People with cancer commonly lose weight because cancer cells can burn a lot of energy, and treatment side effects can cause a loss of appetite. Losing weight without trying may be a sign of malnutrition. However, weight loss can often be prevented with the support of your cancer care team, and maintaining your weight will help you stay strong and recover faster. To help avoid weight loss during and straight after cancer treatment, eat more protein, fat and carbohydrates. This approach is usually temporary − you can return to the usual guidelines for healthy eating once you have recovered.
How to manage weight loss
- Treat food like medicine: something you have to have in order to feel better.
- Set times for meals and snacks rather than waiting until you’re hungry.
- Carry snacks such as hardboiled eggs, muesli bars, dried fruit and nuts, crackers and fruit buns.
- Try ready-to-use nutritional supplement drinks when you are travelling or on other occasions when it is difficult to prepare a meal. Examples include Sustagen, Ensure and Resource.
- Choose nourishing fluids and snacks that are higher in protein and energy (kilojoules) − for example, drink milk rather than water and choose cheese and biscuits over lollies.
- Include high-energy and high-protein foods in every meal or snack.
Ways to add energy and protein
Add – full-cream cow’s milk, cream, coconut milk or soy milk (liquid or powdered versions)
To these meals and snacks – porridge, sauces, desserts, mashed vegetables, egg dishes, cream soups, scrambled eggs, congee, milkshakes, flavoured milk drinks (e.g. Milo, Akta-Vite)
Add – yoghurt or sour cream
To these meals and snacks – dips, salad dressings, fruit, potatoes, soups, rice dishes, lentil dhal
Add – butter, margarine or olive oil
To these meals or snacks – bread, toast, mashed potato, cooked vegetables, rice and pasta dishes
Add – cheese (e.g. cheddar, cream cheese, fetta, haloumi)
To these meals or snacks – scrambled eggs, sauces, soups, vegetables, casseroles, salads, toast, sandwich fillings, pasta sauce, crackers, tacos
Add – mayonnaise (commercial)
To these meals or snacks – egg or chicken sandwiches, potato salad, coleslaw, salad dressing, fish
Add – peanut butter or other nut butters
To these meals or snacks – bread, toast, porridge, crackers, pancakes, scones, fruit, smoothies
Add – avocado
To these meals or snacks – toast, sandwich fillings, dips, salads, crackers, smoothies
Add – nuts and seeds
To these meals or snacks – porridge, muesli, yoghurt, salads, baked goods, stir-fries, desserts
Add – beans or legumes
To these meals or snacks – rice dishes, toast toppings, salads, pasta dishes, soups
Add – egg or tofu
To these meals or snacks – toast, sandwich fillings, stir-fries, mashed potato, soups, pasta sauce, salads