by Nancy Burke, R.D., Danielle Karsies, M.S., R.D., and Melissa Shannon-Hagen , R.D., CSO.
U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center Symptom Management and Supportive Care Program
It’s 2014! Why not start the year with lifestyle changes to improve your health during and after cancer treatment? To keep it simple, we created a list: 6 habits to start and 5 to stop. Taking one change at a time will improve your odds for success. Give yourself a month for each goal to allow it to become a habit before trying the next on the list.
Many of these changes are strategies to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, probably the most important goal for preventing cancer or recurrence.
What to START
1. Eating a healthy breakfast
Put down the doughnut and choose whole grain cereal with milk and fruit or eggs, whole grain toast and a banana. Studies have shown that eating breakfast improves concentration and performance, decreases fatigue and helps with weight management.
If weight loss is your goal, include lean protein to help you feel full until lunch. A veggie omelet or Greek yogurt smoothie are two good options.
2. Making half your plate fruits and vegetables
Try to include a serving or more of fruits and/or vegetables with each meal and snack. These foods are low in calories, high in anti-cancer nutrients and fiber. Make an effort to include fruits and/or vegetables with each meal and snack.
This will help with weight loss by displacing higher calorie and fat foods.
3. Watching portion sizes
Get to know the recommended serving size of your favorite foods by reading the nutrition facts label. Make a pact with yourself to eat only 1-2 servings of a food at a time.
If you are still feeling hungry, include fruits and vegetables to help you feel satisfied with the smaller portion size.
4. Drinking more water
Most people are not meeting the Dietary Reference Intake for water of 9 cups for women and 13 cups for men each day. Even being mildly dehydrated can contribute to fatigue and digestion issues, as well as a false sense of hunger.
A handy weight loss tip to follow is to drink at least 1 cup of water before each meal or snack, waiting 15 minutes to decide if you are still hungry.
5. Get your vitamin D
Several cancers have shown an association between low vitamin D levels and cancer. Although a cause and effect relationship is not known yet, we do know most individuals, especially in the Midwest, have low vitamin D levels. Assuming you are using sunscreen as recommended, it is best to get the 600-800 IU recommended by diet and/or a vitamin D supplement.
6. Being Active
Physical activity can be as simple as walking for 30 minutes most days of the week and avoiding prolonged periods (greater than 2 hours) of sedentary behavior. It has a wide range of benefits including helping to control weight and depression, maintaining healthy bones, muscles and joints, and reducing your risk of developing high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, as well as several types of cancer including colon, breast, prostate, lung and endometrial cancers. If you have a sedentary job or lifestyle, set a timer and stand up while on the phone, walk around for 5 minutes or go talk to a coworker instead of emailing.
What to STOP
1. Skipping meals
Too often this tactic has been used as a means to promote weight loss but it often backfires. Skipping meals leads to low blood glucose levels making you feel tired, mentally slow and often craving sweets. Research has shown that eating regularly throughout the day, about every 4 hours, helps with weight loss and improves mood, concentration and performance.
2. Eating out
Cook at home instead. Most fast food and restaurant fare contain a significant amount of fat and salt, as well as distorted portion sizes. Limit eating out and get cooking instead. Use whole, minimally processed ingredients as much as possible and minimize the use of convenience foods. If you do eat out, split the entrée with a friend or bring half home for leftovers, pairing a salad or side of vegetables with the reduced portion.
3. Focusing on a single food
There is no magic food that will meet all of your body’s needs. Eating a wide variety of foods is the key to getting the nutrients your body needs to keep it healthy and protect it from cancer and other diseases. Reversely, there is no one ingredient that will cause your demise. Eliminating a type of food or food group has not been shown to be beneficial as long as healthy eating (see above) and moderation are being practiced.
4. Drinking your calories
Drinking sugary beverages such as soda, sports or energy drinks and even juice, provide calories with little satiety. This can easily contribute to weight gain, potentially the number one contributor to the development of some types of cancer, as one 20 oz soda or sports drink contains 240 calories or more. But it can also be an easy way to lose weight; taking out one 20 oz soda every day will result in 1 lb. weight loss in two weeks, without doing anything else.
5. Drinking too much alcohol
Next time you are about to partake, remember the 1-2 rule; limit your alcohol consumption to 1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men daily ( 1 oz liquor, 12 oz beer, 4 oz wine).
In addition to reducing your cancer risk, this will benefit your middle as well, as these empty calories can contribute to weight gain.