COPD and Weight Loss

COPD and Weight Loss: Preventing Weight Loss in COPD

Most of us find little to complain about when we lose a few pounds. In COPD, however, the mechanisms that cause weight loss – oftentimes breathing difficulties and energy depletion that interfere with eating a balanced diet – can lead to malnutrition, a common complication of the disease.

The Risks of Losing Too Much Weight

Not only does continued weight loss lead to malnutrition, people with COPD who experience weight loss are more likely to get an infection, become increasingly weak and tired, and may have weaker breathing muscles. An adequate caloric intake through a healthy diet helps you maintain your weight, provides your body with the calories it needs for energy, keeps your breathing muscles strong, and helps strengthen your immune system so you can adequately fight off infection.

Which type of diet do experts recommend for people with COPD? Take a look at the following:

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet – a nutritious diet composed of plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, protein, and dairy products helps aid in digestion, control blood sugar, prevent weight loss, and reduce cholesterol. Remember: because a high-fiber diet is also important in COPD, don’t skimp on the fresh fruit and vegetables that are naturally loaded with wholesome dietary fiber.
  • Stay well-hydrated – drinking plenty of water helps thin mucus making it easier to cough up. It also helps prevent gas that may occur when you eat foods that are high in fiber. How much water should you drink every day? Unless you have a health condition that requires you to limit fluids, most experts agree that 6 to 8, eight-ounce glasses of water a day is adequate. Remember to avoid carbonated beverages that may cause bloating, and limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
  • Say “see ya later” to salt – although a low-salt diet is not particular to COPD, eliminating, or reducing added salt in your diet helps prevent fluid retention that could lead to swelling and bloating, which may lead to an increase in shortness of breath. Hint: packaged foods are generally overloaded with sodium. Be sure to read the labels on the food you buy at the grocery store and choose foods that are less than 300 milligrams of sodium per serving.
  • Limit gassy foods – foods that cause gas often lead to bloating. A bloated belly is no picnic when you have COPD because it increases the pressure against your diaphragm making your breathing more difficult. Which foods are most guilty of causing gas? Although beans, broccoli, cabbage, Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and carbonated beverages are high up on the gas-producing food chain, fried, spicy, and greasy foods are also known gas-producers.
  • Avoid empty calories – let’s face it, most of us love to occasionally treat ourselves to chips, candy, and other types of junk food. But these foods aren’t of any nutritional value so it’s best to avoid them if you have COPD and are trying to gain, or maintain, your weight.

What Should You Eat Instead?

If you have COPD and are looking to put on a few, extra pounds, consider the following tips:

  • Choose high-protein, high-calorie foods and snacks, such as peanut butter, cheese, eggs, milk, and yogurt. Eat smaller, more frequent meals to help maintain your energy and limit bloating during the day.
  • Make your beverages matter by supplementing your daily meals with delicious, nutritious milk or protein shakes. Select whole milk instead of low or non-fat. Drink calorie-laden fruit juices in between or with your meals.
  • Eat whole grain breads and cereals that are bursting with extra calories. Forget about thinly-sliced white bread or Captain Crunch.
  • Choose starchy vegetables over watery ones. Instead of low-calorie broccoli, zucchini, or cauliflower, try starchy potatoes, corn, carrots, or winter squash.
  • Opt for high calorie fruits including mango, papaya, bananas, and dates. Be sure to add these calorie-stuffed fruits to your cereal, yogurt, and protein shakes.
  • Stick to healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive or canola oil instead of using products such as shortening or hard margarine that are high in saturated fats. Remember: healthy fats are part of a nutritious diet and should not be avoided.
  • Consult a dietician if you find yourself struggling to maintain your weight, or notice you’re losing weight. Ask your doctor to refer you to a dietician who understands the nutritional needs of people with COPD. Doing so can help you get back on track to a healthier way of eating and a better quality of life.
  • Ask your doctor about nutritional supplements, such as Boost or Ensure, to increase the amount of calories and nutrients you get on a daily basis.

Monitoring Your Weight with COPD

WebMD recommends the following to help monitor your weight if you have COPD:

  • Weigh yourself regularly, or as much as your doctor suggests, to keep track of daily gains and losses. Remember: if you take water pills, you should weigh yourself daily.
  • Call your doctor if you gain or lose 2 pounds in one day or 5 pounds in one week.
  • Discuss dietary changes with your doctor before you make them.

References: “COPD and Your Diet.” WebMD. Reviewed July 2, 2013,

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