Dear COPD Coach,
It seems like after I eat a large meal, I have a hard time breathing. When this happens it lasts for sometimes an hour or more. What is going on?
—Hard to Eat
The problem you mentioned is very common with COPD, and it is somewhat surprising that many are not aware of what causes this. The answer is really simple. It is the way our body is made. Because our diaphragm pushes against the stomach, when we fill our stomach, it in turn pushes against our diaphragm making it hard to breathe. People without lung disease don’t notice this because they have a better breathing capacity.
However, when your breathing is compromised to begin with, problems like this can occur.
Learning to live with COPD means that we have to make some lifestyle changes, and one of these changes is how we eat! Here are some hints that may help you:
- When you eat, relax. Tense muscles can make breathing harder.
- Try taking your meds prior to eating. If you use supplemental oxygen, be sure to use it when you eat!
- Sit up straight when you eat, don’t recline as this will make it harder for your diaphragm to work.
- Rather than eating three large meals, eat more often during the day, say six meals, with much smaller portions.
- If you do eat one large meal during the day, eat it early. This will give you more energy throughout the day.
- COPD makes breathing in the morning more difficult for some. However it is very important that you still eat breakfast. Here’s why: when you have difficulty breathing you require more energy, so you have to consume the calories your body needs.
- If you are underweight, don’t drink, or drink sparingly, during the meal. Drinking liquid during the meal will cause you to fill up quicker before you are able to take in the calories you need.
- Avoid the bloat. Eating foods like cabbage, beans or broccoli, or fried, greasy foods can lead to bloating which in turn makes it more difficult to breathe
- Eat slowly, don’t try and rush the meal. If you start to get short of breath, pause until you recover
- Watch what you eat. Avoid salty foods as these will cause you to retain fluids which will make it harder to breathe. Eat well balanced meals! For more information on the types of foods that are best for COPD patients, take a look at our BFRG. [link here].
- Don’t waste your time eating foods with little nutritional value. Get the calories you need with the least amount of volume! Pick foods that are easy to digest and easy to chew!
- Remember to do pursed-lip breathing. Gulping air with your mouth open can also cause excess air in your stomach.
Remember, as COPD worsens, the diaphragm actually changes shape and goes from convex to flat to ultimately even concave—so it does not work as well and is much more likely therefore to be effected by a stomach enlarged post-eating.
Check with your doctor to learn if you are over or under your ideal body weight and he or she could refer you to a registered dietician for a food plan formulated especially for you.
Hope this helps, and be sure to let us know if you have any other questions!
The COPD Coach
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