Nutrition and COPD - When Keeping Weight ON Is a Problem

  • A while back, I talked about how to eat healthy to avoid gaining too much weight when COPD makes it hard to stay active and burn calories. But many people who have COPD actually have the opposite problem -- keeping weight on.


    As your disease progresses and makes breathing ever more difficult, you can find that the mere act of eating a meal can be quite a chore and energy zapper, so much so that you may lose your interest in eating.


    Also, as activity decreases, so does appetite. And here's a crazy fact from the American Lung Association... people with COPD need 10 times as many calories just to breathe as people with healthy lungs. So even if you are trying to maintain your nutritional intake, you're likely burning a lot of those calories up just trying to breathe.

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    So the trick, if you're one of those people who starts losing too much weight, is to take in more calories, without having to eat a lot more food. And the way to do that is to make different food choices.


    How to Ramp Up the Calories


    You can start by clicking the link in the first paragraph above and reading my tips on healthy eating. But here are a few more suggestions:

    • Eat more often & choose some high calorie snacks for your "in-between" meals. Great choices are puddings, crackers with peanut butter, dried fruits mixed with nuts. Or how about a baked potato stuffed with veggies and cheese?
    • Drink your calories. While drinking water and green tea are eat healthy tips you'll hear often, they don't add calories. So sometimes, have a milkshake or a protein drink/smoothie instead.
    • Go for whole grains, rather than processed white grains. Whole wheat and rye breads or whole wheat pasta or brown rice are much more calorie dense than white sandwich bread, white rice or regular pasta.
    • Bulk up your breakfast. Skip the skim milk; go for whole milk, or even half and half, in your oatmeal, cold cereal or even your coffee. Add some delicious fruit too. Make those calories count!
    • Sprinkle in extra protein. Protein powder, milk powder, wheat germ are all easy to add to all kinds of foods and will give you extra nutritional goodness, as well as more protein. Sprinkle them in your cereal, add milk powder to your mashed potatoes, soups or even gravy, or put them in casseroles and stews. Chances are, you won't even notice they are there, but your body will thank you for the extra calories!
    • Make smart fruit and vegetable choices. Some fruits are higher in calories than others. Shoot for things like papayas, bananas or mangos or go for dried fruits like dates, dried apples or apricots. Choose starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, winter squash, beets or peas.
    • Add in some healthy fats. Not all fat is bad. Cook in olive oil, add some avocado to your meals or make some guacamole. Spread some peanut butter on a banana. Or have a few almonds or walnuts as a snack.

    A Few More Tips About Eating... and Breathing


    People with COPD often get short of breath when eating. So, here are a few tips to help you keep breathing well and also get in the nutrition that you need:


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    1. Use your nebulizer or do your coughing/deep breathing exercises before eating. This will help clear out your airways and optimize your breathing before you start eating.


    2. Eat slow, small and soft. Take your time when eating, with frequent rests to restore your breathing. Take small bites too. And choose foods that are softer and take less energy to chew.


    3. Eat while sitting upright. It's not a great idea to eat in bed or while reclining. If you can, sit in a straight chair at the table for the best posture. This will be easier on your lungs an diaphragm and make it easier to breathe throughout the meal.


    Maintaining a healthy weight can be a challenge for all of us, but for people who have COPD, it is a significant quality of life issue to keep weight in a healthy range and maintain the best breathing status you can.

Published On: May 27, 2011