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Managing Nutrition-Related Side Effects During the Holidays

Posted on December 3, 2014

December is typically filled with holiday festivities and family events. And while these activities can be fun and exciting, they also tend to revolve around food – and lots of it. For someone dealing with colon cancer, all of this holiday food can be daunting. Many times, cancer treatment can affect appetite and lead to other side effects that may affect your ability to eat. If you’re dealing with negative side effects during the holidays, check out these tips for managing them.

  • Poor appetite: Even though you may not feel like eating, keep in mind that nutrition is very important for healing and recovery. Try eating small, frequent meals, and take advantage of times when your appetite is good to eat a little more. If you often forget to eat, you can even try setting an alarm on your phone to remind you to eat every 2-3 hours.
  • Nausea: Eating small, frequent meals can also help keep nausea under control because sometimes nausea is worsened by having an empty stomach. If you’re nauseous, it’s a good idea to avoid fried, greasy foods, spicy foods or foods with strong odors. Ginger tea, candy or cookies can also help fight nausea.
  • Diarrhea: Certain chemotherapies and radiation to the GI tract cause diarrhea. To help manage this issue, avoid fried, greasy foods, lots of raw veggies or other high fiber foods, and anything with caffeine. It is very important to stay hydrated during periods of diarrhea – try water, Gatorade or diluted juices. You can also try to eat foods with soluble fiber like applesauce or peeled baked apples, bananas, oatmeal or barley, which can soak up water in the GI tract.
  • Taste changes: During cancer treatment, your favorite foods may taste funny or not be appetizing. You may find that foods taste bland, bitter or even metallic. To help clear out strange tastes before eating, try rinsing with a little bit of this homemade mouth rinse: 4 cups water, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon baking soda. Avoid any mouthwashes that contain alcohol because they can irritate your mouth and/or dry it out. Also, sometimes just switching to plastic utensils (instead of metal ones) can make a big difference.

Especially during the holidays, friends and family may be constantly offering to bring over your favorite foods or other holiday goodies. While of course loved ones mean well, they may not understand that you’re experiencing various side effects that impact your ability to eat.  Think about specific ideas for what people can bring that sound most appetizing to you and tell them. This might be a time to try new foods if old favorites taste strange.

You can also ask friends and family to provide fun and festive non-food items, such as fuzzy socks, a new pair of holiday PJs, a cozy blanket, a holiday candle or wreath or a favorite movie. You could even put your loved ones to work by asking for help with holiday cards or putting up your tree and holiday decorations!

Of course, not everyone experiences these side effects. If you’re able to eat well and your appetite is fine, try to focus as much as possible on a plant-based diet during the holidays. Many foods that fight cancer are common features of a typical holiday meal, like cranberries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, apples, winter squash, walnuts and whole grains. Try these delicious holiday recipes from the American Institute for Cancer Research and in the comments, let us know how they were. Wishing you a happy, healthy holiday! 

This post was written by Aimee Shea, MPH, RD, CSO, LD, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition

Aimee Shea, MPH, RD, CSO, LD, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition with Meals to Heal.

Aimee Shea, MPH, RD, CSO, LD, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in oncology nutrition with Meals to Heal.

with Meals to Heal. Aimee received her Bachelor’s degree in Nutritional Science from the University of Maryland and her Master’s in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Before moving to Columbus, Ohio, where she now resides, Aimee served as the Outpatient Oncology Dietitian at the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, where she helped cancer patients make the most of their nutrition before, during and after treatment.  In addition to working for Meals to Heal, Aimee is an adjunct nutrition instructor, both online and at a few local universities. 

Don’t forget, the Colon Cancer Alliance serves as a source of information about colon health. If you have additional questions about colon cancer screening or are in need of support, please contact our free Helpline at (877) 422-2030. We’re here to help. 

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