Weight Gain from Cancer Treatment with Steroids

Ask the Nutritionist

Q: My friend is cancer-free for two years now; however, he has gained a lot of weight due to steroid treatments. Do you have any specific recommendations to help him lose weight?

LL, Pembroke, New Hampshire 

Unfortunately, weight-gain from steroids is an issue that many cancer survivors experience. In general, the weight gain is due to a combination of factors, including fluid retention, increased calorie consumption, and decreased physical activity.

To lose weight safely, your friend can eat 500 fewer calories a day, burn 500 more calories per day, or a combination of both.

Here are the weight-loss tips we often give to our patients:

  • Decrease the amount of sodium in your diet by limiting the use of table salt and decreasing the amount of processed foods in your diet. Increase your consumption of potassium-rich foods (i.e. bananas, cantaloupe, kiwi, winter squash, avocado, etc.), to help prevent fluid retention.
  • To avoid gaining weight because of increased hunger:
    • Eat smaller meals more frequently (six small meals vs. three large meals).
    • Consume whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates.
    • Include a serving of lean protein with all meals and snacks.
    • Eat fruits and vegetables. They are low in calories, but full of fiber and phytonutrients, both of which may help prevent cancer while promoting weight management. Aim for 5-10 servings of colorful fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Keep a food journal (including the type of food, amount consumed, and method of preparation). This can help you track the total calories you've consumed each day.
  • To avoid hunger at night, eat meals consistently throughout the day, even if you are not ravenous.
  • Physical activity, such as walking, can help prevent weight gain and promote weight loss. We recommend you meet with your doctor to develop an activity plan that accommodates your lifestyle and medical condition.

Meeting with a Registered Dietitian (RD) is helpful in understanding individual weight goals. An RD will be able to assist your friend in designing a healthful eating plan that will help him maintain and lose weight.

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    • 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.
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