woman looks at a recipe on a tablet in the kitchen

Eating healthy after cancer treatments end

Cancer patients in survival mode should take a tip from sports.

Athletes know there’s more to a successful season than winning one contest. If they want to win a championship, they have to keep working hard and doing the right things.

The same goes for cancer patients. You make it through treatments, but the battle isn’t over. You might be feeling better, but you can’t let up on positive lifestyle changes and slip back into old, bad habits.

This is particularly true of your diet.

“You get through treatment, but that doesn’t mean you’re all healed,” said Patti Bomkamp, clinical dietitian for OSF HealthCare. “It’s OK to celebrate that your treatments are over, but let’s make sure you continue eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle.”

Stay on course with healthy eating

For an athlete coming off that big, midseason victory, the next step is more practice. The same dedication and hard work that got them to this point is what will help prepare them to win the big prize at the end.

For the cancer patient, that prize is a clean bill of health. But it doesn’t come with the snap of your fingers.

“When your appetite resumes, you’ll want that big T-bone or those cheese fries,” Patti said. “But those weren’t healthy before your diagnosis or during your treatment. They’re not suddenly healthy when your treatment is done. These are OK as a treat once in a while, but not recommended on a daily basis.”

So, the regimen remains the same. Keep eating fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat – and drink plenty of water.

“People want exciting, but there’s no magic bullet,” Patti said.

Planning and preparation are key

senior couple in aprons smiling while cooking togetherOne trap that’s easy to fall into is opting for fast-food dinners after a day at work. It’s a time and convenience thing.

But a little bit of planning can help you avoid that trap.

“It sounds hard, but it’s not that hard to do. You just have to be motivated,” Patti said.

Patti advises planning your menus a week at a time. Shop and prepare your food on the weekend to reduce daily cooking time.

“Buy 5 pounds of lean ground beef, brown it all. You can add some onions. Drain it, package, then flatten and freeze. Another thing would be to buy fresh, boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Sautee them in olive oil or maybe a little garlic and onions, and brown it.

“Another idea is to place individual raw chicken breasts in freezer bags and freeze for future meals.”

You can also cut up raw fresh fruit and vegetables and store them in the fridge. Put them into small bags to help manage portions. Snack on them cold, or heat up the veggies to go with your meal.

And there’s nothing wrong with heating up a package of pre-cut, frozen vegetables. Look for the plain ones to avoid chemical additives.

An occasional treat is OK

As your appetite returns after treatment, you’re likely to crave some of your favorite sinful delights.

Patti’s advice: Don’t deny yourself the pleasure – just watch your portions and frequency of the treats.

“Do you have a big bowl of ice cream and eat out of the bucket? Or do you have a little scoop at your grandchild’s birthday party? Absolutely, have the small scoop,” she said.

About Author: Kirk Wessler

After being a writer for OSF HealthCare for three years, Kirk Wessler retired in January 2022. A Peoria native and graduate of Bradley University, Kirk's experience included working for newspapers in Missouri, Texas and the Peoria Journal Star.

Kirk and his wife, Mary Frances, have five sons, four daughters-in-law and nine grandchildren. Kirk plans to spend his retirement on the golf course, mastering the guitar and traveling.

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Categories: Cancer, Diet & Exercise