Cancer, College, and Nutrition: Returning with a Blast

2 years 5 months ago
Posted under Fall, Living with Cancer, young adults

Autumn is here. There’s a crisp feeling in the air.  You are returning to college with a positive attitude. But, you are also a cancer survivor. What should you do to stay healthy? What foods are best? When is the best time to eat? How can I enjoy socializing with friends and still be healthy?  

Young adult cancer survivors in college have hectic schedules, limited cooking resources, new food options, and emotional challenges that older adults with cancer may not face.  Here are some ideas for young cancer survivors returning to campus:

Smart Sizes

With the threat of the “freshman 15” looming, watch your portion sizes for an easy way to avoid weight gain. Restaurant portion sizes are usually not healthy portion sizes. In fact, many fast food restaurant portions are double or triple a healthy portion size. Even smoothies, which can be a great source of nutrients, may be super-sized before you know it. How can you size smart? Measure your food and drinks at home. Then you can train your eyes to know a healthy portion size.  For proteins, a healthy portions size is about 3 ounces. For grains, it’s 1/2 cup. For chopped veggies, it’s 1/2 cup, or 1 cup for raw leafy vegetables, like lettuce. For fruits, it’s 1 medium piece, about the size of a baseball. If eating a high-calorie food, like fried vegetables, try to stick to 1/2 cup or less to cut out extra fat that often triggers bloating and weight gain. Learn more about portion control here.

Share Your Entrée

Cut costs and extra, unwanted calories by sharing an entrée or appetizer with a friend when eating out.  Sharing an entrée may also allow you to try a new dish or flavor without a big price tag. Be sure to have the server bring an extra plate! Sharing a plate or glass can increase your risk of illness—as a cancer survivor, don’t risk it.  If you have special dietary needs or restrictions, tell your server. For example, if you can’t eat hot peppers or cream sauces, ask the server to put them on one side of the entrée instead. This way your friend can still enjoy the peppers or sauces, but you won’t be compromising your dietary needs.

Cook With Like-Minded Friends

Make supper or a weekend tailgate meal with friends. It helps to share the cost of a meal. If your appetite is low, eating with others may help you eat more because you will be enjoying yourself instead of stressing over how much you need to eat. Bring or make a dish that is healthy for you. Ask friends to be mindful of your dietary needs. For example, marinate your chicken in a tangy sauce to make it taste better if your taste buds are weakened by treatment. Or, add slices of cucumber or fruit to water for a zesty, low-calorie beverage to keep you well-hydrated.

Get Active

Enjoy physical activity on a regular basis. Start with a fun activity that you like—biking, swimming, hiking, pick-up games of baseball, dance, or walking. Find an intramural sport or exercise class to join on campus. Keeping physically active has many benefits: improved immunity, increased sense of well-being, lowered stress, and controlled body weight/size. Even a couple of hours of physical activity each week can improve your life and outlook.

Snack Wise

Have healthy snacks in your dorm room or apartment. Portion them in single serving containers or bags so you can grab a snack or two to take with you to classes.  Nature provides “fast food” in the form of pieces of fruit, berries, carrots, and small tomatoes. Buy these on the go at the cafeteria, grocery store, or coffee shop.

Join a Group

Survivorship is better when you are with people on the same journey. Find a support group for young adults to join in your college town or on campus. Need help finding a support group? Many national organizations offer support groups or online communities. Here are just a few: Stupid Cancer, Livestrong, Young Survival Coalition, and Cancer Support Community. Young adults who have similar experiences are a sounding board for you, especially with all the changes you encounter in college life. College is better with cancer survivor friends to help you through!

Check out “Quick and Easy Menus for Young Adult Survivors” on My PearlPoint for more nutrition ideas.


Margaret Martin, RD, MS, LDN