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7 Tips for Managing Your Weight During Cancer Treatment

Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, CSCS

Cancer treatment can affect your appetite, your eating habits and your weight. While it is important to maintain a healthy weight and eat nutritious foods during and after cancer treatment, the side effects from chemotherapy, radiation and surgery can make this difficult. Many treatments can cause weight loss, though certain therapies can cause weight gain. Significant weight loss or gain can affect your recovery and your prognosis, so try these tips to help manage your weight during your cancer treatment.

  1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Large meals can be a turn-off when you don’t have an appetite. Instead of three meals a day, aim for five or six smaller meals and snacks. This way you can get in enough calories, even if your appetite is low or you get full easily.
  2. Avoid food restriction. Your treatments can affect the foods you want to or can eat, so try not to restrict your diet further. When your appetite is really low, any calories are better than no calories. Unless your doctor advises you to avoid certain foods for medical reasons, it is best to not restrict certain foods.
  3. Flavor your food. Certain treatments can cause taste changes and food may not taste the same as it used to. If foods taste bland try adding different spices such as garlic, rosemary, dill or basil. Metallic taste in your mouth? Chew on gum, suck on mints or eat some fresh citrus fruit.
  4. Break out the blender. If you have mouth sores or are having a hard time swallowing, use a blender to puree meats and vegetables into a smoother consistency or make juices and smoothies.
  5. Balance your plate. Getting enough protein is key in order to avoid losing too much muscle mass. Divide your plate into thirds, and fill it with equal portions of protein, carbohydrates, and fresh fruits or vegetables.
  6. Stay hydrated. Adequate hydration can help your body deal with the effects of cancer treatment. It’s not just water – drinks with calories like milk, juice, smoothies or soups count too. If you’re struggling with weight loss, this is an opportunity to add calories: try high calorie milkshakes, smoothies or supplements.
  7. Stay active. Physical activity can help you maintain lean muscle mass, which is shown to help improve prognoses. Be as active as you can, even if it means going for a short daily walk. Plus, the activity and fresh air can help stimulate your appetite and make you feel hungrier.

Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CNSC, CSCS is a registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning coach with a private practice in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter @AlissaRumseyRD or visit her website at

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