Most people associate cancer with weight loss, but weight gain can also be a challenge brought on by cancer and cancer treatment, especially for those with breast cancer.
Chemotherapy can bring on premature menopause, which slows your metabolism down, making it easier to gain weight. Chemotherapy can also cause your body to hold on to fluid, making you feel and appear swollen or bloated. Fatigue, another common side effect of chemotherapy and radiation, makes it difficult to stay physically active which is also plays a part in maintaining a healthy weight. Other medications, such as steroids, may increase your appetite.
Maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Benefits of maintaining a healthy weight or healthy body size include
- Decreased risk of disease, including some cancers
- Increased energy and wellbeing
- Improved strength and mobility
- More restful sleep.
What can you do to combat weight gain after breast cancer treatment? Here are a few tips:
Tip 1: Make simple swaps.
Try to swap out at least half of your processed grains for whole grains. Eat brown rice instead of white, and whole grain pasta and bread instead of white bread or pasta. You don’t have to give these foods up, just eat their healthier counterparts. The fiber in these whole grains will keep you feeling full longer and you may not need to snack as much throughout the day.
Tip 2: Keep a food journal.
It’s easy to eat a handful of pretzels here and there without a second thought. However, most people don’t realize how much they’re eating throughout the day until they’ve gained weight. Writing down everything you eat will help you see patterns that you may not have noticed before, and once you recognize these patterns you can start to change them.
Tip 3: Limit salt, sugar and fat.
Cut down on sugar-sweetened soda and sugary foods, which are often high in calories but low in vitamins and nutrients. Start small. Instead of one soda a day, try drinking one every other day. Reading food labels can also help you understand what’s in the foods you are eating, and help you cut down on processed foods, which often contain shocking amounts of added sugar, salt and fat.
Tip 4: Walk.
Walking is a great way to get in moderate exercise without feeling like you’re expending all your energy, and being outdoors can boost your mood. Be sure to set realistic goals. Try starting with 10 minutes three times a week. Once you’re comfortable with this, add on to your goals. Ask your healthcare team before starting a new physical activity.
Tip 5: Find a buddy.
It’s more difficult to slip into old habits when someone’s holding you accountable. Ask a friend if they’ll walk with you each week, or give a report of what you ate each day to your spouse.
Weight gain after treatment isn’t inevitable. You can reach your goals by putting nutritious foods in your body and keeping track of them, staying active, and asking someone to hold you accountable. Not only will you feel better, but you’ll reduce your chances of recurrence or other health problems.
Ellen Jones, Dietetics Student, Lipscomb University