Cancer-free – Now What? Diet and exercise tips for patients adjusting to life in remission
- Fri., Oct. 21, 2011
Once your physician pronounces you cancer free you’ll want to do all you can to avoid a recurrence. However, you shouldn’t obsess about what to eat.
“Jumping on every piece of nutrition research can drive a cancer survivor crazy,” says Alice Bender, MS, registered dietitian and nutrition communications manager for the American Institute for Cancer Research, Washington, D.C. Instead, you can follow the same guidelines for anyone trying to reduce cancer risk, say the experts.
Get more exercise, maintain a normal weight, eat less red meat, and instead consume more plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains.
Cancer survivors should avoid inactivity, according to the AICR dietitian.
If possible, you should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, according to recently revised guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine.
Exercise helps your quality of life, Bender says. It can also help you stick to a healthy weight. Researchers know avoiding overweight reduces your potential for developing breast cancer, though not whether it could help prevent a recurrence, Bender says.
Weight control is also one of the reasons why you should consume a plant-based diet. In addition to having a wide range of nutrients, plant foods are low in calories, according to Clare McKindley, clinical dietitian with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston.
At the same time, McKindley advises limiting your intake of red meat to 18 ounces a week (one modest serving a day; six days a week). Eating large amounts of red meat could increase your risk of colon cancer.
Although some studies suggest that certain vegetables may be beneficial for some cancers, Bender advises eating a wide range of whole grains, beans and produce along with moderate amounts of low-fat dairy, poultry, lean meat and fish. (For more on the AICR recommendations for the New American Plate, check the website at www.aicr.org.
Avoiding Old Habits
During your cancer treatments you’re focused on taking whatever steps are necessary to get well. However, you’ll want to remain vigilant even after you’ve recovered, say healthcare experts.
Some studies show that four to five years after cancer treatment, patients haven’t made that many lifestyle changes, according to Alice Bender, a registered dietitian, specializing in cancer and diet.
If you feel you’re falling into potentially risky patterns, examine your habits and see how you can make positive changes, says Clare McKindley, registered dietitian at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
You may be stressed and eating erratically or poorly, or maybe you think you don’t have time to exercise.
Eat regular meals. Pick up healthful options from your supermarket salad bar if you don’t have the energy to cook. If you crave snacks, buy small packages, so you’re not out of control, McKindley says.
Use a step counter to put more movement into your day.
And above all, don’t beat yourself up for an occasional slip.