Healthy eating is critically important when you have COPD. Not only can it improve your health overall, but it will also give you more energy to get through your daily activities. Unfortunately, when you have COPD, maintaining healthy nutrition can be challenging.
It can take energy to eat healthy. For starters, preparing food can be taxing. Plus, the simple act of eating can be hard you might experience shortness of breath. That can slow you down or reduce your appetite. It might even make it hard for you to complete a meal. If that happens often enough, you can become malnourished and underweight, which can further weaken your health.
In fact, because you are burning calories at a faster rate just trying to breathe, you can become undernourished very quickly. So you might actually need to eat more than a person without COPD. Talk with your physician to determine the optimal calorie intake for you.
Overcoming challenges to healthy eating
Healthy eating won’t cure your COPD, but it can help you be healthier overall and allow you to better weather the storms of COPD. It can also give you the strength and energy to get through the day.
Here are tips for overcoming the barriers to healthy eating.
- First,** clear your airways before you sit down to a meal.** Getting your breathing in the best shape before you start eating will help you avoid shortness of breath during a meal.
- Plan your meals for times when you are likely to have the most energy. It’s probably best not to eat right after bathing and dressing, or after a period of exercise or extra activity. When you are well-rested again, you’ll have more energy for eating.
- Eat several small meals throughout the day, rather than three big meals. Your meals will be shorter and easier to digest if you keep them small and frequent. They’ll likely also be more appetizing and less overwhelming.
- Take your time when you eat. There is no benefit to rushing through a meal. In fact, that can increase shortness of breath and also lead to eating too much at one sitting. Take at least 20 minutes to eat each meal. Make a point of savoring the flavors and textures of your food.
- Plan for meals that make you excited about eating. Keep it healthy, but when food appeals to you, you’re more likely to make the effort to eat. Make sure the food is easy to chew and swallow, as well.
- Sit upright and well-supported while you eat. It’s best to sit in a firm chair with good back support. Try to avoid slumping or hunching over as that will make it harder both to eat and breathe.
- If you use supplemental oxygen, be sure to use it while you eat. Having a constant supply of oxygen to your airways while eating can help you avoid breathlessness. If you use oxygen continuously, talk to your doctor about the possibility of bumping up the flow rate during meals.
- Drink enough fluids, but during meals wait till the end. Drinking enough water and other fluids during the day can keep you healthier overall by avoiding dehydration. But drinking too much early in a meal can make you feel full and prevent you from eating the calories you need for healthy nutrition.
- Keep your weight in a healthy range. If you are overweight, your heart and lungs have to work extra hard just to keep your blood circulating and your airways working. Losing even a few pounds can make a big difference in how you feel and your level of energy. On the other hand, being underweight will decrease your energy reserves. So work with your health care team to keep your weight in a healthy range.
Yes, there are challenges to eating healthy when you have COPD. Sometimes those challenges might just seem too hard to overcome. But they don’t have to be. Take small steps make one small change at a time and use the tips above to work toward healthier nutrition.
Kathi is an experienced consumer health education writer, with a prior career in nursing that spanned more than 30 years — much of it in the field of home health care. Over the past 15 years, she’s been an avid contributor for a number of consumer health websites, specializing in asthma, allergy, and COPD. She writes not only as a healthcare professional, but also as a lifelong sufferer of severe allergies and mild asthma, and as a caregiver for her mother with COPD.