Weight Change

It is common to experience weight changes before, during and after cancer treatment.

Perhaps you lost weight prior to your cancer diagnosis. Or you may have struggled with weight for many years. You may find that as a result of surgery, chemotherapy, treatment side effects, new medications, less physical activity or depression you have gained weight. Some of these changes will be temporary and some may last much longer. Please talk to your health care team if you are concerned either about weight loss or gain. They will have suggestions to help to determine the causes of your weight gain or loss and then work with you to find solutions that are specific for your situation.

Weight issues can be a very personal thing. If you want to lose weight, you might find that being on a strict diet and exercise plan may not blend well with your cancer treatment at this time. Your doctor may not want you to lose or gain too much weight during treatment. Above all, focusing on good nutrition and reasonable physical activity may be your best approach to a weight issue. Research has shown that obesity can result in cancer recurrence in some types of cancer. Eating healthy during and after cancer is an excellent way to improve your health and well-being with and beyond cancer.

Talk with your doctor about what concerns you and work together to identify the reasons for your weight loss or gain and talk about solutions. You may want to consult with a registered dietitian to develop an eating and nutrition plan that works well for you.

Coping with Weight Gain

Choose healthier foods.

  • Fill up more of your plate with lower calorie fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and high-fiber whole grains.
  • Avoid higher calorie foods made with rich creamy sauces, cheese, oils, and fried foods.
  • Choose baked or broiled fish and lean meats like skinless chicken and turkey breast over high fat meats like hamburgers, steak, pork, and roasts.
  • Eat smaller portions of food.
  • Eat only when you are hungry.

Keep a food journal and meal plan.

  • Planning ahead and tracking what you eat can help you to stick with your goals. 
  • Identify parts of your diet that can be improved and set goals to work on them.

Avoid empty calories.

  • Avoid high-calorie sugar-sweetened beverages, baked goods, and processed foods which offer little or no nutrition benefit.
  • Choose beverages like water, seltzer, and plain tea. Flavor them with your favorite fruits.

Include more physical activity.

  • Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week.
  • Find a friend to stay active with you.
  • If you are able, consider including cardio, stretching, and resistance training to help maintain or increase your muscle mass.

Coping with Weight Loss

Add healthy high-calorie additives to the foods you eat regularly.

  • Avocado
  • Olive oil or butter
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Cheese
  • Sauces and gravies
  • Dried fruit
  • Peanut butter, almond butter, or other nut butters 
  • Eat more small meals instead of three big meals/day.
  • Keep high calorie foods and drinks nearby for times when you are hungry or have an appetite.
  • Plan your largest meal for a time when you are likely to be hungriest.
  • Snack regularly even when you are not hungry.
  • Exercise lightly to increase your appetite.
  • Drink beverages between meals rather than with the meals. 

Eat smaller, more frequent meals.

  • Aim to east 5-6 small meals daily, instead of 3 big meals.
  • Include high-calorie smoothies or nutritional drinks to your daily routine.
  • Set an alarm or reminder to eat.

Include high-protein foods to help your body heal and prevent further muscle mass loss.

  • Nuts, seeds, and nut butters
  • Beans
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products

Include more physical activity.

  • Aim for a total of 150 minutes per week.
  • Talk to your health care team about physical therapy if you feel weak or unable to maintain your daily routine.