UK HealthCare

For Cancer Patients, Weight Gain Can be a Plus

photo of woman in black sweater
Siddhi Shroff

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Jan. 3, 2017) — The end of the holidays are usually a time when people focus on weight loss. But for patients dealing with cancer, gaining or even maintaining weight is often a struggle as they undergo treatment. The treatment plan can cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite and taste changes. 

Experiencing any or all of these side effects can make it a challenge to eat at a time when your body needs all the nutrition it can get, and when weight maintenance is a priority. Here are some suggestions to help manage side effects, especially at a time when the last thing you may want to do is eat:

Eat frequent meals. If you're not able to eat full meals, try instead to eat 5-6 frequent small meals and snacks instead of three main meals. Take advantage of times of the day when you feel hungriest and keep snacks nearby when you feel like eating.

If you do not feel hungry often, eat when it is normally time to eat. You can also schedule mealtimes to avoid going long periods of time without eating, which can lead to skipped meals.

Emphasize calories and protein. Eat foods that you can tolerate best, and avoid foods that you cannot tolerate. Try to include a protein source every time you sit down to eat.

Foods that are high in calories and protein include eggs, nuts/nut butters, lean meats (i.e., chicken, turkey and fish), beans and seeds. Eating these foods even in small amounts can add some nutritional benefit to your day.

Fortify foods. Adding dry milk powder, cream, butter, cheese, sauces, salad dressings and gravies to foods can give an extra calorie and protein boost to your meals. Add it to foods like baked potatoes, baked/broiled meats, eggs, etc.

Drink your calories. When solid foods are not as tolerable, consider full-liquid foods like soups, smoothies and milkshakes. These can often times provide calories and protein without making you feel sick or “overloaded.” Other examples include oatmeal, grits, fruit juices, vegetable juice, gelatin, puddings and yogurt. 

Consider nutrition supplement drinks. These can be a means of getting extra calories and protein. Typical drinks include Ensure, Boost or Carnation Breakfast Essentials; these are all available at your local grocery store and are usually near the pharmacy.

These drinks can be blended with frozen fruit or peanut butter to pack more calories and nutrients. The “Plus” versions of these drinks offer an extra amount or protein and calories if needed as well. Before starting any nutrition supplement drinks, talk to your dietitian or physician for recommendations.

It’s important to remember that a little goes a long way: eating small amounts throughout the day can provide nutritional benefit to the body and consistent efforts to eat can make a noticeable difference.

Siddhi Shroff is a registered dietitian at the UK Markey Cancer Center.  

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