By Katie Southgate RD, Clinical Dietitian, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
Revised by Stephanie Gladman, Registered Dietitian
What Is Cancer-Related Fatigue?
Cancer-related fatigue (CRF) is when you feel physically, emotionally or mentally very tired becuase of your cancer or cancer treatment. It is the most common side effect felt by people with cancer and can be the most stressful. CRF is a different feeling than the fatigue (feeling of being tired) of a person without cancer. CRF can be more severe than feeling tired, and it is not relieved by rest. How severe the fatigue is and how long it lasts is different for everyone.
Nutrition Is Important When You Are Fatigued
Poor nutrition can make you feel tired and weak so it’s important to eat well when you have fatigue. Here are some ways that you can stay fueled when you’re too tired to go grocery shopping, prepare your meals or eat.
1. Build Your Nutrition Routine
- Stay hydrated. Drink 6 to 10 cups (1.5 to 2.5 litres) of liquids each day unless your doctor tells you
otherwise. Juice, milk, soups, water and decaffeinated tea all count as liquids.
- Keep track of when your energy is best. Schedule your eating during these times.
- Eat 5 or 6 small meals during the day instead of 3 large ones.
- Post a schedule or list of snack ideas on your fridge for easy reference.
2. Make Every Bite Count
- Eat high calorie, high protein foods
- Limit caffeinated drinks (like coffee) because these drinks may disrupt your sleep patterns
- Prepare soft, moist foods. You’ll eat more if foods require less effort to cut and chew.
3. Make Life Easy
- Accept help from family and friends. Let them go grocery shopping or prepare meals for you.
- Shop on-line for your groceries and have them delivered.
- Have community-based companies prepare and deliver fresh or frozen meals for you. You can find a list of some of these services at the
Princess Margaret Patient & Family Library.
- Use disposable plates and cutlery for easy clean-up.
- Organize your kitchen to decrease your workload. For example, sit in a chair to peel potatoes.
- Stock your kitchen with easy to prepare foods. The list below can help you get started.
If your cancer-related fatigue is making it hard to eat, ask a member of your health care team for a referral to a
registered dietitian at the Princess Margaret. The dietitian can help you create a healthy eating plan that’s right for you.
Stocking Your Kitchen to Help with Fatigue
- Bean or yogurt-based dips
- Cottage cheese
- Grated or individually wrapped cheese
- Milk or soy milk
- Pre-cooked chicken from the deli
- Pre-sliced fruit or vegetables
- Yogurt or Greek yogurt (including yogurt drinks)
- 100% fruit juice
- Bagels, muffins, English muffins, pita bread
- Canned beans or peas (like kidney, white, chickpeas, lentils)
- Canned broth or bouillon cubes
- Canned fish (like salmon, tuna)
- Dried fruit (like raisins, cranberries, apricots)
- Evaporated milk
- Nuts (like almonds, cashews, peanuts)
- Rice, pasta, couscous
- Snack packs of applesauce, fruit cocktail and pudding
- Trail mix
- Vegetable oils
- Frozen microwave meals and pizza
- Ice cream, popsicles, sherbet, frozen yogurt
More Nutrition Tips to Manage Cancer-Related Fatigue
For healthy eating and recipe ideas to help manage your cancer-related fatigue, visit the ELLICSR Kitchen website and search recipes by side effect. The ELLICSR Kitchen Program is designed to support people touched by cancer. Led by a Registered Dietitian and Wellness Chef, classes provide nutrition information and cooking skills to help manage cancer-related side effects with food. Caregivers, patients, family, friends and staff are welcome to join on the
third Thursday of every month in Toronto General Hospital, Basement Level B-PMB-130. No registration is needed.
For information, call 416 581 8620 or email
Can't make it to a live class? Subscribe to the
ELLICSR Kitchen YouTube channel, visit
ELLICSRKitchen.ca for recipes and tips, and follow @ELLICSRKitchen on Twitter and Instagram.
Watch the ELLICSR Kitchen video "Nutrition Tips to Manager Cancer-Related Fatigue" »
Levy K, Sekhon S, Campbell K.
Cancer Related Fatigue. BC Cancer Agency website. Accessed 4 February 2019.
Fatigue: Guidelines and Advice. Cancer Care Ontario website. Accessed 4 February 2019.