiday pajama pants
- A festive holiday shirt, sweatshirt or sweater
- A lap blanket or throw
- A poinsettia or holiday wreath or candle
- A vial of a soothing aroma or oil
- A favorite movie…how about a holiday classic, a comedy, a little romance, or just a good ole’ Western?
- A book on tape or CD
- A holiday music CD
- A blank journal or notebook for you to write in
- Ask for help with your holiday cards
- Ask for help with putting up your tree and holiday decorations