Weighing in on Holiday Food, Weight, and Cancer


It’s the holiday season and with the pandemic somewhat under control, your calendar may be filling up with invites to holiday parties.  Spending time with friends and loved ones and sampling all the tasty foods is par for the course this time of year – but what effect could those rich foods have on your cancer risk, symptoms, and cancer treatment? 

Weight and Cancer Risk

Weight is measured in pounds, kilograms, or BMI (a ratio of height-to-weight).  You may be used to hearing that it is important to maintain a healthy body weight when it comes to cardiovascular or joint health, but it also has a big impact on cancer risk.  Being overweight or obese is one of the top three modifiable risk factors for cancer risk, and is associated with at least 13 different cancer types.  These include post-menopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, and pancreatic cancer.  Reach and maintaining a BMI between 18.5 and 24.5 is generally considered healthy, but ask your cancer physician to review your specific weight goal.

If you are currently undergoing cancer treatment, you may have a range of symptoms from mouth sores, upset stomach and diarrhea, to fatigue or muscle aches.  Foods served during the holiday season are generally filled with cream, butter, and sugar which could mean an increased risk of symptom flares.  Always be mindful of how foods you eat affect your specific complaints.  This may mean having only a few bites of certain dishes and choosing to eat lighter for most of your foods.  Consider having your host pack up a small plate of foods you want to eat when feeling better, so you don’t miss out on holiday favorites. 

If you are the one cooking and the smell of food is unpleasant, try to cook in a well-ventilated area.  If fatigue is keeping you from finishing meal prep, start prepping early and freezing foods, take frequent breaks and enlist friends and family to help you out.  The holidays are meant to be joy-filled; these few modifications can help make sure your symptoms don’t make you miss out on the magic. 

Weight and Cancer Treatment

Cancer and cancer treatment can have a wide range of effects on body weight. Weight gain is common during breast cancer treatment, and research shows that gaining more than about 12 pounds can have negative effects on treatment efficacy. This group of patients should be especially mindful about their diet and exercise. In many other cancer types it is common to lose weight, and patients may even develop malnutrition if not careful. Read our blog post on the topic here. Typically, the goal for most cancer patients care is to maintain their body weight during treatment, ensuring they have good nutrition and good muscle stores – this is true even if they are overweight at the start.

This holiday season consider the phrase ‘a little bit goes a long way’ for the traditional holiday foods.  Have a few bites of those rich foods, stick to lighter foods such as salads and avoid creamy sauces or gravies if you are trying to control your weight.  Be mindful about trigger foods if you are having gastrointestinal symptoms, maybe freezing some for when you’re feeling better. But above all, enjoy the time spent among your family, friends, and loved ones and soak up some nutrition for the soul.

Interested in talking about weight control, symptom management, or have any other cancer-related nutrition questions? Sign up for an account at OncoPower and reach out to our Registered Dietitians – we’re here to help! OncoPower offers many other cancer support services; join today to explore our offerings.

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