Nutrition Before and After Cancer
For most of my life, I have had a love-hate relationship with food. Growing up in an extremely health conscious family meant I was exposed to nutrition and wellness at an early age. I grew up eating kale, quinoa, edamame, and seaweed before it was trendy. The only downside to this upbringing was that as a young adult with little exposure to junk food, I hadn't learned self-control and moderation. In college, I ditched all semblance of wellness and lived on quick empty calories. As a result my weight spiked and I gained the freshman 15 like many people do! For the next 10 years, I was on a weight rollercoaster. I was addicted to diets and lived on low calorie, low fat foods. I exercised and considered myself "in shape," but looking back now I see the error of my ways. So focused on being skinny and the number on the scale, I was unable to see the bigger picture and implement a more well-rounded approach to nutrition and wellness.
Right before I was diagnosed with cancer, I was dealing with an awful bout of hormonal acne. As a last ditch effort to improve the acne and help with recent weight gain, I decided to make some extreme changes. I cut out all sugar, processed carbs, dairy, and processed foods. The first week was miserable and then I felt amazing. I was also working out daily with a combination of pilates, walking, TRX and boot camp. I was in the best shape of my life and I felt amazing.
THEN... cancer hit. I became stressed and depressed and comfort food brought me relief. All of my progress fell to the wayside and I went back to eating tons of sugar, carbs and processed foods. I reflected on these changes during chemo and while I knew I wanted to make a change, it wasn't the right time to do so. I promised myself that after chemo, I would make some lifestyle changes.
In January of 2016, after I finished chemo, I decided to get back on track. This time around, my focus was twofold. Not only did I want to lose the 10 pounds I had gained during chemo, I wanted to develop a lifestyle approach to wellness. A way of life I could maintain for years to come. I cut sugar out again, which was the hardest part. I also cut out all processed carbs (white flour, white rice, crackers, bread, chips, etc.). I decided to keep minimal dairy this time around, because I found it does not negatively impact my body. I incorporate tons of fruits, vegetables, protein and healthy fats on a daily basis. Exercise and mental health (reflection, journaling and meditation) are also an important part of my lifestyle plan. Over the past 12 months this approach to nutrition and wellness has proved to be very manageable for me. Occasionally, I allow myself a splurge, but mostly I look for substitutes for my favorite foods that will allow me to stay on track.
My eating philosophy is to fuel my body with natural unprocesed foods that help me feel healthy, strong and confident.
Some of the major tools that help me maintain this lifestyle are meal prep and accountability. I plan out my meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) every Sunday and prepare all my lunches for the week. I eat the same thing everyday to make things easier. I also prep some of our dinners as well if I know my evenings will be busy. Having healthy snacks and meals on hand makes it easier to eat healthy. We never keep junk food at home, either. That way if we want something, we have to go out of our way to get it. I hold myself accountable by reflecting on my daily choices and celebrating my successes. I use a journal and habit tracker for this reflection, but there are various ways you could do this. Online communities such as Whole Life Challenge are great for people who need an extra level of accountability.
So what do I eat in a normal day? Looking at what you can eat, instead of what you can't eat, is an easier way to approach nutrition and wellness. It also helps you feel more satisfied when you have choices. Look for simple ways to transform your plate. Add more filling veggies instead of empty carbs, swap fruit and nuts for a sugary dessert. Use a healthy fat to fill up and satisfy a sweets craving. Find a new recipe to make your favorite chocolate cake with Stevia and nut flour. All of these small choices will help you achieve your goal of a living a healthy life, resulting in more energy, decreased health complications, and more happiness. With time, you will get in the habit of making healthy choices and these strategies will become second nature.
- Protein Smoothie (Almond milk, spinach, flax seeds, chia seeds, frozen berries, banana, nut butter)
- Cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread with almond butter, banana and cinnamon
- Steel cut oats with Stevia, apple, and sunflower seeds
- Multigrain tortilla with hummus, spiraled veggies and feta cheese
- Quinoa bowl with spinach/kale, tomatoes, grilled chicken, garlic salt and lemon juice
- Salmon salad with sunflower seeds, beets, chickpeas and lots of veggies
- Spaghetti squash with spinach, goat cheese, onions, tomatoes (add chicken, fish or tofu)
- Grilled tilapia with mango onion salsa and grilled corn on the cob
- Italian seasoned spaghetti squash with grilled chicken, and mashed butternut squash
- Raw almonds and berries
- Berries and Lily's (Sugar Free) dark chocolate
- Hot fruit medley with sunflower seeds and unsweetened coconut flakes
For more information on Anna's meal planning tips, templates and recipes, check out this blog post at MyCancerChic.com.