Lost your appetite?

Treatment for bowel cancer can often disrupt your normal eating habits and patterns, especially in the early days after surgery.

It may be that you have to follow a certain type of restrictive diet after your surgery, or are experiencing side-effects from chemotherapy or radiotherapy. Many people will experience weight loss or lack of appetite at different stages of their treatment pathway.


Appetite can be affected by a whole range of side-effects from treatment, as well as by anxiety, pain, nausea and disrupted bowel patterns. The key is to be patient and not to expect too much of yourself, especially in the early days. Use your prescribed painkillers and anti-sickness medicines to bring any discomfort or pain under control. Artificial saliva sprays, and medicines to boost your appetite, can also help if eating is difficult.


You should be able to gradually reintroduce most of your favourite foods, and often it will be a case of trial and error, over a period of a few months. This is a good time to have a look at your old eating habits and try to make some positive, healthy changes that will support your recovery, and also improve your general health and energy levels.


Getting help

If you are having difficulty with symptoms that limit your appetite or cause problems with bowel control, you will need the extra support of a dietitian or nutritionist. Your specialist nurse, consultant or GP can make this referral for you. Without specialist help, it can be very difficult to make sure you are eating enough of the right things and getting a good balance of nutrients in your meals every day.


If you need to replace lost body muscle and fat that were lost while you were feeling very ill and not able to eat, you may be recommended to follow a high energy and protein diet. Snacking on seven or eight small, helpings of nutritious, easy-to-eat food is often easier than having to face larger meals.


Keeping hydrated

Water is also essential. Dehydration can make you feel thirsty, tired and lethargic, and can also cause problems with digestion and make you constipated. You can drink water on its own, in squashes, or in herbal and fruit teas. Try to aim for at least two litres (the equivalent of eight average glasses) of fluid in your diet every day unless your doctor advises otherwise.


Peanut butter and jam on toast

High energy foods

Milkshakes, soups and smoothies can be good options if you find chewing and swallowing difficult.


Eggs, porridge, custard and ice-creams are ideal in small portions, as are snacks of fish fingers or chicken nuggets, on their own or with a small portion of mashed potato, mushy peas and ketchup.


Smooth peanut butter, or hummus and other dips served with pitta bread or bread sticks, are high energy finger foods.


Vegetable, seed and nut oils, oily fish, eggs, cheese, nuts, mayonnaise, milk, yogurt and fromage frais are all good sources of fat, which also provide protein and vitamins.


Choosing full fat milk rather than skimmed is a simple way to add calories to your diet. Adding milk powder to milky drinks and soups or puddings is another easy way to make your own high energy foods.


There are lots of interesting and tasty ways to add some extra calories to your normal diet. Try adding strong-flavoured grated cheese or cream into mashed potato, pureed carrot and parsnips or mashed swede.


Other ideas include pasta with pesto or a creamy sauce, pureed fruits with ice cream or Greek yogurt, or other cream desserts.