Dear COPD Coach,
As my COPD gets worse, I find I am getting short of breath (SOB) just trying to eat. I also find that I don’t feel hungry anymore or just dread the thought of eating or preparing a meal. What do I do?
–Breathless while eating
Dear Breathless While Eating,
What you are describing is very common with COPD and brings up a couple of important issues. Let’s start with the first part of your question, shortness of breath while eating.
There are some things you can do if you get short of breath while eating.
- Always eat your meals while sitting up. This keeps your airways open. If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you are using it while eating.
- Try and make sure you clear your airways of mucous before trying to eat (please refer to an earlier letter on mucous clearing devices).
- When you eat, take small bites and chew and eat your food slowly. This will allow you to be able to breathe easier and use less energy in the process.
- Try and save any liquids until after your meal unless you use them sparingly to aid in swallowing.
- Pause several times during the meal to catch your breath. Try pursed lip breathing during the meal if you start to feel SOB.
- Don’t eat large meals, instead eat several smaller meals throughout the day.
As far as dreading preparing meals, these suggestions might help:
- Look for recipes that do not require much preparation and are quick and easy to fix. When you are able to cook, make meals that will provide you with enticing leftovers that can easily be combined to make another quick meal
- Look to make meals that combine as many of the basic food groups as possible. For example, a casserole doesn’t take much effort, but can contain many of the basic food groups on one dish.
- When you feel like cooking, make larger portions and freeze what you don’t use. For example, when I make spaghetti sauce, I make enough to cover three meals. Crock pot cooking is also great and doesn’t require a lot of effort, or heat up your kitchen. There are lots of very good crock pot cookbooks.
- Cook when you have the desire or energy, and thaw when you don’t!
- Avoid making meals that leave you a bunch of dishes and pots to clean. Why waste the energy cleaning when you need it to breathe? I also find it easier to do the dishes and pots as I cook; it doesn’t seem as over-whelming that way!
- Store items that are heavier, such as dishes and pots and pans at a height no lower than your waist and no higher than your shoulders. If possible, store clean, often-used pans on top of the stove where they will be used. Store items very near where they are normally used. Overall, stop and think about how you move around in your kitchen – then make changes to use less energy.
- If you need more help with this, ask your doctor to refer you to a licensed Occupational Therapist. An OT’s job is to help you learn to do everyday tasks more easily in spite of your physical limitations.
As for not feeling hungry, this is totally understandable. When you are having a hard time breathing, the last thing you are thinking about is eating! You must make it a habit to eat just like making a habit of taking your medications. Often times, when you force yourself to eat, you will suddenly start to realize you were hungry after all!
What works for me is I substitute nutritional shakes throughout the day as part of my liquid intake. This works well in giving me the required nutrients during times I don’t feel particularly hungry.
Another trick that works for me is I always watch TV while I eat. I tend to get engrossed in whatever I am watching which then forces me to eat more slowly and not think about my breathlessness as much.
I hope these suggestions help! I would ask our readers if they have any suggestions, please post them. We can all benefit from each others’ experience!
The COPD Coach
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