7 Ways to Gain Weight if You Have COPD

Take a look at these tips to avoid losing too much weight if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

Although weight loss sounds like a good thing, it's not—if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This lung condition, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, can cause severe weight and muscle loss. About one in four people with COPD are too thin.

"In the end stages of COPD, preventing weight loss is a major issue," says Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD. "The work of breathing takes so many calories."

In general, eating more protein and getting more calories—while still keeping an eye on nutrition—is a good way to combat weight loss. Try these tips to help keep the weight on.

Add Healthy Fats

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"One of the best food groups to focus on, believe it or not, is the high-fat foods," says Dr. Gerbstadt. "Because of the way fat is digested, it doesn't tax the respiratory system like digesting other foods can," she says.

"You're adding more flavor but adding a compact source of calories that's very efficiently metabolized, so it helps the effort of breathing."

Try tossing a salad in olive oil instead of just having plain steamed veggies, or marinating meats in an olive-oil-based vinaigrette.

Eat More Eggs

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Eggs are full of healthy nutrients and don't take much prep work, a plus for COPD patients, who often don't have the energy to prepare elaborate meals. The protein in eggs can be very helpful in adding bulk to a COPD patient's diet.

Pick Lean Meats

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"You need some protein, so pick lean meats, because the fat in meat would be more saturated and higher in cholesterol," says Dr. Gerbstadt. "Marinate a nice lean cut of meat in a vinaigrette and make a London broil or a stir-fry, where you're adding healthy fat [by cooking in oil] and not using the animal fat."

Consume More Nuts

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"Nuts [are] a really nice, concentrated source of healthy fats, and they really boost up calories," says Dr. Gerbstadt. They are also packed with antioxidants, which have lots of heart-healthy benefits and fight inflammation.

Try spreading peanut butter on toast or bagels, tossing nuts into salads or stir-fries, or even just eating them by the handful.

Eat Dessert First

Leigh Beisch

Eating often isn't an enjoyable experience for people with COPD.

"It's less easy to eat when you are having trouble breathing," says Dr. Gerbstadt. Put some joy into eating by indulging in a little dessert. Ice cream, puddings, custards, and cakes are often made with eggs, which are a great way to bulk up on fat and protein.

Add Dairy—Sparingly

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Some experts recommend adding cheese to sandwiches, pastas, and casseroles, or mixing dried milk powder into recipes.

"Cheese certainly is a concentrated source of calories," says Dr. Gerbstadt, but it's easy to go overboard.

Nuts and vegetable oils are a better source of fat, but there's no reason to avoid some dairy.

Try a Nutritional Shake or Smoothie


"Getting calories from a shake is a good idea, but it's not the first thing [most COPD patients] would reach for," says Dr. Gerbstadt. "They may worry that drinking more will result in too many trips to the bathroom—a daily activity that becomes increasingly difficult as the disease worsens," she says.

"If you do want to supplement your meals with a shake, make sure it has protein, fiber, and fat and is not superhigh in carbohydrates. Some brands make versions specifically for chronic lung patients," says Dr. Gerbstadt.

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