How Can Food Anxiety Affect Mesothelioma Patients?

Health & Wellness

This blog is Part 2 of a series on the relationship between nutrition, mental health and mesothelioma treatment. Read Part 1: Can Ultra Processed Foods Affect My Mesothelioma Treatment?

Looking at the relationship between diet and emotions for mesothelioma patients, it’s important to consider the specific challenges they face while going through active treatment. Patients may be in active treatment for mesothelioma for weeks, months or even indefinitely, which can be stressful and emotionally overwhelming.

Mesothelioma treatment can include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or radiation therapy, and patients typically receive a combination of these therapies. Most people diagnosed with mesothelioma understand the importance of staying nourished to minimize treatment side effects and maximize quality of life. But in addition to physical challenges, there are some mental health challenges as well that can make maintaining a nutritionally beneficial diet difficult.

Eating can be a social activity. Some mesothelioma patients say they feel isolated when they can’t or don’t want to eat some of the foods that their family and friends are enjoying at gatherings. 

Some also say well-meaning loved ones make them feel pressured to eat more or certain types of foods that aren’t agreeable or recommended while undergoing treatment. It can be challenging to set boundaries with loved ones, but it’s important to follow your medical team’s recommendations and respect your own needs.

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Getting Expert Answers 

I’ve also heard from some mesothelioma patients that they receive conflicting input from family and friends about what to eat while undergoing treatment. This well meaning advice from loved ones can add to the stress mesothelioma patients are already experiencing, leaving them with questions best left to experts in mesothelioma nutrition

Some questions I’ve heard patients ask after talking to loved ones: “Should I become a vegetarian or eat only organic foods? Should I be juicing to boost my immune system? Should I avoid all sugar?” 

Confusion about what or how much to eat while undergoing treatment can lead to anxiety or fear that following the “wrong” diet can lead to their cancer progressing faster. Working with a dietitian can help patients determine the best approach to meal planning for them and their needs during treatment.

Dietitians who have experience with mesothelioma understand the interconnection between physical and emotional needs that affect nutrition for patients. Pain, for example, can be an issue for many with mesothelioma. The disease itself or surgery and other treatments can cause it. Pain can reduce appetite and make eating challenging.

Experiencing pain for extended periods of time leads to symptoms of depression and anxiety. These mental health symptoms can also negatively impact appetite.

Typically, treatment for pain includes medication (opioids) that can lead to constipation. This may make it uncomfortable to eat.

Working with both dietitians and mental health experts specializing in mesothelioma care, can work together to help patients improve their overall health. A balanced diet and managing stress and anxiety can help improve treatment outcomes and make coping with a mesothelioma diagnosis less stressful.

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