Cancer treatments often cause side effects that can significantly impact your eating habits, appetite, energy levels, and body weight. For some, this might cause you to lose weight. However, more often than not, patients tend to gain weight – sometimes as many as 25 to 35 pounds - during treatment!
As you can imagine, weight gain, along with changes in appearance brought about by surgery and hair loss, can significantly impact a cancer survivor’s self image, confidence, and self esteem. Physiologically, additional weight gain puts the patient at an increased risk of ailments such as diabetes and heart disease. It also increases their risk of cancer recurrence and cancer mortality.
WHY Some Patients Gain Weight
The reasons why some patients gain weight during treatment (and others don’t) is complex and multifaceted. For starters, chemotherapy often causes metabolism to slow down, making it difficult for the body to maintain a healthy weight.
In addition, sometimes treatments include the use of corticosteroids for relief of nausea, swelling, and other side effects. This is associated with increased appetite and the development of fatty tissue.
Finally, many chemotherapy treatments given to pre-menopausal women promote an early transition into menopause, where women tend to experience a reduction in lean body mass and an increase in fat mass.
One more thing – Physical inactivity also contributes to weight gain during treatment. In fact, it has been cited as the primary reason patients gain weight! Of course, the side effects of treatment are tough. Stress, fatigue, nausea, and pain make it difficult to have the motivation to exercise! However, physical inactivity during treatment lowers your energy expenditure and decreases your lean body mass…and causes you to gain weight.
There is hope, however!
Weight reductions of just 5-10%
can have significant health benefits to the cancer survivor!
Recommendations for Weight Management
· Physical Activity: Research strongly supports physical activity as safe and effective during cancer recovery, and demonstrates that those who are active have higher survival rates compared to those who remain sedentary.
Also, low-to-moderate exercise will optimize the immune system during treatment!
In order to obtain a healthy weight, the American Cancer Society recommends patients practice the following:
o Avoid inactivity and return to normal daily activity as soon as possible after diagnosis.
o Aim for at least 150 minutes of cardiovascular exercise each week. Engage in low impact activities, such as walking, biking, or swimming.
o Perform strength training exercises at least twice each week.
· Nutrition Recommendations: Eating a healthy diet will promote overall health and help protect the body from other diseases.
During cancer treatment, nutrition goals should be to prevent or resolve nutrient deficiencies, achieve or maintain a healthy weight, preserve lean body mass, and reduce nutrition-related side effects.
Some nutritional guidelines set forth by the American Cancer Society to maximize quality of life include:
· Limit high-calorie foods and beverages.
· Reduce consumption of white flour.
· Choose 100% whole grain foods (brown rice, quinoa, whole grain breads).
· Eat at least 2 ½ cups of fruits and vegetables each day.
· Limit intake of red and processed meat.
· Limit saturated and trans fats, found in red meat, fried foods, margarine, and donuts.
· Eat “good” fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats), found in olive and canola oil, nuts, natural nut butters, and avocados.
To summarize, strive to be
physically active and eat healthy during treatment!
If you would like to make a change in your exercise or eating habits, but don’t know where to begin, we would love to help you! Join our Survivor Strong online weight loss group! In this program, you will be given the tools you need to succeed in losing weight and optimizing your quality of life.
Our next program begins October 1! You can register here. I would love to work with you!