Cancer affects us on a mental and physical level. Many people experience change in their bodies. Whether that is extreme weight gain or weight loss. Physical disproportions and swelling of limbs or post surgical postural deviations. These bodily changes can be permanent or temporary, depending on the severity. When it comes to weight, this is more manageable. Most cancer patients lose weight during treatment and gain excessive weight after treatment, especially women.
Now how does one lose weight after treatment? Here are my thoughts.
We often think that in order to lose weight we have to engage in strenuous physical activity or give more importance to the exercise regimen we need to incorporate. Actually exercise plays a minimal role in losing weight and contributes only 20-30% of overall weight loss and health. I am not particularly fond of the term weight loss and in turn more focused on achieving a healthy body composition. This is because our relationship to weight loss and weight gain can be unhealthy and skewed. If your body fat percentage is high then we have to look at decreasing that, and that’s not specifically weight or the number of the weighing scale. So let’s first get that out of our minds.
So how does one achieve a healthy body composition post cancer treatment? Through an integrative approach in which nutrition plays an imperative role, but not the only. It is an integration of food, body and mind.
Food– This is one of the most important components of achieving the right body composition and weight after treatment. The food that you ingest will determine how your body is shaped, the calories that are consumed and deposited in the body and the level of optimal health that you can achieve. While different diets work for different people and have to be personalised to every individual, one thing to remember is to focus on your gut and digestive health.
This is where your immunity lies, this is where nutrients are absorbed and this is where the food you eat will determine the outcome of its function. You can have the healthiest, most nutritious foods, however if your gut is not healthy, then whatever you eat will not be absorbed. So focus on gut health, eat right for your body and rule of thumb is to have good fats, high quality proteins and minimal carbohydrates,
Body– As mentioned earlier, exercise and physical activity plays a limited role however its 20-30% contribution is vital for you. Instead of using exercise to lose weight, focus on its benefits to improve physical posture, muscle strength, joint stability, stretching, improving blood circulation and immunity. One of the most important factors to keep in mind is giving your body the chance to recover and rest between exercise.
If you are engaged in high intensity workouts, you have to allow your body to rest in between. Over working-out will result in the opposite, it stresses the body, releases cortisol and increases inflammation. All of which you don’t want. Take it easy, do what feels good to you, breathe, keep in consistent and enjoy the process.
Mind– I have personally witnessed people who follow strict diet and exercise regimens that are in perfect sync with each other, however no matter how hard they try and how long they go for, there doesn’t seem to be a change in their weight or overall health. Why? because the mind is a crucial part of achieving optimal health. We put so much unrealistic pressure on our goals, we don’t enjoy the process and are extremely self critical. I used to be this person and I learnt the hard way that it’s not sustainable and detrimental. In CARER we believe diseases start in two places, in the gut and in our minds. Your mind has a physiological effect on your body and this is a fact. If you don’t focus on managing your mind and giving it the nourishment it needs, no matter what you do, there won’t be any lasting changes. Meditate, chant, do things that destress you. Feed this part of you everyday.
So all in all, losing weight is not the right way to think about your journey post cancer treatment, but in turn achieving optimal health and a healthy body composition. No one size fits all and never does only one thing work. It is holistic and will always be to achieve long-term sustainable results.