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Body Composition for Cancer Patients

by Jenna Koroly, MS, RD, CSOWM, CDN

The risk of certain cancers, such as breast in postmenopausal women, colorectal, prostate, kidney, liver, endometrial, and esophageal, is linked to overweight and obesity [i].  In order to decrease the risk of cancer and cancer recurrence, achieving a healthy body weight is key.


What is a healthy body weight?

In general, a healthy body weight is defined as a BMI of 18.5-24.9 kg/m2.  A quick way to calculate your BMI is to take your weight in pounds, divide by your height in inches, divide by your height in inches again, and multiply by 703.


Tips to achieving a healthy body weight post-treatment

Although it depends on how you feel and the side effects you experience while going through treatment, focusing on achieving a healthy body weight post-treatment allows you to take one step at a time. Consider the following weight loss and weight maintenance tips:

  1. Record What You EatYou may have heard of keeping a food diary time and time again, and that is because it truly works! In the Notes app in your phone, record the food and approximate portion after each meal and snack—try it for a few days and see how it goes. This will allow you to become more mindful of what you eat and of your internal hunger cues.
  2. Increase Fruit and Vegetable Intake – It is amazing the volume of vegetables you can eat for so few calories. Use this to your advantage! Fill your plate at lunch and dinner (and even breakfast) with as many veggies as you want. Although fruit tends to be higher in calories and carbohydrates than vegetables, it makes a great snack, side dish, or topping to yogurt, oatmeal, or salad. Take caution with fruit smoothies because they likely contain more fruit (and therefore calories) than you would typically eat if it were not blended into a smoothie. And if you do reach for the smoothie, avoid adding any additional sugars or sweeteners.
  3. Include Lean Proteins – Protein foods are satiating. Aim to include a protein in at least 2 out of your 3 meals. You will feel satisfied with your mealtime decisions, and as a result will not graze between your meals and/or snacks.
  4. Replace Sugar-Sweetened Beverages with Lemon Water/Unsweetened Iced Tea – Are you a big fan of sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, juice, sweetened teas, or sports drinks? When you drink your calories rather than eat them, the number of calories ingested is not as apparent to your body or your brain. Choosing unsweetened iced tea or water with lemon or cucumber will make a notable difference.
  5. Pre-Portion Your Snacks – Sometimes you need to be creative. Try marking your plastic sandwich bags or using reusable and pre-portioned Tupperware containers! If the measurements (¼ cup, ½ cup) are not marked already, draw in the serving sizes right on the side with a sharpie line so you can take control. It’s well worth it! For the pesky snacks that you can’t put down (think nuts, crackers, and pretzels) pre-portion them out ahead of time. Always keep a healthy snack with you on the go, and at home don’t purchase the tempting ones that call you back for more. This way, you won’t make a food choice while ‘hangry.’  Make sure to late night snack wisely. Good choices for the night owls are roasted chickpeas, kale chips or edamame.
  6. Engage in Physical Activity – Although food plays the largest role when it comes to weight loss, physical activity is crucial to maintaining weight loss. It also provides innumerable metabolic benefits and is valuable to mental health.

Lastly, be confident!  You can do this!


[i] (2017, January 17). Obesity and Cancer. NIH, National Cancer Institute. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/obesity/obesity-fact-sheet#q3
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