Losing weight safely after breast cancer treatment

PUBLISHED ON: 1 March 2015

losing weight after breast cancer treatment

Many people put on weight during or after treatment for breast cancer. We look at the best way to lose weight safely and hopefully for good.

If you’ve had breast cancer treatment and gained a few pounds there could be several reasons for this.

‘Some people turn to food for emotional support during treatment’ says Lucy Eldridge dietetic team leader at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. ‘They tend to crave and eat more higher-calorie foods. Some hormone drugs also seem to cause weight gain. And some people are less active than usual when having or recovering from treatment.’

But there’s a good reason to maintain a healthy weight besides the way you look. ‘There’s evidence that being overweight could increase the risk of breast cancer coming back’ says Lucy.

Lose weight for good

If you want to lose weight it’s important to set a realistic goal. Aim to lose about 0.5–1kg (1–2 pounds) a week through healthy eating and doing regular physical activity.

Avoid fad diets that promise rapid weight loss. ‘Often they’re not based on scientific evidence’ says Lucy ‘and you’re more likely to keep the weight off if you lose it slowly and steadily.

‘Try to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. And limit the amount of sugary drinks and foods that are high in fat or sugar.’ These include fast foods and processed foods like biscuits cakes and crisps.

Lucy also recommends limiting alcohol which is high in calories.

It’s also important to do some regular physical activity. This should be of moderate intensity which means it should increase your heart rate and make you break a sweat but you should still be able to hold a conversation. You could try a brisk walk, for example.

Your GP or practice nurse may be able to give you more information about healthy eating and suitable exercises.

Healthy weight loss tips

  1. Reduce your portion sizes.
  2. Eat at least five portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables a day.
  3. Cut down on sugary drinks and keep biscuits cakes and chocolate for occasional treats.
  4. Eat wholegrain varieties of bread pasta and cereals.
  5. Choose lower-fat dairy products such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk.
  6. Include beans and pulses in your diet.
  7. Try to do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or cycling.

Taking control

Margaret Unsworth from Penistone in South Yorkshire was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. After finishing treatment including surgery and chemotherapy she decided it was time for her to lose weight.

‘For me losing weight was about getting control of my life back after breast cancer’ says Margaret who joined a local slimming club.

Margaret went on to lose four stone.

‘I eat lots of fruit vegetables salads and low-fat foods’ she says. ‘I haven’t banned anything but I limit the amount I have of certain things like chocolate and alcohol.

‘I’ve learned to cook in a different way. For example I now use an oil spray to cook with so I use much less fat than I did before.’

Margaret also tries to go walking every day to maintain her activity levels.

‘If you want to lose weight you’ve got to do it for yourself not because someone tells you that you should’ she says. But she also finds support from friends and family invaluable.

As part of her transformation Margaret dyed her hair red after it grew back following chemotherapy. ‘One day my husband was looking for me in the supermarket. He saw me from the back but didn’t recognise me at first. Who’s this slim redhead he thought!’

Content last reviewed March 2015; next planned review 2017

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