When the average person calls to mind someone undergoing chemo, one of the first things they think of, fairly or not, is someone who is gaunt. It’s rotten, but it’s true: sometimes, people having chemo lose weight, a lot of weight. But not everyone, and not all the time; it is possible to maintain or gain weight during chemo, and to do it safely. If you’re worried about weight loss during chemo, I can help (though I always, always recommend chatting with your doctor, first). Here are 7 effective ways to put on weight during chemo, or at least just maintain weight during chemo.
1. Stay Hydrated
If the chemo drugs make you nauseous, or cause diarrhea, one of your first concerns should be staying hydrated. Aim for 60 ounces or more of water (or other fluids) every day. Normally, your doctor would recommend against Gatorade or iced tea, rather than plain water, but during chemo, it’s usually okay to drink whatever sounds good, and whatever you can keep down. The exceptions, of course, are alcohol and caffeinated drinks.
2. Keep Nausea at Bay
Over the past decade, the drugs used to treat cancer have become less toxic, and they can cause far less nausea… but some patients still experience extreme nausea. If you’re among them, talk to your doctor about medication to help, otherwise, you’ll have difficulty keeping food down, and may lose weight. If you’re loath to add another med to your cancer-fighting cabinet, then experiment a little and see what foods help you… soda crackers, ginger ale, pretzels… these may help, too.
3. If You Can’t Eat a Meal…
If you just can’t seem to face the thought of sitting down for a full meal, then eat what you can, when you can… snack! Have a few bites at breakfast, indulge a snack attack, nibble at noon — you get the idea. You might find that, in addition to helping you gain weight during chemo, you’ll have more energy, a pleasant and much-needed side effect of your quick metabolism.
4. Add a Little Fat
You know what? You’re battling cancer right now. If you feel like having a bowl of ice cream, then go for it! Same goes for lasagna or smashed potatoes or fried chicken or double-cheese pizza. Unless your doctor advises against it, indulge a little in whatever comfort foods sound palatable to you. This isn’t a diet I would recommend when you’re better, but right now, why not? A little indulgence is a marvelous ways to put on weight during chemo, or at least to maintain your weight.
5. Can’t Stomach Meat?
Your body will need protein as you wage your battle, but if you can’t stomach traditional sources of protein, like meat and fish and poultry, try another source, like eggs, or beans, or soy. Supplements, though, like protein powder, aren’t necessarily a good idea, since they’re not the “complete” proteins your body needs.
6. Get Your Five Servings…
While too many antioxidants (like vitamins A, C, and E) aren’t a good idea while you’re having chemo (they might actually protect your cancer cells from the chemo), it’s an excellent idea to boost your mood and energy with five servings of fresh fruits and veggies each day. Strawberries, apples, pears, cucumbers, carrots… again, anything that appeals to you, and anything you can eat in moderation, is an excellent idea.
7. Ask before Taking Supplements
A note of warning: as I mentioned above, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. The internet is full of special diets and supplements geared to helping people on chemo fight their cancer, but some do much more harm than good. Before taking a supplement, or adding a large quantity of something to your diet, check with your doctor to make sure it won’t interfere with your treatment. Though you’re hoping a protein shake might help you gain weight during chemo, it might end up hurting more than it helps.
Remember, everyone is different, so some of these tips may be more helpful than others, but hopefully, you’ve found something here that will help you maintain your weight, or gain weight during chemo. If you’ve been through chemo, and managed to keep your weight, which of these ideas helped you the most? Or do you have another tip to share? Please do!
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