Body shape changes: During and after cancer treatment
Updated: Nov 16, 2020
Changes in your body shape can happen to all of us and it is an all too common occurrence during or after cancer treatment, when your body has had to go through so much. Understanding why or how some of these changes can occur can be helpful so we can address any underlying factors.
Why have I gained weight during cancer treatment?
Treatments and medications
During cancer treatment some medications like steroids (often used to prevent allergic reactions or side effects from chemo), chemo or hormone treatment can cause changes in your appetite. So, you may feel hungrier and eat a bit more than usual. Or you may feel sick and eat a lot less. Lots of extra fluid may be given with chemo or some medications can cause you to retain fluid which make you feel bloated (any fluid changes should be discussed with your medical team) and make you feel heavier than you are. This fluid weight usually resolves after treatment ends but occasionally can take some time.
Fatigue and pain
The cancer itself or the treatments can make you feel more tired, so you may be less physically active than normal which is completely understandable. You may also experience pain during treatment or even after treatment, which means that moving is harder than usual.
A cancer diagnosis can have a huge impact on you and your whole life so it is very normal reaction to feel low in mood at times and sometimes when we feel like this, we turn to food for comfort. Food as comfort is a useful tool but if this become a regular coping strategy without other tools, it can lead to weight gain. Do remember it is important to discuss these feelings with your family or friends and medical team to support you.
Dealing with treatment side-effects
Feeling sick during treatment is a common chemo side-effect and some find the only way to minimise this is to eat a bit more.
So, does this mean I should I try to lose weight during active treatment?
The simply answer is No
If you were slightly heavier before your cancer treatment or gained a few pounds during treatment now is not the time to follow a restrictive diet. When you are having cancer treatment your body is already working hard to cope with this additional stress and it is vital to have the correct balance of nutrients to meet your body’s needs.
That’s not to say you can’t start adopting healthier eating habits, but It is best to consult a Dietitian who can assess your current diet and advise you according to your individual needs. Having a comprehensive Dietary analysis would be quite useful in this situation and you can read more about what I can do here
What about if I am still having ongoing maintenance therapy?
Some cancers such a hormone sensitive breast cancer, may require you to have ongoing treatment for several years, using medications like Tamoxifen or Letrozole. Occasionally these medications are associated with weight gain or loss and other side-effects such as fatigue or joint pain which may hinder movement. These hormone therapies can also cause menopausal symptoms such as night sweats, hot flushes, mood changes or weight gain. Now would be a time to start thinking about returning to a healthy diet which can help manage these symptoms, once you have discussed this with your medical team.
What diet should I follow now my cancer treatment has ended?
If you have finished active treatment first of all it is important to give yourself some time to recover. Going through cancer treatment is tough, so you do need time to recuperate. What if I do feel ready, what should I do? Is there a diet I should follow?
Diets don't work, focusing on long-term healthy changes to your eating and lifestyle is the only way to have a stable weight.
Quick fixes don’t work, overly restricting yourself doesn’t work.
What does work is learning to develop a healthy relationship with food (there is no such thing as bad foods!), learning what your nutritional needs are and developing a bespoke plan to start working on this which fit into YOUR lifestyle.
You can download my 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR DIET AFTER CANCER guide here to get you started.
If you ready to discuss your targets, learn more about working with me and how I can support you on this journey book your 15 minute call here.
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