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From OncoLog, January 2014, Vol. 59, No. 1

Weight Loss Tips for Breast Cancer Survivors
Losing excess weight has multiple benefits

Graphic: House CallMost people assume that cancer treatment causes weight loss. However, many breast cancer survivors gain weight during and after cancer treatment. During treatment, stress can lead patients to seek calorie-rich comfort foods and develop unhealthy eating habits that are later difficult to shake, leading to weight gain. These five tips are designed to help breast cancer survivors lose excess weight and keep it off.

Weight loss tips

Eat and drink smart. Suzanne Day, an advanced practice nurse in the Cancer Prevention Center at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, recommends a diet high in fruits and vegetables. She also recommends that breast cancer survivors limit red meat and processed meats.

A special concern for breast cancer survivors is alcohol, which some studies have shown increases the risk of breast cancer recurrence. In addition to providing excess calories, alcohol may interfere with cell repair and the body’s absorption of vitamins and minerals. Breast cancer survivors should limit their alcohol consumption to the standard recommendation of no more than one serving per day, although having fewer than three servings per week is even better. One serving equals 1.5 ounces of liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer.

Get moving. Exercise not only burns calories but also increases muscle mass. Muscle burns more calories than fat, even at rest; so increased muscle mass helps keep weight off. For maximum benefits, exercise 30–60 minutes each day at an intensity that is enough for you to perspire. To avoid becoming bored with your exercise routine, consider exploring a wide range of activities. These can be anything from weight-bearing exercises to yoga.

Exercising may be difficult for some breast cancer survivors who have reduced mobility in the upper body after surgery. If you have reduced mobility, an exercise physiologist can identify appropriate activities that will help you ease into an exercise routine.

Graphic: Scale
Talk it out. Studies have found that people who used support groups or counseling not only lost more weight but also kept off more of the lost weight. If in-person meetings aren’t possible, online chat groups may help.

Another option is to say your goals out loud to yourself—hearing your goals spoken can help them seem more real. You can also discuss your goals with friends and family to get their support and stay motivated.

Take it easy. Some people may struggle to find the time to prepare healthy meals. Make things easier by buying healthy, pre-portioned foods. Healthy substitutions, such as a low-calorie protein bar instead of a candy bar, can make healthy eating easier.

Realistic exercise goals can also help you stay motivated and on track. Set daily and weekly goals that are achievable and then track your progress. Tracking your progress makes weight loss easier by helping you identify areas that need improvement.

Change your thinking. Clare McKindley, a registered dietitian in the Cancer Prevention Center, said, “Clients sometimes tell me that there is nothing new about nutrition that I can share with them with regard to weight loss. I help clients reflect on what has worked in the past and decide for themselves what it’s going to take to close the gap between knowledge and action.” Closing this gap between knowledge and action is essential for any weight loss plan.

One strategy for closing the gap between knowledge and action is to rethink your relationship with food. This can mean identifying “problem foods”—ones you eat too much of. Problem foods can be hard to resist when you’re bored, unhappy, or not feeling well. Plan ahead by having a healthy snack available and save those problem foods for when you’re feeling better. In a positive atmosphere, food cravings lose their intensity, so you’ll be less likely to overeat.


Health benefits

In addition to reducing risks for heart disease and diabetes, maintaining a healthy weight is important for breast cancer survivors because it reduces the risk of recurrence. While some risk factors for breast cancer, such as genetic mutations, are impossible to control, other factors can be controlled. Controllable factors like diet and exercise can decrease the risk of a first breast cancer or of recurrence in people who have had breast cancer before.

Fortunately, even small improvements in fitness can greatly improve health, and it’s easy to get started. Ms. Day’s advice for breast cancer survivors is short and sweet: “Drink less alcohol, exercise more.”

— M. Yeoman

For more information, ask your physician, visit www.mdanderson.org, or call the Cancer Prevention Center at 713-745-8040 or 800-438-6434.

Other articles in OncoLog, January 2014 issue:

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