Foods To Gain and Maintain Weight

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: I am currently receiving Lupron and Zomeda as well as taking Tamoxifen. I am very active and work out regularly. I eat healthy. I am having trouble maintaining my weight and am gaining weight, especially in my mid-section. Is there some food that I can focus on that will help me be able to fight this?

Cindy, Medford, Massachusetts 

A: It is wonderful to hear that you are working out and eating healthfully, which are two very important parts of cancer survival. Now we just need to work on consuming an adequate amount of calories to maintain your healthy weight.

Maintaining a healthy weight throughout cancer treatment increases the chance of survival after cancer diagnosis. It is safe to lose is one to two pounds of weight per week.

Losing weight gradually is the best way to shed fat without losing muscle. You can do this by eating 500 fewer calories a day, burning 500 more calories per day, or doing a combination of both.

You can make small changes in your diet to avoid that weight gain. To feel full, eat smaller meals more frequently (i.e. six small meals vs. three large meals), consume whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates, and include a serving of protein with all of your meals and snacks.

By eating fruits and vegetables, you also feel full for a longer period of time because these foods are digested slowly in your stomach.

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories but full of fiber and phytonutrients, both of which will help prevent cancer while keeping you at a steady weight. Aim for 5-10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day.

Safe, smart swaps to reduce your calorie intake

This chart offers a few suggestions to trim calories. Mix and match and choose what works best for you:

Instead of:  


Fruit juice

Whole fruit

Baked or fried potato

Steamed green vegetables or carrots

Flavored yogurt

Plain yogurt with fresh or frozen fruit



Creamy salad dressings

Vinaigrette or Balsamic Vinegar

Creamy soups

Tomato- or broth-based soups

A large bagel

2 slices of whole grain toast

1 cup mac 'n cheese or alfredo pasta

1 cup pasta with marinara sauce

Whole or 2% milk

1% or skim milk

70% or 85% lean ground beef

90 or 93% lean ground beef or turkey

T-bone steak, porterhouse steak, top loin steak, prime rib, "Prime" cuts

Eye of round roast or steak, round steak, chuck shoulder roast or steak, top sirloin steak, tenderloin steak/filet mignon, "Choice" or "Select" cuts

Fried, breaded, or battered meat, poultry, or seafood entrée

Baked, grilled, or broiled entrée

Balance Your Plate

Planning balanced meals and snacks can help you feel satisfied and help you consume a healthful variety of foods.

Aim for generous portions of fruits and vegetables so you feel full from the fiber and get the cancer-fighting benefits of phytonutrients.

Pair protein sources with your starches for long-lasting energy.

"Friendly fats," such as nuts, avocadoes, and vegetable oils, are a heart-healthy addition in small amounts.

View our advice on how to balance your plate.

Mindful Eating

Mindful eating is being present for the sensations of tasting, swallowing, and breathing while eating.

Scientists are evaluating the complex role of the mind-body connection in eating behavior.

Multitasking while eating can interfere with critical signals from the digestive system to the brain, which can lead to overeating.

Here are some simple first steps to eating mindfully:

  • sit at the kitchen table
  • eat without watching television, working at the computer, or reading the newspaper
  • eat slowly and chew thoroughly
  • put your fork down between bites
  • use your less dominant hand
  • notice the color, texture, and flavor of your food
  • begin a meal with a breathing exercise, prayer, or meditation.

We also recommend you meet with a Registered Dietitian, who can help you understand your individual weight goals and assist you in designing a healthful eating plan.

  • Email
  • Print
  • Share
  • Text
Highlight Glossary Terms
  • Ask the Nutritionist

    • Do you have questions about making healthy food choices during and after cancer treatment? Our team of nutrition experts can help. Submit your question through our Ask the Nutritionist form.
    • To create a customized plan, please schedule an appointment with a Dana-Farber nutritionist by calling 617-632-3006.
  • Nutrition Services

  • Free Nutrition App