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How to Gain Weight when You Have Cancer

Maintaining a healthy body weight is essential when undergoing treatment for cancer. Whether you start treatment with a low body weight or develop a low body weight as a result of your treatment, getting your weight back to a healthy level is important. Low body weight can decrease the effectiveness of your treatment. Unfortunately, cancer treatments often make it difficult to eat, but there are ways to get around this to achieve a healthy weight.

Part1 Getting the Most Out of Meals

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    Eat small meals regularly. Low appetite is a common side effect of cancer treatments. Oftentimes, you may lack the appetite to finish a full meal all at once. You can try to combat this by eating smaller meals throughout the day.

    • Eat about every 2 hours. Have small meals as well as snacks. Ask your doctor for a reasonable calorie count and try to break that down throughout your daily meals. Do not wait until you feel hungry as you might not notice hunger pains if you’re feeling nauseous from treatment.[1]
    • Try to prepare meals and snacks ahead of time or have someone do so for you. It can be hard to make something to eat if you’re not feeling well.[2]
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    Opt to increase calories when possible. Whenever you have the chance, add more calories to a dish. There are many ways to add a few hundred more calories to an existing meal:

    • Use whole milk and cream over skim or fat free varieties.
    • Use milk instead of water for canned soup and packet sauces.
    • Add grated cheese to pasta, mashed potatoes, eggs, and other dishes.
    • Use extra filling in sandwiches.
    • Buy full fat dairy products.
    • Serve vegetables with a heavy sauce.[3]
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    Seek nutrient dense foods. When trying to gain weight with cancer, you need to do so in a healthy manner. Nutrient dense foods have a lot of nutrients. While they tend to be low calorie, you can mix nutrient-dense foods with other high calorie options to help you gain weight and get necessary calories. Nutrient dense foods include:

    • Fruits and vegetables
    • Whole grains and whole wheats
    • Seafood and lean poultry, like meats, beans, eggs, and nuts.[4]
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    Eat your favorite foods more often. If you’re struggling to keep your appetite strong, try to make yourself the kinds of foods you really enjoy. Eating your favorite meals more often can help entice you to eat even if your appetite is poor. Try to cook foods you really enjoy and eat them on a regular basis.[5]

Part2 Making High Calorie Drinks


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    Add protein powders to drinks. Protein powder can be added to drinks. This increase their total calories while upping your protein, which can help you gain weight healthily if you have cancer.

    • Go for nutritionally based powders (scandishake, enshake, calshake) and protein-specific powders (maxipro, protifar) over energy powders.[6]
    • You can add a teaspoon of protein powder to virtually any drink, from milk to juice to a soft drink. Most protein powders are tasteless, so they won’t cause the drink to taste any different. However, you may notice a slight change in texture.[7]
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    Make your own smoothies. You can make nutritious, high calorie smoothies by mixing milk or yogurt with an array of fruits and vegetables in a blender. Experiment with portions and ingredients until you find something that tastes good to you. You can also buy ready made smoothies at many supermarkets.[8]
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    Drink something with calories with meals. Try to have a drink that contains calories with meals instead of simple water. Go for something somewhat nutritious, however. Sugary beverages, like soft drinks, can be bad for cancer patients. Instead, go for whole milk, juice without added sugar, or a low sugar sports drink like Gatorade.[9]
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    Use liquid supplements when your appetite is low. If your appetite is low, consider replacing one meal with a liquid supplement. While it’s best to eat solid foods, if that’s not possible for you try a liquid supplement.

    • Some meal replacement smoothies are actually manufactured specifically for cancer patients. Your doctor can write you a prescription for liquid meals you can take on days you’re too ill to eat.[10]
    • You can also buy over-the-counter meal replacement smoothies. However, you should still ask your doctor about what types would be best for you given your medical history.[11]
    • Smoothies can come in different flavors, like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. Many people dislike the taste but you can try adding a natural sweetener like honey.[12]

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