Eating well with a lung condition

How do I maintain a healthy weight?

When you have a lung condition, it’s important to stay a healthy weight.

If you’re overweight, it can make breathing harder. If you’re underweight, your breathing muscles will be weaker and your body will have less strength to fight off infections. Your doctor can help you work out a healthy weight for you.

On this page:

Ideal waist measurement

The diagram below is a guide to the ideal waist measurements for men and women:

Everyone is different, so if you want to find out more about your ideal waist measurement and weight, speak to your doctor or practice nurse. They can take an accurate waist measurement and tell you the healthy range for you.

I’ve lost weight

If you have a lung condition, you might lose weight. You may eat less because eating makes you feel breathless. If you feel tired or out of breath, perhaps you find it more difficult to shop and prepare your own meals.

If you’re losing weight without planning to, it’s very important to talk to your doctor or health care professional. You may be at risk of malnutrition, which can weaken your breathing muscles and lead to chest infections.

You can also contact your local social services team for an occupational therapy assessment. You may get equipment around your house to make life easier. You can also get advice about local meal delivery services.

To gain weight, add extra calories to foods by:

  • adding butter, cream or cheese to mashed potatoes and vegetables
  • pouring custard and cream over fruit or puddings
  • using more butter or mayonnaise on sandwiches, scones or pancakes

Try our suggestions below, but if you continue to lose weight, speak to your doctor or health care professional. They may recommend a nutritional supplement or refer you to a dietitian.

Ways to gain weight

  • Eat little and often. When you have a small appetite, eating smaller amounts more regularly helps you to get enough energy and protein. Try three to four small meals and two to three small snacks spread through the day.

Snacks can include toast, scones or pancakes with butter and jam; crackers or biscuits with spread or cream cheese; a small cake; full-fat yoghurt or rice pudding.

Nourishing drinks are full-fat milk, hot chocolate, malted drinks, flavoured milk and milkshakes, smoothies or fruit juice. You can also buy nutritional drinks, or add three to four tablespoons of dried skimmed milk powder to a pint of milk.

  • Don’t skip meals. If you skip meals, you won’t get enough energy. Try to eat a smaller meal or snack even if you don’t have any appetite.
  • Avoid foods labelled ‘sugar-free’, ‘low fat’ and ‘diet’. Choose higher calorie options like full-fat milk and yoghurts. Avoid drinking before a meal. It can make you feel bloated and full.
  • Exercise or get out into the fresh air to stimulate your appetite. Check with your doctor before starting a new activity and don’t overdo it. You don’t want to become too tired to prepare food or eat.

I'm putting on too much weight

You may find your lung condition causes you to put on weight. This may be because you become less active and burn fewer calories. Taking some kinds of steroids can increase your appetite.

Being overweight makes breathing more difficult because stored fat squashes your lungs. This is more likely if the weight is around your middle. If you’re carrying excess weight, it also takes more effort to be active. Bending becomes difficult and will make you feel short of breath.

If you want to lose weight, speak to your doctor or health care professional. They can refer you to a dietitian or a local scheme.

Ways to lose weight

  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes, especially if eating out. You could try using a smaller plate.
  • Fill up on vegetables or salad. These should cover about half your plate. Vegetables are a good source of fibre which can help you to feel full. Use a vinaigrette or fat-free dressing on salads rather than mayonnaise or salad cream.
  • Avoid frying foods. Try grilling, steaming, boiling, baking, dry roasting or microwaving instead.
  • Choose low-fat options. Have skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat spread and low-fat yoghurts.
  • Choose diet or no-added-sugar drinks and puddings. If you take sugar in tea and coffee, use sweeteners or gradually reduce the amount of sugar you add.
  • Check food labels. Often low fat products replace fat with high amounts of sugar, and low sugar or sugar free products can be high in fat. Look for less than 3g per 100g of total fat and less than 5g per 100g of sugar.
  • Think about why you eat. Why do you snack between meals? Are you really hungry? Perhaps you’re actually thirsty. Thirst is often mistaken for hunger, so you may eat more than you need. Are you bored and eating out of habit or for comfort? Try distracting yourself with another activity.


If you have concerns or need advice, call our helpline on 03000 030 555 between 9am and 5pm on a weekday or email them.

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