A delicate balance
Maintaining weight during treatment
Cancer Center oncology nutritionists and guest bloggers, Julia Hincman-Francavilla and Carol Sullivan, provide helpful tips for patients living with and beyond cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight is important at all times of life, but it becomes more critical and more difficult during cancer treatment. Symptoms of the cancer itself and side effects from treatment – such as nausea, pain and fatigue – can lead to weight and nutrient loss, making the body less able to handle treatment. On the other hand, there are certain cancer therapies that can actually cause undesirable weight gain, which may have negative consequences on overall health. Here are some tips to help patients maintain a healthy weight during treatment.
Keep your weight up with these high-cal tips
- If you can’t eat a lot, eat more often: When you cannot tolerate large meals, try eating smaller high-calorie meals and snacks more frequently throughout the day.
- Drink your food: Liquids can be easier to tolerate, especially if you’re experiencing fatigue or have trouble swallowing. Try high-protein smoothies, milkshakes or supplement drinks to increase your calorie and nutrient intake. Many patients find cold drinks easier to handle.
- Add more to lose less: Maximize your calorie intake during meals by adding healthy fats to your foods. Try mixing granola in with your yogurt, or adding walnuts to your oatmeal. Other good choices are vegetable-based oils, avocado, and various nuts and nut butters.
- Don’t “fill up” on volume: Drinking low calorie/low protein liquids like water, juice or sports drinks can trick your stomach into feeling full. Drink those AFTER meals so you have room for the nutritious foods first.
Planning is the key to avoiding unwanted weight gain
- Start the day with a plan: Have you ever gone to the grocery store when you’re hungry? If so, then you know it’s much easier to make healthy choices when you plan ahead! Plan out each day’s meals to avoid impulse eating, and have healthy snacks on-hand when urges strike.
- Add healthy choices to your diet: A sustainable eating plan is one focused on incorporating positive choices rather than eliminating “bad” foods. Choose a diet high in fruits and vegetables and lean proteins, moderate in whole grains and low fat dairy, and low in saturated fats and processed, high-calorie foods.
- Avoid “portion distortion”: All foods can fit into a healthy diet, but moderation is key. Check food labels to find out what is considered an actual “serving size” – you might be surprised!
- Keep active: Continue a physical activity regimen as you’re able. Check with your doctor first regarding intensity and frequency, and learn how you can modify activity during treatment. Take days off when necessary to regain strength.
- Stay rested and hydrated: Make sure to get enough sleep and to drink at least 64 oz (8 cups) of fluid a day. Both will help you feel better overall and more prepared to make healthier choices.
Equipping your body for treatment
In addition to maintaining a healthy weight and nutrient mix during treatment, you can also help your body cope by monitoring protein and liquid intake. Protein and energy needs can be 130-160% higher due to the presence of cancer alone, which alters the body’s metabolism. More protein and calories are needed for greater energy, improved healing, resistance to infection and for a faster recovery from surgery and treatment. Your body also needs adequate fluids every day to prevent dehydration. Keep these tips in mind:
- Protein is powerful: Choose protein-rich foods such as meats, fish, poultry, dairy, lentils, nuts and soy. If you’re trying to gain weight, focus on high-calorie/high-protein foods such as nuts, nut butters, chicken salad, tuna salad, whole milk, whole milk yogurt and smoothies.
- Focus on fluids: Work toward a goal of 64 oz of fluid per day (8 cups). Water, sports drinks, juice, milk, jell-o, popsicles, soups and milkshakes are all considered excellent sources of fluid to maintain your hydration.
- Avoid counterproductive caffeine: Limit caffeinated beverages – they have a diuretic effect, meaning more trips to the bathroom and an increased chance of dehydration.
- Combine goals for a nutritional win: Why not choose high-protein sources of hydration? Milk, milkshakes and smoothies can help you meet both goals.
We hope you find these tips helpful. Remember, everyone’s needs are different – ask your oncologist or an oncology nutritionist about what’s best for you.
To make an appointment with an oncology nutritionist, call 617-724-4000.