Dear COPD Coach,
How exactly does my diet help in the management of my COPD? I have never really watched what I eat, but lately I find that when I eat certain meals I have a hard time breathing afterward. Since being diagnosed, I tend to lose weight very quickly if I don’t eat or if I get sick, and have a real hard time gaining it back.
–Weight Loss and COPD
Dear Weight Loss,
Diet is very important with COPD, but it is also important to note that it is not only what you eat, but how much you eat and how often you eat that will make a difference! I guess the best way to start is to explain the mechanics of eating with COPD.
As COPD progresses, your lungs tend to get larger and take up more space in your chest. When you eat too much, your stomach expands and pushes against your lungs which will in turn make breathing more difficult. Because breathing with damaged lungs takes more energy (up to ten times more in some people!), it is important to increase your calorie intake to give your body the energy it needs to function.
A very common reality for many COPD patients is what is called “COPD Wasting“. This is where your body, trying to get enough oxygen, burns more calories than it takes in. The result is your weight drops. Since you continue to burn large numbers of calories, it is hard to gain the weight back.
While there are a few studies underway as to how to treat COPD wasting, there are some things that you can do to minimize its effects and give your body the nutrients it needs to function.
- Rather than eating a few large meals each day, try eating several (about six) smaller meals throughout the day. Eat slowly, using pursed-lips breathing in between bites. The habit of gulping air with your mouth open can also add to bloating.
- Always eat breakfast! Eating a nutritious breakfast gives you more energy to start your day at a critical time when you body needs it most.
- Don’t eat too much salt! Salt will cause your body to retain fluids, and stress your heart, making it harder to breathe!
- If you use supplemental oxygen, make sure you use it while you eat. Since your body requires extra oxygen to eat and digest your food, using supplemental oxygen will make the process of eating much easier.
- Avoid foods that can cause gas. The bloating that occurs with gas producing foods can cause you to have difficulty breathing and also make you feel like your stomach is full when it really isn’t.
- If you have low body weight, be sure to eat foods high in calories. This would include things like whole milk products and premium ice cream. If somebody who lives in your house is on a low-fat diet, don’t share their low-fat foods. You need all the calories you can get!
- If you have chronic weight loss, talk with your doctor or a registered dietician about nutritional supplements (like Ensure).
- Eat plenty of fiber, as this aids the digestion process and will cause you to burn less calories trying to digest your food. Also try and eat foods that don’t require a great deal of chewing as this takes more energy.
- Always eat balanced meals in order to get the vitamins and nutrients you require. Talk with your doctor about what supplements you may need!
- Drink plenty of clear fluids (preferably non-carbonated drinks which you guessed it, cause more bloating!) such as water and clear juices and non-caffeinated tea, to help thin out the mucous and make it easier to eat. However, don’t drink as much while you eat, as liquids will tend to fill up your stomach instead of the food.
- Lastly, check out the internet for diets specific to COPD that are designed to provide you with the largest numbers of calories without wasting excess calories trying to eat or digest. Check out our Big Fat Reference Guide for more helpful hints at www.copdbfrg.org
Hope this helps!
The COPD Coach
Ask the Expert is aimed at providing information for individuals with COPD to take to your doctor, and is not in any way intended to be medical advice.
If you would like to submit a question to the Coaches Corner email us firstname.lastname@example.org. We would love to hear your questions and comments. You can address your emails to any of the following: COPD Coach, Caregiver Coach, COPD Doctor or COPD RT.