Updated: Jun 16, 2021
Do not confuse the above title with something like, “Top Five Foods You Should Eat on Chemo.” When I was on chemo, I ate like I was trying to fill an abyss. People brought food for our family of 6; I ate most of it. I wasn’t really hungry and I was too tired and short of breath to exercise or be creative. But I wanted to participate in something that felt productive, and eating copious amounts of food felt like something I could actually DO, even though everything tasted like baking soda. It was psycho and I gained 16 pounds in 4 months. My top five was something like this:
1. Trader Ming’s Noodles: These were little noodle meals from Trader Joe’s in Chinese restaurant-style boxes. Kung Pao, Pad Thai, Satay were the flavors, and I probably ate one every day. They are now discontinued to this grief of thousands. Nay, millions!!
2. Baklava: A local family with a sweet Romanian matriarch made us Greek food every week, and the baklava was particularly fabulous. And, since my kids didn’t eat it, it was just sitting there looking lonely and bored. And I was also lonely and bored! So, we hooked up a lot.
3. Watermelon: I was on chemo all through the summer, and I can pretty much eat my weight in watermelon any day of the week. This kept me hydrated , was a guilt-free, my kids love it, so I bought it all the time.
4. Coffee: I needed it to stay alert, but since I drink mine with cream and sugar, it wasn’t a fantastic addition to my already suffering diet.
5. Gummy Bears: Almost nothing on this earth relieves my stress like chewing on gummy bears. Even though everything had a bad taste because of the chemo, it’s really hard to ruin this favorite candy of mine.
So, now that you have a window into my poor eating habits during my chemo regimen, let me tell how I wish I had structured my diet for those 18 weeks. As much as I dislike dieting, the three or four times that I’ve abided by the Whole 30 diet, I felt great. I’ve done Keto as well, but it didn’t give me the same burst of energy. If I had it to do over again—and I hope I never will—I would combine the basic principles of those two diets: Lots of roasted veggies, healthy grilled meats, eggs, nuts, and though it’s not on the list of either diet, as much fruit as I want. I’d avoid caffeine, sugar laden foods and candy—except for ginger candies to help with bad mouth taste—and starches, save for the occasional sprouted wheat toast with avacado. The weight that I gained on chemo combined with the additional side effect of accelerated aging has really changed my profile. I started this regiment at the age of 41 weighing 122 pounds and with some well-earned muscle mass, and I ended up weighing almost 140, flabby, eventually climbing to 150 before I got serious and lost a significant amount of that weight.
Dear friend, if you have a very bad day where you hear the words, “You have cancer,” find that person in your life who desperately wants to do something to help and ask them to create an meal plan for you and to be the gatekeeper of it. Block all the unhealthy foods that might find their way into your home. As much as you want to comfort eat—I totally get it—your cancer treatment is not the time for it. Give yourself some treats along the way, but don’t make your whole diet into a treat yo’ self binge. You need the good food to help your cells rebuild so you can return to your life after treatment is over.