7 Tips to Avoiding Shortness of Breath When Eating

Improving COPD Breathing With Dietary Modifications

Breathing, for most people, requires very little effort or conscious thought. This is generally not the case if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that turns taking a simple breath into a difficult task.

Proper nutrition helps give you more energy, which may, in turn, improve your breathing. The only problem is, dyspnea and other symptoms of COPD often interfere with eating, leaving you frustrated, energy-depleted and malnourished.

If you are finding it difficult to complete a meal, try these seven tips to help you manage shortness of breath during mealtimes:

Clear Your Airways Before Eating

Older man coughing into napkin
Getty Images/Rowan Allan

Effective airway clearance is an important part of COPD management and can be especially beneficial before meals. When done on a regular basis, airway clearance techniques can help you breathe better and prevent lung infection that can lead to COPD exacerbation. Practice these simple techniques before meals to keep you from becoming too breathless to complete them.

Eat and Chew Your Food Slowly

Old lady eating salad gracefully
Getty Images/Leren Lu

Eating too fast not only interferes with your digestion and causes you to eat more than you should, but it can drain you of essential energy that will make breathing during meals that much more difficult. The next time you sit down to eat, try making your meal last at least 20 minutes. 

Take small bites and chew your food slowly. Make a conscious effort to breathe while you are eating. Put your utensils down between bites to ensure that you eat slower. Over time, you are sure to notice the difference, particularly in your breathing.

Eat Foods That Are Easy to Chew

Smiling woman eating fruit salad in kitchen
Getty Images/Hero Images

Foods that are hard to chew are also difficult to swallow. This puts you at greater risk for chokingaspiration pneumonia, and even death. Excess chewing can also zap your energy levels during meals, making it impossible for you to finish eating. Eating foods that are easy to chew will help you conserve energy so you have more for breathing. Choosing tender, well-cooked meat, rather than tougher cuts and well-cooked fruits and vegetables, rather than raw, may help.

Eat Smaller, More Frequent Meals

Caregiver giving older woman tray of food
Getty Images/CaiaImage

Did you know that many professional body-builders eat six to eight small meals a day? They know something that many of us don't -- that the key to maintaining a high metabolism is to eat smaller, more frequent meals. In addition, because some people with COPD are too thin or malnourished, it's best to choose foods that are high in calories to keep your energy levels soaring, which will positively impact your breathing.

Save Beverages Until After You Eat

Senior man with digital tablet having coffee at home
Getty Images/Hero Images

When you drink liquids during your meals, you may have a tendency to fill up quicker causing you to feel full or bloated. This can cause difficulty breathing. Try waiting until the end of your meal to drink your beverages. But, of course, if you need to sip water while you eat to make the food go down easier, do so.

Eat While Sitting Upright

Women having lunch together in cafe
Getty Images/Cultura RM Exclusive/yellowdog

Remember when your mother told you to sit up straight? Maybe she was on to something. Lying down or slumping while eating can cause pressure on your diaphragm. Proper posture, especially during meal times, will benefit your breathing by keeping excess pressure off your diaphragm, the major muscle of respiration. 

Use Pursed-Lip Breathing

Female lips, pouting
Getty Images/Jonathan Knowles

Pursed-lip breathing is a breathing technique that is very helpful to use when you become short of breath. It can also help to reduce the anxiety associated with dyspnea and allow you to finish a meal. Perform pursed-lip breathing when you feel short of breath during meals and you'll be surprised at what a difference it can make.

Continue Reading