Patients With Cancer May Need Help Changing Their Eating Approaches

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Caitlin Benda, MBA, MS, RD, CSO, LDN, a clinical oncology nutritionist supervisor at American Oncology Network, comments on different ways oncology nurses can assist patients in reaching their overall caloric intake.

Nurses can help patients with cancer understand that nutrition is an important part of their treatment plan, according to Caitlin Benda, MBA, MS, RD, CSO, LDN.

In honor of National Nutrition Month, Benda, a clinical oncology nutritionist supervisor at American Oncology Network, spoke to Oncology Nursing News® about dietary strategies to support patients undergoing curative cancer therapies.

According to Benda, patients often need to understand that maintaining weight is important while receiving cancer therapy. Furthermore, because eating can become unappealing during this time, implementing different strategies to change a patients’ approach to food can be very effective.

“Using things like individual portions, or small portion sizes that are pre-packaged or convenience foods, so that it's not adding a barrier in of preparation [is helpful],” said Benda. “Make things easy to grab [and] easy to find, [that can simply mean] setting a bowl of trail mix next to a patient as they are watching TV so that they can munch as they are doing something else: incorporating that ‘mindless eating’ can be really helpful in encouraging that overall intake and chipping away at those nutritional goals.”

Furthermore, applying a positive attitude to eating can help patients overcome emotional barriers with it, explains Benda.

“[I encourage] having a positive celebration over how hard patients are trying and what they are doing and encouraging them frequently throughout the day. Oftentimes, [this entails] trying to encourage intake every hour—or every 2 hours if intake and portion sizes are compromised—and helping a patient to develop what is doable for them,” she explained. “Whether it is a certain food, a certain taste that's working [against them], encourage being liberal with overall intake and getting in what[ever] they can over the course of the day—and, little-by-little, set goals that are achievable.”