If you are overweight or obese, can losing weight help you fight cancer? Research has found that almost 10 percent of cancer cases in women could be attributed to being overweight or obese. Studies have also shown that being overweight or obese can affect cancer progression, prognosis, quality of life, survivorship and recurrence. But should you try to lose weight while going through cancer treatment?
“If someone comes in for cancer treatment and is obese, weight loss can benefit them,” says Corey Tolbert, RD, LD, a licensed and registered dietitian at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont.
Obesity can contribute to two environments in which cancer can thrive:
Inflammation. “When you eat a lot of sugary or fried food, your body will develop low-grade inflammation,” she says. “And inflammation creates an environment where cancer can thrive.”
Unregulated blood sugar. “When you’re obese, your blood sugar doesn’t regulate properly,” says Tolbert. “The more obese you are, the more insulin-resistant your body is.” Insulin resistance is linked to an increased cancer risk.
“It’s a good idea to lose weight if you are obese and going through cancer treatment, but it’s important to approach weight loss the right way,” she says. “You want to eat well-balanced meals with healthy carbs, protein, vegetables and fruit.”
Tolbert says losing 4 to 8 pounds a month is reasonable if you are eating a well-balanced diet.
If you are going through cancer treatment, Tolbert recommends meeting with a dietitian to ensure you are eating an optimal diet that gives you strength and energy to fuel your recovery.
When to put weight loss on the backburner
There is a caveat though: “If your appetite isn’t where it needs to be, we will focus on weight maintenance,” Tolbert says. “We don’t want people losing weight too quickly. After they are done with treatment, then we can discuss weight loss.”
Nutrition and exercise to fight cancer
Whether you want to lose or maintain your weight during treatment, Tolbert says these superfoods can help boost your immune system:
Cruciferous vegetables like kale, broccoli and other leafy greens
Ground flax seeds because they contain omega-3s
Lentils and beans, which are high in iron and protein
Probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir or sauerkraut, which increase good gut bacteria and alleviate treatment side effects like constipation and diarrhea
“I always recommend, if you’re able to, exercising at least three times a week,” she adds.
Focus on mind-body wellness
“When it comes to cancer and nutrition, I always encourage people to treat the entire body,” says Tolbert. “This overall approach to wellness includes nutrition, therapy, yoga, physical activity, having a spiritual practice and keeping a positive attitude. I always see patients do so much better when they focus on the entire body, not just one area.”
Learn more about cancer prevention, wellness and treatment from Cancer Wellness experts.