Maintaining a healthy weight lowers the risk for colon, rectum, esophagus, pancreas, and kidney cancer. The risk for breast cancer increases in obese menopausal women. This, however, is not true in women who are overweight before menopause.
Reducing the risk for cancer recurrence (returning) or for getting another type of cancer can motivate patients to start on a plan to improve their overall health.
What is a Healthy Weight?
BMI is a measurement used to describe body fat. A BMI of 20 to 25 is considered healthy. Waistline measurement (inches around the waist) is another gauge for health risk. High abdominal fat is linked to heart problems, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Waist measurements of up to 40 inches for men and 35 inches for (nonpregnant) women are considered healthy.
Waist-to-hip ratio (calculated by dividing the waist measurement in inches by the number of inches around the widest part of the hip/buttocks) is another health indicator.
Healthcare providers and fitness experts can determine healthy weight by using several methods. You may wish to ask your oncologist or primary care physician for a referral to a physical therapist or a health center to get specific information and resources.
Tips for Achieving a Healthy Weight
For overweight people, achieving a healthy weight does not happen overnight or without thoughtful planning. Advertisements for weight-loss plans, supplements, or gadgets abound, but most people can achieve a healthy weight by consistently using the following guidelines:
- A balanced diet—approximately 50% fruits and vegetables, 30% grains, and 20% protein—promotes health
- Eat some form of protein with each meal to help control blood sugar levels. Good protein sources include eggs, dairy products, nuts and nut butters, beans, poultry, and fish
- Add color to your diet. Fruits and vegetables have many cancer-fighting properties that can be identified by color. For example, green vegetables such as kale and spinach have glucosinolates; purple fruits such as grapes, berries, and plums have resveratrol—glucosinolates and resveratrol are phytochemicals that have been shown to boost the immune system and slow the rate of cancer growth
- Portion control is a must for weight loss. Use a smaller plate and take less than you think you will eat. Eating slowly and savoring food can help lead to satisfaction, even with smaller-
- For weight gain, add meal replacement drinks or eat more frequently
- If you have been told to avoid certain foods, always follow your healthcare provider’s advice
- Consider a consultation with a registered dietitian who can help you find the right formula for weight management
Gain Strength and Energy
Because of possible muscle loss and the fatigue that often accompanies cancer treatment, getting started on a strength-training program can be challenging. The most important thing to remember is to start slow and light, and build from there. No need to set lofty goals; small gains over time lead to repeated success.
Enrolling in physical therapy can be a first step. The individualized attention to your particular needs is invaluable. Many YMCA facilities offer LIVE-STRONG programs, which are designed to help people regain strength after cancer.
Some facilities are STAR Program certified and offer cancer prehabilitation and rehabilitation before, during, and after cancer treatment is complete. Nurse navigators and patient navigators can help you locate a program in your area.
Call LIVESTRONG (855-220-7777) or the American Cancer Society (800-227-2345) for services in your area.
Keep It Real
Small changes in diet and nutrition will lead to success. It may be tempting to say “from now on.” But how likely is that intention going to be carried out? A better goal would be, “I am going to eat 1 new fruit or vegetable this week.”
What may be a realistic goal for one person may be simply out of reach for another person. Avoid comparing yourself before or after cancer, and trust that over time and with consistency you will make positive strides to improve your health and keep cancer at bay.