The building-up diet

Cancer and its treatment can cause weight loss. You may not be able to eat as much as before or may feel you’ve lost your appetite. Sometimes, the cancer itself can make your body use up more energy. This can lead you to lose weight. It is important to adapt your diet to make sure you get as much energy as possible from the food you’re able to eat.

The building-up diet is specifically designed to provide more protein and energy to people who’ve lost weight. Your doctor can advise you on foods or supplements you should add to your diet. These might help you gain some weight back, or they may slow down or stop you losing more weight.

Weight loss can affect your body image and the way you feel about your appearance. It can affect your self-confidence. If you’re worried about how these changes are affecting relationships, don’t hesitate to talk about it. Your friends and family can support you, or you can talk to your doctor or nurse.

Changes to your appetite and weight

Many people with cancer find that there are times when they can’t eat as much as usual, and sometimes they lose weight. There are lots of reasons for this: it can be related to the cancer itself, or to the side effects of different treatments. Some people find that they don’t feel hungry, or that they feel full soon after starting a meal. Other people find that food makes them feel sick (nausea), or that their treatment makes some foods taste different. Some types of cancer make your body use up more energy, even if you’re not very active. This can make you lose weight, even though you may still be eating well.

What is the building-up diet?

Qualified dietitians are experts in assessing the food needs of people who are ill. They can review your diet and take into account any specialist dietary requirements you may have. They can advise you on which foods are best for you, and also whether any food supplements may be helpful.

People who are finding it difficult to eat enough, especially if they’re losing weight, need to find ways to get more energy and protein in their diet. Your doctor or dietitian may recommend foods that you would normally think of as unhealthy.

The building-up diet is high in energy and protein. It is specifically for people who have lost, or are losing, weight or who can only manage to eat a little. Not everyone will be able to put on weight with this diet, but it should help to slow down, or stop, further weight loss.

Your feelings about weight loss

Weight loss may be upsetting as it can be a visible reminder of your illness. It’s natural to be worried about weight loss. We all have an image in our minds about what our bodies look like. And although we may not be completely satisfied with this image, most people are used to the way they see themselves.

When you lose weight due to cancer or its treatment, you’ll see a different image of yourself from the one you’re used to. It can be hard for some people to accept that they now look different because they have lost weight. You may worry that the change in your appearance will affect your relationships with your partner, family and friends. You may be anxious about what people think of you or about being rejected. Or you may feel self-conscious about eating at home or out with your family or friends.

Many people find that if they talk about their concerns to those close to them, their fears are unfounded. If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings with your family, you could speak with your doctor or specialist nurse. You may find it helpful to read our booklet How are you feeling? The emotional effects of cancer.

You may not always feel well enough to be able to cook food for yourself and your family. If you’re the person who usually prepares the meals, it may feel strange to let someone else take charge. Try not to feel guilty about letting someone else do the things you usually do. When you feel better you can take up cooking again.

If you live on your own and need help with cooking or shopping, contact your GP, district nurse or social worker. They can arrange for a home helper, meals on wheels or a local organisation to help you with cooking or shopping.

Back to Preventing weight loss

Boost your energy and protein intake

You can boost your energy intake by taking food supplements or by eating foods naturally high in energy and protein.

Caring for someone with weight loss

If the person you’re caring for has lost weight because of cancer, there are things you can do to help them eat better.

Stock your cupboards

There are several types of food that can be particularly helpful in the building-up diet.

Meal ideas

You can increase your energy intake by preparing your meals slightly differently. Our menus offer  some suggestions.