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Poor appetite in palliative care

no appetiteWhen you lose your appetite, you stop being hungry and you do not want to eat. It's different from nausea, which means you want to eat but feel sick or like you want to throw up.

Several diseases, especially cancer, can make you lose your appetite. It can be as a result of other symptoms such as pain, nausea, constipation and fatigue. It can be caused by mouth problems or by depression or anxiety.

Eating well will probably not change the course of your illness, but it may help you to feel better, give you more energy, and improve your quality of life.

If you've lost your appetite, talk to your healthcare professional about it. It may just be that you're feeling too tired or fed up to bother eating much. Your healthcare professional may have some suggestions that will help you.

How to overcome a poor appetite

There are several tricks that can help you to get your appetite back and eat more.

Food preparation

Mouth care

Keep your mouth fresh and clean before and after meals.


Try not to focus too much on eating and having to eat.


The important thing to remember is to try not to think too much about what you eat. If you feel like eating something, have it. Do not be disappointed if something works one day and not the next, as this is common. Be flexible and make eating as enjoyable as possible.

What to eat and when to eat

mandarinThere are no rules about what to eat and when, but try some of the following tips:

Quick and easy snack suggestions

Sweet: breakfast cereal, fruit (fresh, dried or canned), puddings (custard, yoghurt or dairy food), ice blocks, ice cream, frozen yoghurt, fruit juice, jelly, milk or flavoured milk.

Savoury: crackers and cheese, dips or peanut butter, eggs (boiled, poached or scrambled), nuts, pizza, popcorn, soup, sandwiches or toast, pita bread, vegetable juice.

You can find more ideas on How to overcome a poor appetite.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury DHB and community palliative care specialists. Last reviewed November 2020.


See also:

Nausea and vomiting in palliative care

Page reference: 321003

Review key: HIPAL-17434