Staying a healthy weight

Find out what to do if you’ve gained weight or lost weight while living with a lung condition.

Why is my weight important?

When you have a lung condition, it’s important to stay a healthy weight. 

If you’re obese, losing weight is beneficial to your overall health. It can lower the risk of other long-term conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Losing weight can also lower your risk of acid reflux, obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) and flu.

Having more fat on your neck, chest and across your tummy can make it difficult to breathe in deeply. It may also make everyday tasks like bending down to put your shoes on harder, making you more breathless than usual.

If you’re underweight, your breathing muscles will be weaker, and your body will have less strength to complete daily activities and fight off infections. 

What is a healthy weight?

Your body mass index (BMI) can tell you if you’re a healthy weight for your height and sex. You can work out your BMI by using the NHS BMI healthy weight calculator.

You should also check your waist size to make sure you’re not carrying too much fat around your tummy. The NHS has more guidance on how to measure your waist.

A good sign of weight change can be how you feel in your clothes - for example, a little tighter or looser than normal. If you notice your weight has changed, discuss this with your healthcare professional.

Why have I gained weight?

If you live with a lung condition, you might find you’ve gained weight. This could be because:

  • you’re not able to exercise as much, or at all 
  • you’re taking steroids in the long term, which can make you feel hungrier than usual
  • your oral steroids are causing you to keep too much fluid
  • you feel stressed or anxious. Sometimes we eat more or drink more alcohol, sugary drinks and sweetened coffee when we’re stressed. These are all high in calories

How can I lose weight?

For most people, the best way to lose weight is with both diet and exercise. If you’ve gained too much weight, losing weight can help you manage your lung condition better.

When trying to lose weight, it's important not to cut out any food groups. Cutting out food groups altogether could stop you from getting important nutrients and vitamins your body and lungs need.

There are many ways to lose weight:

1. Get help from your healthcare professional

Ask your healthcare professional if they can make losing weight part of your treatment plan.

Many specialist centres will have a dietitian as part of their services. Your GP may also be able to refer you to weight loss services.  

Talk to your healthcare team about side effects from steroids which could be making you feel more hungry than usual.

2. Make good food and drink choices

These steps can help you to lose weight and keep it off::

• replace foods high in unhealthy fats or sugar with healthier snacks and meals 
• eat more high-fibre and high-protein foods - they will make you feel fuller for longer 
• cut back on alcohol - it is high in calories
• drink more water - sometimes you might mistake thirst for hunger
• avoid too much fried food - try grilling, steaming, boiling, or baking food instead
• have smaller portions of food - you could try using a smaller plate
• check food labels - low-fat products replace fat with high amounts of sugar. The NHS have guidelines on how to read food nutrition labels.

3. Keep active if you can

Keeping as active as possible will also help you stay a healthy weight. Being active helps you keep muscle while losing weight. In the longer term, this can help with weight maintenance and muscle strength, including how strong your lungs are.

To keep active, you could:

Find out more about keeping active with a lung condition

Why have I lost weight?

If you have a lung condition, you might lose weight. You may eat less because eating makes you feel breathless, or your appetite might be low. If you feel tired or out of breath, you might find it more difficult to shop and prepare your meals.

If you take certain medicines like anti-fibrotic drugs, you may find you lose weight too.

If you’re losing too much weight

Talk to your GP or other healthcare professional if:

  • you’re losing weight without planning to 
  • you’re finding it hard to gain weight 
  • you feel weak and have low energy.

You may be at risk of malnutrition, which can weaken your breathing muscles and make you more likely to get chest infections. 

How can I gain weight?

There are lots of things you can do to try and gain weight:

  • Eat little and often - try snacking throughout the day.
  • Don’t skip meals - you could try setting alarms to remind yourself to eat.
  • Plan your meals in advance and freeze portions for when you have less energy.
  • Choose high-calorie food and add extra calories and protein to food. 
  • Drink enough fluid, but not too close to a meal in case it makes you feel bloated. 
  • Exercise to improve your appetite, if you can.

You may be referred to a dietitian. A dietitian can help you adjust your diet, so you get as many calories, protein, and other nutrients like vitamins as possible. If your appetite is poor, they may also recommend you use nutritional supplement drinks for a while. These are prescribed by your GP.  

What could I snack on?

Eating small snacks throughout the day can help you put on weight. Nutritious snacks include:  

  • bread with dips, like houmous or baba ghanoush  
  • crackers and cheese
  • biscuits 
  • seeds or nuts
  • full-fat dairy or soya yoghurt 
  • dried fruit and nuts
  • pretzels 
  • falafel 
  • bombay mix
  • olives
  • sushi.

How can I add extra calories and protein to my meals?

You can add calories to most meals by adding:

  • extra butter, margarine, oil or ghee
  • coconut cream or condensed or full-fat milk 
  • extra cheese
  • adding yoghurt or custard to desserts
  • seeds
  • nut and seed butters like peanut butter and tahini 
  • avocado. 

Get support

Call our Helpline for support with your condition. Get advice on your medicines, symptoms or travelling with a lung condition, or just call us to say hello.

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