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Resource type: Article

Weight loss

Patients can lose a lot of weight during their time in Intensive Care (sometimes up to 20% of their weight on admission) and often have issues with eating after transfer to the general wards. This can happen for many reasons; some are physical, some psychological and others are to do with hospital routine (eg being  presented with food at very different times to when you would normally eat).Eating enough and well is an important part of your recovery.Your dietitian will do her/his best to help and support you.

In this section, we've provided some examples of what other people have told us about the physical, psychological and hospital related issues that interfered with their ability to eat. We've also provided short sections on some of the things you can do to help yourself and some of the things your family and friends can do.

Physical issues that interfere with eating

The most common physical issues include poor appetite, food not quite tasting as it should (with either a salty or metallic taste), feeling full quickly and feeling too tired to eat.

Poor appetite

Patients often tell us that they lose their appetite or "go off" a lot of the foods that they previously enjoyed.

"I just don't have any appetite.  I'm sort of force feeding myself."

"I’ve gone off a lot of foods that I used to like."

Food tasting different

It is common for food to taste different from how you might expect it to, with either a salty or a metallic taste

"I noticed that first couple of days, that everything tasted the same."

"I remember the first time I got the soup, I almost spat it out because it was too salty.  It was terribly salty."

"Nothing tastes right, everything tastes different."

Feeling full very quickly

You might find that you are looking forward to something, but just can't face it once it's in front of you. You might also find that you can eat very little before feeling full or bloated. 

"I'm just not hungry.  I order it, it looks nice on paper...it comes up, I sit and think "that looks nice".  One spoonful and I've had enough."

Feeling too tired to eat

Patients sometimes feel too physically weak to eat.

"I can’t hold a fork to get food in my mouth. I’m too tired to eat and eating tires me out."

"Some of the time, I found that I just couldn't be bothered.   You know, you get this food put in front of you and then you think "I can't be bothered eating this"...and you aren't hungry enough to make a go of it."


Psychological issues that interfere with eating

Your appetite might also be affected by feeling anxious or low.

Feeling anxious

"Come to think of it I do eat more when I am relaxed. My diet is affected by stress."

Feeling low

"My mood is really low. It’s depressing being here.... I’m at a low stage at the minute. Food is the last thing on my mind.


Hospital issues that interfere with eating

Common issues include the quality and quantity of hospital food, the timing of meals and not always getting what you ordered.

The quality of hospital food

The quality and taste of hospital food has been a source of amusement for a very long time! 

"Well, even the toast is horrible.  It's not their fault.  I suppose by the time it comes up from the kitchen and gets to the ward, it's like chewing plastic."

"The other day it was sweet and sour chicken.  I thought, "I'll have that, that sounds nice." I got it,but it was completely tasteless.  No sweet, no sour, no nothing. It was so bland"

Portion sizes

These can sometimes be off putting if you aren't up to eating much

"Well I asked for small portion, but it's a decent sized portion for me". 

"I always ask for a small portion, and then I don’t eat very much of it"

The timing or frequency of hospital meals

You might also be put off eating so often or at times that are completely different fro your normal routine.

"...this sort of breakfast, lunch, supper...I mean, that's just not for me. I sort of ate when I felt like it.  But this regimental...well it's far too early for breakfast, but I force myself. Then having something cooked stuck in front of you at 12 o'clock midday, it's just a struggle."

"Hospital meals are at the wrong time, you know? I can't get my head around that you have your main meal at 5 o'clock.  Now I understand the reasons why,but it's had a big impact on my eating."

Not always getting what you ordered

Unfortunately, you might not always get what you ordered, and might prefer not to eat what is served instead.

"They didn’t even ask me…they gave me porridge and I don’t like porridge."

"They gave me fish pie,but I don't like fish.  They said I'd ordered it,but I hadn't. They told me just to try and eat what was there."

All of these issues can make it very difficult for patients to eat enough (or enough of the right things) to aid recovery. Patients have told us that it really helps for family and friends to bring in food that they like, or to bring food from the hospital canteen closer to their normal meal times, or to take them to the canteen so that the family could eat together.

"My wife was making homemade soup and bringing it up in a flask. I like yoghurts, so I always had those in the morning.  They weren't part of the menu, so my wife brought them in and the nurses put them in the fridge." 

"I went down and had dinner down in the hospital canteen. My sister got me dinner.  It was good to get off the ward..... and the steak and chips was really nice."