Managing weight gain after cancer treatment

5 minute read time.

Many of us make New Year resolutions to have a healthier lifestyle, but this can be challenging if you are recovering from cancer treatment. In this blog, Content Developer Azmina suggests ways of making positive changes and keeping to a healthy weight.

You may not expect to gain weight during cancer treatment, but there are several reasons why this could happen:

  • Treatments: Some chemotherapy drugs, steroids and hormonal therapies can cause weight gain.
  • Side effects: Cancer or effects of treatment can make you feel very tired (fatigue). You may be less active than usual and gain weight as a result.
  • Difficult emotions: Feeling sad or worried about cancer can make some people turn to food for comfort, which can lead to weight gain.

Try not to be too hard on yourself if you have gained weight. After treatment, most people need time to recover. But as you gradually get better, you may find that you’re ready to make some changes.

Keeping to a healthy weight
Here are 10 practical tips for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight:

  1. Talk to your doctor or nurse
    Before trying to lose weight, ask your GP, cancer doctor or nurse to help you make a suitable plan. They can work out your body mass index, which is a way of measuring if you are a healthy weight for your height. Together, you can set a realistic target for how much weight you want to lose and over what period.

  2. Avoid ‘fad’ diets
    ‘Fad’ diets often involve not eating a certain food group, such as carbohydrates. It can be hard to keep to this type of diet and you may not get all the nutrients you need.

  3. Choose healthy, balanced meals
    You can order our free Recipes for people affected by cancer booklet. This contains simple, tasty and healthy recipe ideas.

  4. Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables
    They are a good source of vitamins, minerals and fibre and are usually low in fat. Try to eat at least 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day. They should make up about one third of the food that you eat every day.

  5. Base your meals on higher fibre starchy foods (carbohydrates)
    Starchy foods include bread, breakfast cereal, potatoes, rice and pasta. They give you energy and should make up about one third of your diet. Wholegrain and wholemeal varieties contain more fibre and can help you feel full for longer.

  6. Include some protein in your diet
    Protein is found in meat, some vegetarian meat alternatives, fish, eggs and pulses. It helps your body to grow and repair any damage. If you eat meat, choose lean cuts with less fat. Try to eat less red and processed meat, such as sausages, bacon, burgers and pies.

  7. Eat less saturated fat, sugar and salt
    Aim to cut down on foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt. These include fried food, processed meats, tinned foods, ready meals, cheese, cakes and biscuits.

    High-fat foods contain more than 17.5g of fat per 100g. Low-fat foods contain 3g of fat or less per 100g. You can use the nutrition labels on foods as a guide.

    Choose foods that contain unsaturated fat instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish, nuts and seeds.It is better to get energy from natural sugar found in foods such as nuts, whole fruits (not just fruit juice) and wholemeal breads.

  8. Drink plenty of fluids, but less alcohol
    It is recommended that you drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluid every day to stay hydrated. Water has no calories and a glass before meals can help you to feel full sooner. But alcohol is high in calories and can increase the risk of getting some cancers. Try to follow the recommended drinking guidelines.

  9. Choose sensible portion sizes.
    The average man requires 2,500 calories a day and the average woman requires 2,000 calories. To avoid eating more calories than your body needs for energy, use a smaller dinner plate and try not to have second helpings.

  10. Keep physically active
    Being as active as possible can help you to burn off calories from food, lose weight and recover from treatment side effects. It is important to build up your activity levels gently. Walking and gardening are good ways to exercise in the fresh air or you could join a local exercise group.

For more information
For more information, you can order our free booklet Managing weight gain after cancer treatment.

We can also send you a Move More pack, which includes a DVD and our booklet Physical activity and cancer. There is more information on having a healthy lifestyle on our website.


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Whatever cancer throws your way, we're right there with you. 

The Macmillan team is here to help. Our cancer support specialists can answer your questions, offer support, or simply listen if you need a chat. Call us free on 0808 808 00 00.

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