cancer treatment and weight gain

Cancer Survivors and Weight Gain

at 8 pm

So you survived cancer and now you are watching the scales creep up. Sometimes a little weight gain after cancer treatment is to be expected, you are eating again and you want to try all those foods you missed and treat your taste buds to your old favorites. However, in many cases the weight keeps creeping up and things just don’t taste like they used to.

A common side effect of many cancer treatments is that there is a change in your taste buds. Some things just won’t taste the same, foods you used to love may be too salty or too sweet and you need to experiment and get creative with new flavors and seasonings to get more pleasure from your food. Don’t fall into the bad habit of simply eating to fill yourself up or because you used to love a certain dish. Now is the time to try some new things and keep your diet fresh and healthy.

Many patients find that after their treatment they can slip back into old habits. During your treatment you may be very aware of what you are putting into your body, you concentrate on healthy fruits and vegetables you research alternative foods and diets. Nevertheless, when treatment is done you can often slip back into the old mind set of ‘oh just a little won’t hurt’ and you watch the pounds pile back on.

We all know that your health both during and after treatment is a priority and that you must be careful not to gain too much weight as it has been shown to be detrimental to your health.  Gaining weight can mean that you are at risk for diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even a recurrence of cancer.

Some patients have gone through hormone therapy and this has dramatically affected their ability to control their weight. Hormone therapy is often used to treat certain cancers because research has shown that decreasing the amount of testosterone in men and progesterone in women actually deprives the cancer cells of the hormones that they need to grow and expand. The downside to hormone therapy however can lead to an increased level of fat build up, lower metabolism and decreased muscle mass.

Steroid medications, which are used to decrease nausea or treat inflammation, also have a myriad of side effects. These medications have been shown to increase the buildup of fatty tissue and increase your appetite leading to an excessive weight gain. You may have found yourself craving certain foods and tastes whilst on these medications.

Diet and exercise are the only ways to get back to a healthy weight, but first you must identify what it is that is making you gain weight. Are you eating comfort foods that are heavy on fat and calories? On the other hand, are you enjoying all the chocolate and snacks you couldn’t eat during treatment? Are your changed taste buds requiring the use of richer sauces and flavorings? It may be a good idea to make an appointment with a nutritionist and keep a food diary to help get you back on track.

A good dietician and nutritionist may be able to help point out what vitamins and minerals your body is deficient in many cravings are associated with a lack of certain types of protein or the nutrients your body needs to help itself.  They will also be able to point you in the direction of great healthy alternatives and recipes that can help jump-start your taste buds. They will also be able to suggest foods that a lower in calories but more nutrient dense. They could pinpoint weight gain from fluid retention or the impact of prior treatments and how to deal with these issues that may crop up during your quest for health.

There are many tricks in a Dietician’s arsenal and some of these include the following:

  • Add fruits and berries to your salads for a splash of color, flavour and great sources of vitamins, you could toss in a handful of grapes, raisins, dried cranberries or slice up some fresh strawberries.
  • Finely dice some mushrooms and add them to ground chicken or turkey to make your own burgers or meatloaf. You could add another layer of flavor by grating some apple or pear into your homemade chicken or pork burgers.
  • Avoid too much red meat, try to eat it only once a week, and don’t forget to add fish at least two times a week.
  • Try eating whole grains and have some oatmeal for breakfast. Add new grains into your diet by using things like cracked wheat (Bulgur) for your side dishes instead of starchy grains like white rice.
  • Try some new salads with quinoa or kamut and avoid the mayonnaise style salads.
  • Make sure they bread you do eat is whole grain with lots of fiber and taste.
  • Foods rich in fiber like whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables will make you feel fuller and will help you maintain and control your weight.