As stated in my bio, I’m in no way a replacement for doctor’s advice or the go-to person for nutritional and dietary help.
BUT, one thing I do have is the experience of how COPD affects weight and eating habits. I’m also lucky enough to acquire the wisdom from my Chinese father, qualified dietician cousin and generally have in interest in health and fitness anyway.
My cousin kindly referred me to an article in her medical journals at work which exposed the prevalence of malnutrition amongst COPD groups. Written by Jo Banner, a senior respiratory dietician, she spoke about integrating nutrition into the care pathway of COPD patients and stated:
‘ There is no reason why a nutritional review cannot form part of routine review of a patient with COPD and this should not be seen as an extra, isolated piece of care’
It is suggested in the article that 10-45% of outpatients and 30-60% patients are malnutritioned and ignoring these when you have COPD is dangerous. The consequences include:
- Increased mortality
- Longer hospital stays
- More frequent readmissions
- Reduced muscle strength
- Reduced respiratory muscle function
- Decreased quality of life
For me, I know the consequences already because I’ve experienced all of those points above. Without sounding too grim, when you can’t breath, you suddenly become aware of lifespan or mortality and the body goes through immense changes. And did you know that COPD means you have higher energy requirements because your body is working harder? You burn about 10 times more calories that an average person just trying to breath.
Since I’ve had the disease, I have lost 6kgs and went to a poor rating of 16 BMI from a healthy 19.5. Whilst I’ve always had a small frame, even I notice the difference where for example I’d be more ‘cushioned’ around my ribs and chest. And 2 years ago, my body definitely had been a lot stronger with more muscle tone and sufficient fat to keep going. Even small amounts e.g. a 2kg increase is suggested as a threshold at which functional improvements are seen. Now I find it very difficult to put weight on. No matter how much I eat (has anybody seen a Chinese person not eat ;)?)
And whilst this may sound like a dream scenario for some women, trust me it is most definitely not! For the simple reason that you. are.just.not.healthy. From inside-out, you can feel drained, lethargic and sometimes don’t have the energy just to keep going.
For those on the opposite end of the spectrum e.g. overweight with COPD, having too much fat can also make it harder to breath too, so managing it becomes even more critical for both body-types.
It’s like a slog, because NOW on top of managing the disease its self, it can also feel like yet another thing you have to take care of- diet. But I would say that, as any normal person has to look after their health anyway, this is just a chance to really really take care of your own body. I’d rather do this than let my condition get worst and that is probably the best mind-frame to help you too.
I’m told that regular meals (more like 6-7) and high (good-fats, but sometimes bad ones too!) plus protein are critical to integrate into the diet. These include avocados, full-fat yogurts/milk/cream, nuts, honey, fortified drinks and food, eggs, chicken etc.
This is standard advice anyway, but really disciplining yourself into eating more regularly, with these foods incorporated, is important (six times a day).
I’m not perfect at this yet, but I’m trying to and also on a journey with my fellow sufferers. I try hard to remind myself, because if I don’t eat more regularly (above the standard three meals), I’m continually at risk. Low BMI can also mean lower fertility rates etc, but without scaremongering, it’s just a reminder of how important it is to have good nutrition built into your plans.
Supplementary nutrition is also important, for example, I took Fortsip which is a high energy and high protein drink, specifically for malnutritioned individuals. And in that time period, I seemed to gain some weight back on. The only reason I stopped was because of the expense, but I’m told the doctor should also be able to prescribe this. So that is on my next plan!
It is critical that you ask your doctor or consultant to provide or refer you to a dietician or nutritionist, as well as ask what else they can potentially prescribe to you. Remember to always be curious and ask away!
In another blog post, I will have some meal plans recommended by professional dieticians and reports of my own experiences 🙂
The online version of the article is here and allows you to choose your advice block based on which level of malnutrition you may be at. Good luck!
If anyone has any great ideas, do let me know 🙂