Nutrition: dealing with weight gain

Friday 04 May 2018

Despite the belief that people with cancer generally lose weight as a result of the disease process I get many visitors asking me for advice on how to deal with weight gain, particularly women who are receiving treatment for hormone related cancers. It can be very frustrating for some ,as the reasons  for the weight gain are not always obvious.

Reasons  people with cancer may gain weight

  • Some chemotherapy treatment causes the body to retain excess fluid in the cells and tissues which is called edema.
  • Premature menopause brought on by the treatment can result in some weight gain as it can cause your metabolism to slow down. There is also a change in body composition when the body tends to gain more body fat and lose lean muscle.
  • Corticosteroids used to help with combating nausea that often occurs with chemotherapy can cause an increase in appetite. In addition they can cause a redistribution of muscle mass from the extremities into the abdominal area as fat. Steroids are also used to help reduce symptoms of inflammation, such as swelling and pain.
  • Weight gain may be due to decreased activity. The drop in physical activity may be as a result of fatigue, nausea and pain that can sometimes come with cancer treatment.
  • Hormone therapy is another treatment that can cause weight gain. It decreases the amount of oestrogen and progesterone in females and testosterone in males. The treatment tends to cause an increase in body fat at the same time there is a decrease in muscle mass and the way that food is metabolised.
  • Stress can lead to food cravings particularly sweet carbohydrate type foods, we probably associate with comfort eating.
  • Chemotherapy can alter taste buds and cause cravings for foods that you possibly would not normally eat. To a degree it is best to go along with this as it will only be temporary knowing that as soon as you can you can get back to more controlled thoughtful choices.
    If you do gain weight as a result of any one or more of the above it is important to still look after yourself and pay attention to eating well by following a well balanced diet. I do see some ladies who gain weight throw in the towel and blame their weight gain all on the treatment. This I can understand to a degree but the long term consequences will probably not be good for your general health and well being.

Managing weight gain.

  • Try to eat regular meals, including some form of protein at each meal. Protein foods such as eggs, lean meat, fish, beans, lentils and nuts will help to keep you feeling full longer. These foods will prevent dips in blood sugar which in itself can lead to hunger and sugar cravings. Protein also helps build and repair tissues that may be affected by treatment. It also helps prevent muscle loss and help fight against infection.
  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. They are fat free (unless you coat them in butter and cream sauces!!!) and will help fill you up as they are high in fibre. As we know they also have huge health protective properties. Take care to try and eat a rainbow of colours to gain maximum benefit.
  • Use your imagination when preparing. Think stir fries, soups (not creamy based), casseroles, oven roasted (using olive oil), steamed, imaginative salads using a wide variety of ingredients like peppers, rocket, sweet corn, beetroot, grated carrots, red onions as well as the traditional lettuce cucumber and tomato, vegetables sauces like tomato and mushroom and juices. Note that frozen vegetables are a very good standby when regular shopping may be difficult.
  • Always think 50%!! that is, your lunch and your evening meal each comprises of 50% vegetables or half of your plate. This is easy to see if you are having say a piece of salmon with vegetables but if you are making up a recipe for example a bolognese sauce make sure that ½ of the ingredients that go into the sauce are vegetables. So if you have the traditional onion and tomato add perhaps some mushrooms, peppers, finely sliced celery etc.
  • Choose whole grains like porridge, wholemeal bread, rye bread, brown rice, quinoa. Whole wheat pasta.  These will be more filling than the white processed varieties. They will keep you feeling full for longer and are more nutritious than the processed sorts.
  • Strictly limit your use of sugar and processed refined foods as these have poor nutritional qualities, can disrupt your natural blood sugar levels and can easily be stored as fat.
  • Strictly limit your use of saturated fats. These are the fats that we associate as being high in cholesterol. They come from animal foods like the fat or skin on meat, cream, full fat yogurts, cheese, and butter.
  • Be aware of convenience commercially prepared foods and dressings as these can contain a lot of hidden sugar and damaged fats that we know as hydrogenated fats. Calories per gram fat is the highest so keep your intake to modest amounts. However for good health it is important to include the fats that will give you the essential fatty acids like omega 3. Foods like oily types of fish, seeds and modest amounts of nuts. You would be far better having a small palmful of mixed nuts and seeds as a snack than a piece of cake or a biscuit.
  • Drink plenty of water as sometimes thirst can be mistaken for hunger.
  • Use healthier cooking methods like baking and grilling rather than frying.
  • ry to increase your exercise. Even if it is a twenty minute walk each day. This will help speed up your metabolism and make you feel better.
  • If you do have fluid retention then limit the amount of salt as this encourages fluid into the cells.

The bottom line

There seems to be a lot of do’s and don’ts. These are general guidelines only and it is important that you do the best you can at the time. Knowing that being positive helps to breed positive, lifts the spirits and in turn improves health particularly the function of the immune system. Your immune system is your best friend so needs looking after.

Blog originally written by Caroline  October 2012

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