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Lifestyle & nutrition

Besides not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important thing you can do for your health. Here are the most current recommendations for lowering your risk out of cancer coming out of the World Cancer Research Fund

Keeping well during treatment

There are many strategies that assist with keeping well at home. While undergoing treatment your immune system will be compromised. It is important that you avoid sources of infection.

  • Avoid people and children with infections.
  • Wash your hands well and use tissues rather than handkerchiefs. Encourage family members to do the same.
  • Keep away from public places that have large gatherings, especially those with children and during winter.
  • Wear a mask when in close proximity to many people such as in crowds or on planes.
  • Avoid gardening, bags of potting mixture and plants with thorns.

Rest and relaxation are essential for coping and supporting the immune system. Mind-body activities such as yoga, meditation and exercise are important. Acupuncture can support energy levels. They provide a range of health benefits, both mental and physical. Research shows these activities are a recommended part of cancer treatment and recovery. Your local Cancer Society will likely have access to information about courses in your community.

Keeping positive, helpful coping tips

  • Balance of perspective—you see the big picture, but break it up day-by-day. What do you need to get through the day?
  • Decide for yourself what will make you feel good. If you like music, listen to music. Read, walk, watch movies or TV.
  • When you’re going through something difficult, surround yourself with positive people who will make you feel strong. You will need to lean on them, and use their strength and energy.

Managing your diet with GI Cancer

Eating well during your cancer treatment is important as it will maintain your energy level and help you stay strong. Cancer treatment affects each person differently. It can alter the way food tastes and how your body processes it. It’s very important for you to speak with your doctor about your diet, as you may have special requirements. Your doctor may also refer you to a nutritionist or dietician who can help tailor a diet to your particular treatment and dietary needs. Here are some general guidelines for eating a balanced diet and some tips for combatting common side effects of treatment:

  • Avoid extreme diets and focus on eating balanced meals that give you a better chance of getting key nutrients.
  • Choose whole grain breads and cereal.
  • Fill half of your plate with colourful vegetables such as broccoli, and fruits.
  • Try eating a few meatless meals each week, eating fish is encouraged.
  • Try to avoid highly processed foods, such as salami, bacon and high-fat foods.
  • Avoid BBQ food.

Lack of Appetite:

  • Don’t wait until you’re hungry to eat. Try to eat every few hours.
  • Eat several small snacks over the course of the day rather than 3 large meals.
  • Choose high-calorie, nutrient-rich foods like nuts, beans, avocados, and seeds.
  • Keep your favourite foods nearby in case you have a sudden urge to eat.
  • Try to drink between meals rather than during meals, as drinking fluid can make you feel fuller faster.
  • Drink high-calorie, high-protein smoothies or milkshakes.
  • Juice carrots, celery and other vegetables that you enjoy.
  • Try to make your meals look appealing by adding colourful garnishes like cherry tomatoes, parsley, broccoli or carrots.

Difficulty Swallowing:

  • Talk to your doctor about methods to make it easier to swallow, by thickening or thinning fluids.
  • Puree foods to make them easier to swallow. Drink smoothies with fruit and yogurt. Eat nutrient rich soups.
  • Avoid rough-texture foods like crackers or popcorn.


  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Try to eat at the same time each day.
  • If it’s OK with your doctor (make sure to check) include high-fibre foods in your diet such as beans and legumes, vegetables and fresh fruit.
  • Only use laxatives as directed by your doctor.


  • Drink plenty of water, or mild, clear, non-carbonated liquid to keep yourself hydrated.
  • Avoid high-fibre foods.
  • Avoid greasy, fatty, spicy or very sweet food.
  • Try eating bland foods such as bananas, rice and apple slices.
  • Contact your doctor immediately if you are getting dehydrated from severe diarrhoea.

Weakened Immune System:

Some cancer treatments, like chemotherapy, can weaken your immune system temporarily. In this case it’s important to ensure that your food is properly preserved and not contaminated.

  • Check expiration dates.
  • Cook all meats until they are well done.
  • Ensure that all food prep surfaces are cleaned with hot, soapy water.
  • Use a separate cutting board for raw meat and fish. Make sure it is thoroughly cleaned after use.
  • Rinse and scrub fruits and vegetables thoroughly, even if they have a rind (such as melons). Avoid food that cannot be cleaned easily like raspberries.
  • Throw away eggs with cracked shells.
  • Contact your doctor, or the Oncology Centre, immediately if you are unwell or have a fever.

Further information on Nutrition for People with Cancer

Managing exercise with GI Cancer

Physical activity improves the side effects experienced during cancer treatment. These include fatigue, muscle weakness and deteriorated functional capacity, otherwise known as ‘chemo brain’. Research supports an increased life expectancy for people who exercise after surgery and while on treatment. Appropriate exercise varies from person to person so it is important that you talk this over with your medical team.
Simple strategies to support exercise:

  • Set goals that are achievable and keep a diary of your achievements.
  • Start with small amounts, such as 5 minutes walking, and build up as you can.
  • Keep it fun and have a friend support you.
  • See if your local cancer society has exercise sessions.
  • Yoga and tai chi are both forms of exercise.

For some people exercise becomes a new passion following treatment.

Complementary (alternative) therapies

Complementary therapies can be divided into three categories:

  • Natural therapies: herbal, naturopathic, Chinese medicines, homeopathy.
  • Mind-body (mindfulness) techniques: meditation, relaxations, support groups, counselling, music therapy, hypnotherapy, aromatherapy.
  • Physical therapies: massage, yoga, tai chi, acupuncture, reflexology, pilates.

Most people will adopt some of the above techniques. These can improve quality of life by addressing emotional, physical and spiritual needs. It is important that you understand how the therapy works, finding out if it can cause harm or interact with medication.

Discuss this with your medical team to ensure it does not have a negative impact on your treatment.

The American Cancer Society has created an extensive guide covering nutrition for before, during and after cancer treatment. Click here to access it.

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