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Meal Planning Before Your Cancer Treatment

Taking the time to plan meals and stock your pantry prior to starting treatment can make nourishing yourself easier, faster and less stressful down the road.

By: Joyce Hendley, M.S.

Enjoying delicious food, savoring flavors and textures, feeling nourished and satisfied. Those are a few of the pleasures the act of eating gives us, and cancer doesn’t have to take them away.

It’s true that cancer and its treatment can affect your energy levels, your weight, your ability to eat, and even how food tastes and feels. There are plenty of things you may have little or no control over, including how you react to the surgery, chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments. Being well-nourished is something you can take charge of. Here are some tips to help you eat well during your treatment and recovery.

Know why a healthy diet matters.

As your medical team will tell you, getting the nutrients you need will help you face your treatment and recovery feeling stronger and better. In fact, what you eat is a key part of your treatment, just like medication, radiation or surgery. Research shows that doing your best to eat well and maintain your weight during your treatment can help you feel better and more energized during therapy. It can also help make your treatment more effective, so you can finish without delays, and support your immune response, helping you heal faster.

Many whole foods, especially plant foods like vegetables and fruits “have antioxidants and other nutrients that help fight the inflammation that diseases like cancer can cause,” says Cynthia Thomson, Ph.D., R.D., C.S.O., director of the University of Arizona Canyon Ranch Center for Prevention and Health Promotion.

Focus on your needs ahead.

Of course, powerful as good food can be, nobody can eat a perfect diet all the time—and especially not with cancer. Some days you’ll be too tired, some days side effects might make eating well feel difficult or impossible. Many days you’ll just do the best you can. Just knowing and preparing for what’s ahead is the best way to stack the odds in your favor.

Maybe you weren’t eating a perfect diet before your diagnosis. Does anyone? Even the “healthiest” eating pattern is no guarantee you won’t get cancer: genetics, environmental exposures and other issues can all affect risk. Plus, says Thomson, some 70 percent of cancers are not at all related to what you eat. Instead of speculating on what might have contributed to your cancer, focus on eating well now, to prepare your body for the treatments ahead.

Stock your kitchen.

Just like you’ll prepare yourself for treatment, you’ll want to prepare your kitchen too. Know that on some days you might be too tired to shop or cook, and food smells, even in the supermarket, might make you queasy. It’s a good idea to line up friends and family members who can shop for you if needed. Make some meals ahead if you can, and freeze them for later. Pack your pantry and freezer with foods you can quickly turn into meals and snacks.

Line up support

If you have offers from family and friends who want to help you, accept their support. Give them tasks they can handle that truly help you. And don’t hesitate to ask for help. Some days you’ll need it, others you won’t, but nobody ever expects someone with cancer to “go it alone.”

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