Managing Weight Loss During Cancer Treatment


The goal of nutrition in cancer treatment is “to address current cancer- and treatment-related issues, minimize treatment-related side effects, and anticipate and manage acute, delayed, and late-occurring side effects of cancer and/or cancer treatment.”

This is important, as it must be recognized that nutrition will support you through cancer treatment. However, there is no diet or food which will cure your cancer. Patients with cancer often have higher nutritional needs than regular patients, and the side effects of their cancer or treatment often mean that they are able to eat far less than healthy people. Side effects such as sore mouth, altered tastes, lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are enough to make anyone lose weight. In a cruel case of catch-22, patients who are malnourished have less energy than those who aren’t, and have more difficulty tolerating treatment so it is important to make sure you are getting as much nourishment as possible from every mouthful that you are able to take.

Some tips to help:

  • Avoid diet products: Make sure you are choosing full-fat foods. Cancer patients who are losing weight need to maximize calories wherever possible. Malnutrition is a bigger risk factor for poor outcomes than an excess of fat or sugar is!
  • Fortify meals: Add in extra calories anywhere you see fit. Add cream to porridge, stir delicious butter into soups, add nut butters to shakes, etc.
  • Eat little and often: Instead of aiming for three big meals per day, try having 6 smaller meals per day. You may find it helpful to set times to have each meal, as this makes a routine that you can get used to. Oftentimes during cancer treatment, patients will suffer from a lack of appetite, meaning they must be diligent about eating regularly even if they are not hungry. One mouthful is better than nothing, so try different foods and see what appeals. Try our small meal recipes for ideas.
  • Prioritize foods high in protein and calories: It may go against everything you know, but for cancer patients, filling up on high fiber fruits and vegetables may mean you don’t get the calories and protein your body needs. It is important that patients still eat fruits and vegetables to get their micronutrients, however, try eating them with a high-calorie topping to provide maximum nutrition. For example, why not try cheesy cauliflower mash instead of plain, which will give you protein, calcium, and extra calories compared to plain cauliflower.
  • Try adding nutritious powders to your meals to provide more nutrition without adding bulk. Skim milk powder and commercial protein powders can all be added to give your meals that little bit extra. Be careful with protein powders as they are not FDA regulated – ask your dietitian for advice on the safest brands to consume. Why not try making up a jug of fortified milk to use in drinks, soups, and sauces. Simply add one cup of dried skimmed milk to one quart of whole milk and use this milk whenever you would use regular milk. Discard after 24 hours.
  • If you are really struggling to get anything down, ask your dietitian about taking an oral nutritional supplement, there are many brands to choose from these days such as Boost, Ensure, Kirkland brands, and more natural oral supplements such as Kate Farms, Orgain, or others. These drinks provide calories and micronutrients, however for the best effect they should be taken in addition to meals, not as a substitute.

Lastly, don’t suffer in silence! Speak to your medical team and to your registered dietitian who will be able to give you a personalized plan to support you during treatment.

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