Eating well and managing nutrition-related side effects can feel overwhelming. You may have many questions and you may want to consult the following health professionals.
Accredited Practising Dietitian
This health professional has a university qualification in science, nutrition and dietetics. Using scientific evidence, they modify people’s diets to help treat disease symptoms and to get the most out of food without the use of supplements.
Dietitians work in all public hospitals and most private hospitals. Ideally, you should see a dietitian connected to your cancer centre. Ask your doctor or nurse to arrange an appointment.
The Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) can also help you locate an Accredited Practising Dietitian in your area, or one who specialises in cancer or has experience with particular clinical conditions. Call 1800 812 942. Dietitians in private practice may also have their own website.
If your doctor refers you to a dietitian as part of a Chronic Disease Management (CDM) plan, you may be eligible for a Medicare rebate for up to five visits per calendar year. Most private health insurers provide a rebate depending on the type and level of cover.
The term nutritionist refers to both qualified nutrition scientists and naturopathic nutritionists. Some dietitians also call themselves nutritionists.
Nutritionists working in the natural health industry should have at least a diploma of nutrition, or equivalent, from a university or naturopathic college. Those working within a naturopathic framework are usually employed in private practice or in a holistic medical or complementary therapies centre.
To find an accredited nutritionist, visit the Nutrition Society of Australia website.
This health professional studies, diagnoses and treats people having difficulties with speech, language, fluency and voice. Speech pathologists can also help people who have problems swallowing food and drinks. They need a university degree to work in hospitals and the community setting.
To find a speech pathologist, call 1300 368 835 (outside Victoria), 9642 4899 (Victoria only) or visit speechpathologyaustralia.org.au.
Help for carers
If you’re caring for someone with cancer, it can be challenging knowing how to deal with eating issues caused by the cancer and its treatment. It’s natural for a carer to worry about the diet of the person they’re caring for. There are many reasons why the person may not feel like eating.
How to help with eating issues
- Learn more about how cancer and its treatment affect eating. You will then be prepared for changes in appetite, taste and other side effects.
- Read about different ways of coping with eating issues. See the treatment side effects and nutrition section.
- Try not to focus on how little the person is eating or drinking.Instead, gently encourage them to eat high-energy foods when they are feeling well.
- Serve small amounts of food at a time, and freeze the leftovers.
- Have ready-to-eat food for when they feel like eating. For example, tinned fruit in the cupboard, yoghurt in the fridge, frozen meals in the freezer.
- Keep mealtimes flexible and be willing to try new ideas or recipes. See the recipes and snacks section for suggestions.
- Make meals as enjoyable as possible – eat together, play music, set the table with candles and flowers.
- Follow safe food handling practices when preparing food.
- Accept that during treatment the focus is on eating and not on eating nutritious food all of the time.
If your child has cancer
The nutritional needs of children with cancer are different to adults, as children continue to grow and develop during treatment.
Work closely with your doctor and dietitian
They will monitor your child’s weight and growth closely during treatment.
Let your child eat when they feel like it, not just at mealtimes. Be flexible in food choices – allow your child to have the same foods often or breakfast cereal for dinner if that’s what they prefer.
Encourage them to eat nutritious food
Try not to make an issue of your child’s reluctance to eat. Instead, encourage them to eat nutritious, high-energy foods when they are feeling well.
Offer occasional treats
Allow your child to eat fatty or sugary foods like cake, chips and chocolate occasionally. These foods are useful high-energy snacks if they are all your child wants to eat. During treatment, any nourishment is better than none. Have takeaway food occasionally, as it can tempt fussy eaters.
Make mealtimes fun
Focus on making mealtimes as relaxed as possible and an opportunity to come together to share stories and discuss any problems. Regular family meals also give a child a sense of stability.
Eat at the table
Discourage your child from eating in front of the television as it can be distracting.
Expert content reviewers:
Amber Kelaart, Senior Dietitian, Nutrition & Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Monica Conway, Assistant Nurse Manager, Cancer Information and Support Service, Cancer Council Victoria, VIC; Anne Finch, LiveLighter Project Officer, Cancer Council Western Australia, WA; Clare Hughes, Nutrition Program Manager, Cancer Council NSW, NSW; Tanya King, Senior Oncology Dietitian, Coastal Cancer Care, Sunshine Coast University Private Hospital, QLD; Tony Southwell, Consumer; Klara Suessenbach, Health Promotion Officer, Cancer Council Tasmania, TAS.