Weight loss is an inevitable part of fighting colon cancer. Exposure to treatment forces your body to adapt and produce symptoms that make eating a lot less appealing. But with the right approach towards weight gain, you can build up the strength to successfully complete your treatment while maintaining your weight.
So how do you gain weight as a colon cancer patient? Adjust your food intake and maximize your calorie and nutrition density with every meal. Tricking your metabolism by eating smaller meals more frequently, drinking calorie-dense shakes, and avoiding fatty and sugary foods are surefire ways to jumpstart the weight gain train.
Not sure where to start? Read on to learn about colon cancer weight loss, and how to prevent it from happening.
Why Do Colon Cancer Patients Lose Weight?
Your exposure to radiation, medication, and sometimes even stress alone, will have negative effects on your appetite. Let’s take a closer look at the changes happening in your body:
1. Overproduction of Cytokines
Cytokines are proteins, peptides, and glycoproteins that are released in the immune system. They are a group of molecules that help regulate inflammation, infection, and injury. Think of cytokines as radio signals that help alert the body for when something goes wrong.
The overproduction of cytokines can lead to a decrease in appetite. When left untreated, this leads to rapid weight loss and muscle loss.
2. Treatment Side Effects
Loss of appetite is a common side effect of chemotherapy. On top of that, patients will usually experience fatigue, nausea, constipation, vomiting, as well as mouth and throat problems, all of which make it difficult for the patient to enjoy or even consume food.
Chemotherapy and Gaining Weight
40% of patients report unexpected weight loss after their initial diagnosis (source), while 80% of those in more advanced stages of cancer report rapid weight and muscle loss. While common, the actual cause of weight loss isn’t always the same.
Consider the following factors when identifying the main cause of appetite loss:
- Is the patient experiencing any discomfort (mouth sores, throat irritation, tongue inflammation) that may physically prevent him or her from eating?
- Consider serving meals at different sizes and frequencies. Some patients will respond best to smaller meals served 7-8 times a day, while others might prefer 4 big meals a day.
- Is the diet comprised of stale, bland food? Are there healthy oils and fat that can help maximize every meal’s calorie count?
- Does the patient maintain a normal relationship with food? Is the patient feeling obligated or unsupported because of his or her lack of appetite?
Understanding the cause of appetite loss makes it easier to find a solution. For instance, patients experiencing mouth sores can be treated with antibiotics to help reduce inflammation. On the other hand, those who have lost their sense of taste can benefit from drinking their calories in the form of milkshakes and soft foods.
Gaining weight as a colon cancer patient isn’t a straightforward process. Knowing how various factors affect eating habits can pave the way for a long-term solution.
If you need professional advice, book an appointment with our caring gastroenterologist.
Maximizing the Colon Cancer Chemo Diet
Making sure that a patient undergoing chemotherapy is getting enough nutrition is one of the biggest challenges that caretakers face.
As mentioned above, chemo patients face a number of challenges when it comes to eating food. The key towards maintaining and gaining weight is by maximizing taste while loading up on nutrients.
Here are three ways caretakers can help to maximize the diet of their colon cancer chemotherapy patient:
1) Smoothies and Milkshakes: Caloric Weight Gain
Introducing high-calorie meals is the prime aspect of weight gain. Milkshakes are usually considered junk foods for their high protein and fat content, but to colon cancer patients they are the perfect superfoods. Here are ways you can make milkshakes extra nutritious:
- Swap skim milk with full fat, soy, or nut-based milk
- Instead of using sugar to add flavor, use natural sweeteners like honey or vanilla extract
- Incorporate foods with healthy oils such as avocado, nut butter, and yogurt
- Give it an interesting texture by adding in biscuits, cereals, and protein bars
Toss in fruits and vegetables to turn your milkshakes into nutrient-packed smoothies. Choose fruits and vegetables high in fiber to help alleviate indigestion. We suggest freezing your apples, bananas, and berries overnight before adding them to the blender so you don’t water down your smoothie with ice.
Dietician and epidemiologist Suzanne Dixon (source) suggests putting in a scoop of powder to maintain a daily high protein consumption: “Throw in a protein powder, just a basic whey protein. Anything like that would be great. And just blenderize that all up, and you can kind of sip on it all day.”
Here’s a basic smoothie recipe that you can customize endlessly. Add ingredients according to your own taste:
Smoothie With Real Fruits
1 cup your choice of milk
½ cup vanilla ice cream
¼ cup mangoes
⅛ teaspoon vanilla extract
2) Eggs: Colon Cancer Nutrient Bombs
With taste being a serious issue for patients undergoing chemotherapy, eggs are a great way to alter the taste of most dishes while adding loads of nutrition with every bite. While eggs are generally seen as a breakfast food, they can also be added to meals all throughout the day.
Their soft texture makes them an easy dish to chew and swallow, which is doubly important for colon cancer patients who are experiencing pain in their mouth and throat. Eggs can be cooked in a dozen different ways, making them an easy ingredient to recreate.
Eggs also provide the following nutrients:
- B vitamins: B vitamins assist the body in food-to-energy conversion, which is crucial during times of small meals and portions. Eggs also help cell health by supplying them with antioxidants.
- Choline: Choline assists with overall cell health, strengthening their structure, metabolism, and general function. A single egg provides 20% of the body’s required choline needs.
- Protein: Protein is one of the most important daily nutrients, but it can be difficult to reach the recommended daily protein intake for patients finding it difficult to chew, as protein is mainly concentrated in meats like chicken, beef, and fish. However, a single egg provides 12% of our daily protein needs.
3) General Tips For Taste
Some patients note a metallic aftertaste in their food, while others report having no sense of taste at all. Although temporary, losing your sense of taste can make it difficult for patients to gain the strength they need for immediate recovery.
These problems can be solved by doing through the following:
- Replace metallic cutlery with plastic ones
- Marinate your meats with highly citric condiments. Use lemon juice, vinegar, or pickled foods
- Regular brushing can help make food taste better. Rinse with mouthwash or a mix of 1 teaspoon of salt with 1 teaspoon of baking soda in 4 cups of water
- Serve food at room temperature to make food more palatable
- Use sweeteners to counter saltiness and bitterness; lemon juice or salt to counter sweetness
- Experiment with different sauces and spices
What Foods to Avoid With Colon Cancer
As important as it is to maintain a proper diet with calorie-heavy and nutrition-filled food, it is also crucial to avoid foods that can increase the risk of negative treatment outcomes. These include:
- Fried food: Greasy fast and fried food is difficult for the body to process, especially while suffering from colon cancer. The longer it stays in the body, the likelier it is for the patient to suffer from acid reflux. Greasy food can also help trigger chemotherapy side effects, such as diarrhea and vomiting.
- Caffeine: Caffeine is difficult to swallow for colon cancer patients and can also lead to heartburn. Like greasy food, caffeine also aggravates chemotherapy side effects like diarrhea and nausea.
- Processed meat: Processed meat was recently classified as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization, due to the potential unfriendly chemicals in various cold cuts that specifically damage the colon’s outer lining (source).
- Alcoholic beverages: Aside from the usual heartburn and acid reflux associated with it, alcohol can also negatively interact with any pain medication, while causing throat pain and mouth dryness.
- High sugar food: Sweet desserts like cake or ice cream, or sugary drinks such as sodas and iced tea add very little nutritional value to the body.
Preventing Colon Cancer Recurrence With Food
For patients who have beaten colon cancer and are on the road to recovery, it is crucial that they maintain a conscious and healthy relationship with their diet. The American Cancer Society heavily recommends their cancer prevention nutrition guidelines (source) to all cancer survivors to give them the best chance at preventing cancer recurrence.
Thankfully, incorporating these guidelines in a daily meal plan isn’t very difficult. Here are the three main guidelines:
- Consume at least 2.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily
- Limit consumption of processed meats and red meat (ideally one meal every two days)
- Choose whole grains over refined grains
Overweight colon cancer survivors should work towards cutting down on their weight with better nutrition and an exercise plan. And finally, alcohol is linked to a variety of cancers. If you must, limit your alcohol consumption to 1-2 drinks per day.