By Christy Brissette, Registered Dietitian
Revised by Stephanie Gladman, Registered Dietitian
After going through the challenges of cancer treatment, many survivors want to know: what can I do to keep the cancer from coming back?
Achieving and maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most important things you can do to take control, improve your health, and lower your risk of not only cancer, but also other chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Why is so much weight put on the importance of…. weight?
Body fat has been shown to raise insulin levels and produces hormones that increase inflammation, especially when the fat is located around the waist. Research suggests that high levels of both insulin and inflammation promote cancer development and growth.
Although being overweight can pose a health risk, being underweight isn’t healthy either. If your weight is too low, you could feel weak and tired. Your immune system may not be at its best, making you get sick more easily. You may also have a higher risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones) if you aren’t eating or moving enough to support the health of your bones.
Here are some tips on how you can lose, gain or maintain a healthy body weight.
If you are underweight:
- Try eating 3 smaller meals and 3 snacks spaced throughout the day instead of 3 big meals.
- To have the right balance of nutrients, make sure your meals are made up of colourful vegetables and fruit, protein and whole grains. Make sure your snacks include a protein. For example, crackers are not a balanced meal, but add some nut butter and a banana and now you have a balanced meal!
- Think of ways to add more calories to your food without adding too much volume, or you may not be able to eat your next meal or snack. Try adding healthy oils such as grapeseed oil to cooking and olive oil to salads. Top cereal, rice or vegetables with nuts, seeds or avocado.
- Choose beverages with calories, such as smoothies, 100% fruit juice, milk or a milk alternative such as soy or coconut milk, or a liquid nutritional supplement. If drinking something with your meal or snack makes you feel full, try having your beverages between meals instead.
- Keep your favourite foods where you can see them. This will help you feel like eating them more often.
- Go for a short walk before eating. It may help boost your appetite.
- Read the pamphlet
Increasing Calories and Protein in Your Diet (PDF) for more ideas from Princess Margaret dietitians.
If you are overweight:
- Fill up on foods that are high in volume and nutrients but lower in calories. Examples include broth-based soups, fruits and vegetables. These foods are high in water, so they fill your stomach with less calories.
- Go for whole grains and choose beans and legumes more often. The fibre in these foods keeps you feeling fuller longer.
- Limit fat in your diet by cooking at home. Make vegetarian meals or choose fish and lean cuts of poultry or meat. Choosing low fat dairy products can also help lower the calories without reducing the amount of food you are eating.
- Quench your thirst with water, tea or other calorie-free beverages.
- Move your body at least 30 minutes every day, building up to 60 minutes each day. Start off slowly and add a bit more time or intensity each week. Break it up into 10 minute chunks if that seems easier.
- Read the pamphlet “Eating Well When You Have Cancer”, available in the Publications section on the Canadian Cancer Society website.
More information on healthy weights and cancer
For more information on achieving a healthy body weight or nutrition advice during and after cancer, speak to a
For healthy eating and recipe ideas to help you achieve your goals, visit the
ELLICSR Kitchen. 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 manager 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, check out ELLICSRKitchen.ca for recipes and tips, and follow @ELLICSRKitchen on Twitter and Instagram.