Eating well for healthier lungs

I’ve lost weight

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

If you’re losing weight without planning to, you feel thin and unable to gain weight, and you feel weak and your energy levels are affected, 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 make you more likely to get chest infections.

You can also try our suggestions to gain weight. If you continue to lose weight, speak to your doctor or health care professional. They may refer you to a dietitian. A dietitian can help you adjust your diet, so you get as many calories, protein and other nutrients like vitamins as you need. If your appetite is poor, they may also recommend you use nutritional supplement drinks prescribed by your GP for a while. The supplements will be stopped once you are able to meet your nutritional needs from your diet.

If you’re making a meal that can be frozen, double up on the quantities and freeze a portion to use another time when you’re not feeling so energetic. If you’ve run out of meals you’ve frozen it’s ok to have a ready meal from time to time if you’re feeling really tired and breathless.

To prevent unplanned weight loss or to gain weight, add extra calories and protein to foods by:

  • adding butter, oil, cream, cheese or ground almonds to mashed potatoes, soups and vegetables
  • pouring custard and cream over fruit or puddings, or serving with yogurt
  • using more butter or mayonnaise on sandwiches, scones or pancakes
  • adding natural yogurt or melting creamed coconut into curries
  • adding whipped cream, milk powder or creamed coconut to hot chocolate
  • adding avocados into smoothies, sandwiches or desserts
  • sprinkling nuts or seeds on cereal, porridge or desserts
  • if having cooked, tinned or fresh fruit, serve with cereal or porridge

Top tips to gain weight

  • Eat little and often. When you have a small appetite, eating smaller amounts more regularly can help you get enough energy and protein. Try 3 to 4 small meals and 2 to 3 small snacks spread through the day.
    nacks can include toast, scones or pancakes with butter and jam or nut butters; crackers or biscuits with spread or cream cheese; a small cake; handful of seeds, dried fruit or nuts; 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 3 to 4 tablespoons of dried milk powder to a pint of milk (fortified milk).
    Try to include snacks that are high protein as well. These could be a hardboiled egg, handful of shredded chicken, a chunk of cheese on its own or on a biscuit, small pot of yoghurt, canned tuna or salmon, cheese slices, hummus with vegetables, or a small handful of nuts.
  • Don’t skip meals. If you skip meals, you won’t get enough energy, protein and other essential nutrients. Try to eat a small meal or snack even if you don’t have much of an appetite. Some people find that setting an alarm on their phone, to trigger them to get a snack, meal or nourishing milky drink, helps them eat regularly.
  • Avoid foods labelled ‘sugar-free’, ‘low fat’ and ‘diet’. Choose higher calorie options like full-fat milk, yoghurts, fruit drinks and desserts.
  • Drink enough fluid to keep hydrated but avoid drinking too close before a meal. It can make you feel fuller and more bloated.
  • Talk to family and friends. They might be able to help you with shopping or preparing meals.
  • Contact your local social services team.  They may refer you 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 or support from paid carers.
  • Contact your local voluntary organisations. They might help you to find shopping delivery schemes, lunch clubs or befriending services.
  • 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.

Next: common questions about diet >>

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Download our eating well PDF (1.6MB)

Last medically reviewed: June 2020. Due for review: June 2023

This information uses the best available medical evidence and was produced with the support of people living with lung conditions. Find out how we produce our information. If you’d like to see our references get in touch.