Your feelings about diet problems | Cancer Research UK
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Your feelings about diet problems

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This page tells you about the feelings you may have if your cancer causes diet problems. There is information about


Emotional reactions

Being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment takes a while to come to terms with. You have to cope with the knowledge of having cancer as well as the physical effects of treatment.

For many of us, eating is a very social event. It can be one of the most enjoyable things we do in life. If you are having problems eating, it can affect your self-image and isolate you from social occasions. This can make you depressed, anxious and lower your self esteem. Cultural and religious beliefs can also play a part in how you feel about food and eating.


Body changes

It can be very hard to come to terms with the change in your body when you have lost weight. This can be made more difficult if you don't feel like eating. All of this may bring up some extremely strong emotions that can be very hard to deal with. This is not uncommon - many people need some sort of help and support during this difficult time. 

Counselling may help. Or you may prefer to talk to friends and family or other people who have similar problems.


If you have advanced cancer

Your whole life has changed. If your cancer is very advanced, you may also be worried about the possibility of dying. This can be very frightening and you may not feel that you can talk about it. But it is better to try and express these feelings with someone that you can trust.


Family and friends

Diet problems can be especially difficult for your friends and family to cope with. They want to help but may not seem to be able to. They may associate how much you eat with you getting better. They may be desperate for you to eat and try hard to make you eat. They may say “If only you would eat and put on weight, then I know you would get better” or “I have made this just for you, it is your favourite food”.

Hearing loved ones say these things can be very hard to handle. This is especially so if you really don't feel like eating. Or if even small amounts of food make you feel uncomfortable, full and sick. They want to feel that they are doing something to help. But it may cause conflict between you. This can be very upsetting during a time when both you and your loved ones need support and understanding.

It is important that the people caring for you try to understand that trying to get you to eat is not going to help. The best thing they can do is just be there for you. If you feel like eating, that's great. But if you don't it is important that they don't push you. As a doctor explains “Lack of appetite isn't painful, but eating can be”. Knowing this may help your loved ones be more understanding.


Talking about eating

It is good to discuss any changes in your eating habits with the people looking after you. A dietician may also be able to offer you support and help with your diet problems. Many people find that they feel better after talking openly to close family and friends. Some people find it difficult to talk about these things.

You may be frightened that your family won’t cope with hearing how you are really feeling. Or worry that they may be frightened by how bad your eating problems are making you feel. But sharing worries almost always helps. Sometimes it is enough just to have your family listen to you. They don't need to offer advice. Most people want you to know they care and do not want you to feel isolated or upset. They are only too willing to try to understand and help if they can.

You may have a specialist nurse you can talk to. These nurses will be able to offer some good advice. If you are in a hospice, it is likely that there will be trained people that you can talk to about diet and other problems. Your GP may be another good source of help and support.

You may prefer to talk to someone who will listen to your worries, but is nothing to do with your illness. The cancer information services listed on the organisations page can tell you more about counselling services available in your area.

Some people feel more comfortable speaking with a religious adviser - the hospital chaplain or a leader in their own faith. And hospital social workers can be a great support in helping you sort out practical issues that may be worrying you, such as financial problems due to the cost of changes to your diet, and help at home. This is only available at certain hospitals. If your hospital does not have this available ask your nurse who you can contact for this information. 

The main thing is that you do not feel alone. Even if you don't have close family and friends around to help you, other people can help. So let your GP or hospital doctor know if you need support.

There are books and booklets about talking about cancer listed on our reading list page, some of which are free. 


Find more information

Find out about


Talking about dying

Coping with diet problems in advanced cancer

Specialist nurses

Coping with cancer

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum with Cancer Chat

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Updated: 26 February 2014