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  • Writer's pictureErin Benner

Tips to Reduce Treatment Related Weight Gain

Worried about weight gain and breast cancer? Studies have shown a link between body weight and breast cancer risk. Many women experience weight changes after a breast cancer diagnosis. In my previous post I talked about some of the reasons why. Here are a few simple things you can do right now to boost your body during treatment and reduce treatment-related weight gain.

Women have a variety of different treatment plans depending on the individual and type of breast cancer (ER, PR, HER2 negative or positive, tumor stage stage, genetics, medical conditions, risk factors, etc.). The tips here are general enough for most, however, it is important to discuss your individual concerns with your healthcare provider. There are many benefits to working with a specialized dietitian through cancer treatment. You likely have nutrition services available through your cancer center. Look at your patient directory or speak to your nurse or oncologist. Savour Nutrition offers virtual nutrition support through 1:1 counseling and coaching from Calgary, Canada. I spent the first decade of my dietetics career at Cancer Control Calgary. My practice now focuses on providing continuous care from diagnosis through healing. In this space I can help people feel more clear, confident and in control of their diet while improving treatment outcomes, reducing side effects and recovering from treatment damage so cancer survivors can live a vibrant, empowered life. If you have questions about working with me, reach out through this contact form and tell me about where you are in your journey and where you need guidance.

Weight Gain and Breast Cancer Treatment

Gaining weight through breast cancer treatment can be distressing. It adds to the body dissatisfaction so many women feel after being diagnosed. Often, your body feels completely different than it did before and it can be confusing and overwhelming to put your energy into losing weight.

If you are still going through treatment, either surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or hormone therapy there are some strategies and tools to nourish your body in a way that maintains muscle mass, balanced intake and reduces stress.

Fuel For Repair.

Cancer treatments damage healthy tissues as well as cancerous ones. Your body needs important nutrients to repair this damage to your skin tissue and on a deeper level, your immune system (and all its many, many parts). Trying to get enough of the best foods can be limited by side effects like mouth soreness, taste changes and food aversions. If side effects are making eating challenging, you may need more support. But right now you can start focusing on high protein foods throughout the day.

Getting enough protein can greatly reduce muscle loss and help maintain a balanced body weight. Protein is the single most important nutrient for cell repair. Start including a high protein food like eggs, greek/skyr yogurt, nuts/seeds and their butters, meat including fish, bivalves, chicken, pork and beef, high protein plants such as beans, legumes, soy, sea vegetables and whole grains.

Here is the trick: include a high protein food at each meal and snack.

When my clients start including 1-2 protein choices every time they eat they stabilize their weight, improve their energy levels and often their blood counts. The best protein foods for you are the ones you enjoy. This can look different for everyone. Certain diet restrictions can make it more difficult to achieve your protein target (which is calculated using weight, height, nutrition status and treatment plan).

Balance Your Intake.

Meal schedules hit a rocky patch during treatment. Frequent appointments, wait times, fasting protocols, decreased food availability, food confusion and stress can disrupt regular meal times and force you to eat in foreign settings, making choices that you might not usually make at home. You might be skipping meals then finding yourself ravenously hungry, then going for the first option you have. Which might not always be a nutritious one. You need more nutrition during treatment than before your diagnosis so it’s important to think about how you can accommodate this increased need. Planning ahead for treatment schedules takes the pressure off so you can savour good, nutritious foods when you need them.

Bringing balanced snacks with you to appointments. I always suggest keeping a bag of trail mix in your car and bag. Get my recipe below. UHT milk bottles/boxes, high protein snack bars and meal replacements can also be kept in a bag in the car for nutrition emergencies.

Have a packed lunch on full treatment days. Bring small amounts of a variety of foods because you might not find everything enticing when you go to eat it. Include 3-4 high protein foods, some fruit, veg, dips, a couple of different textures, your favorite food, a treat or “just because” food and some fluids.

The trick that works for most people is to eat a smaller amount but more frequently so you’re not overwhelmed by side effects or meal portions and you can offer your body nutritious foods throughout the day.

Get help with family meals. Many of my clients are the ones responsible for meal planning, preparation and shopping but they don’t have the same time or energy for it during treatment. Make a plan to delegate these tasks. Family and friends can make some of your favorite recipes, bonus points if they can be portioned and frozen for a later day. Finding healthy meal delivery services or ready-prepared dishes can support balanced choices and meals at home.

Reduce Food Stress.

How many times have people given you unsolicited advice about your diet? How many times have you wondered before you put something on your plate whether or not it was safe? Feeling unsure about your food choices can be debilitating. Some of the advice out there is downright dangerous. If you’ve been drastically changing since diagnosis, your diet it's probably contributing more stress than good. Everyone means well; the purpose is to help you through treatment. Start doing that right now by taking a deep breath into your belly and exhaling some of the tension in your stomach. Set your mind at ease, knowing you can make healthful choices without going over the deep end. Your diet does not need to be perfect to be nourishing. And you don’t need to restrict and deprive yourself to cure the cancer.

Brenda had always thought she ate pretty well. Sure, she didn’t really like kale but she figured she was doing the right things. It was rattling to hear she had breast cancer. She started to question all she thought she knew about how to be healthy. “Maybe I should only be eating salads and cut out animal products.” Her husband would often find her in the glow of the refrigerator, stalled and fretting over what was safe to eat. “Shouldn’t I be eating all the superfoods that can cure cancer? I don’t even know what to make for dinner!” she worried. Through our time together she found relief and realized she and her support system were capable of making good meals that Brenda could eat during treatment. Adding nutritious foods to her day to fortify her body so she could focus on healing.

Knowing what to focus on and creating a plan to help you meet your nutrition needs through treatment will help by providing consistent, nourishing foods your body uses to stay strong. When you get enough protein, avoid skipping meals and decrease the stress of food choices you hold on to muscle mass and boost your body’s natural recovery systems.

If you are looking for support, send me a direct email at

Savour Nutrition is launching a small group cohort program for women diagnosed with breast cancer wanting to nourish their body and heal their relationship with food. With the best food combinations for you, the right nutrients and powerful strategies you can start feeling better and recognize your best self.

Join the waitlist for more information!

Satisfying Trail Mix Recipe

Store-bought trail mix can be high in calories and sugar. Making your own trail mix let’s you add the most nutritious combinations of nuts, seeds and fruits. Adding a low calorie crunch choice makes the mix even more satisfying while lowering the amount of fat per serving and increasing the fibre!

Satisfaction Formula:

1⁄3 low calorie crunch

1⁄3 protein rich nuts & seeds

1⁄3 sweet dried fruits and chocolate.

1⁄3 cup serving provides about 8g protein, 4g fibre (may vary depending on ingredient combination)

Low Calorie Crunch options

● Whole grain cereal (Shreddies, Chex, Cheerios)

● Whole grain crispy cracker/snack (Crispy Minis Rice Cracker, popcorn, mini triscuits)

● Dry Roasted Beans, Lentils or Legumes (roasted chickpeas or lentils, soy nuts or dry

roasted edamame) *bonus these are also high in protein

Nuts and Seeds

Using at least two types of nut and seed adds interest and texture. Listed from highest to

lowest protein content: pumpkin seeds, peanuts, almond, pistachio, sunflower seed, cashew,


*Pumpkin seeds, peanuts and cashews are great sources of Zinc which helps skin healing after surgery and boosts the immune system during chemotherapy.

Dried Fruits and Chocolate

Add some sweetness with dark chocolate chips and/or dried fruit.

Dried or freeze dried blueberries, freeze dried strawberries, dried cherries, dried cranberries, raisins and dried apple are lower sugar, higher fibre, and nutrient dense options.

Tropical fruits like pineapple, banana and mango have much more sugar than fibre. They can be balanced by being in combination with dark chocolate chips and/or dried berries.

→ Next post will be about where to begin with treatment related weight gain.

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