The building-up diet

Cancer and its treatment can cause weight loss. You may not be able to eat as much as before and may have 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 feel full soon after starting a meal. Others 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. The cancer may produce chemicals that make your body work faster than normal. It may also produce chemicals that make your body break down fat and protein more quickly. This can make you lose weight, even though you may still be eating well.

Keep active

It’s important to try to keep active, even if you are losing some weight. Without some form of activity, our muscles can quickly get weak. But activity should be done at your own pace. Gentle exercise, such as going for a short walk, may be all that you need. Your doctor, nurse or physiotherapist can advise you about how much and which type of exercise would be helpful for you.

What is the building-up diet?

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.

Qualified dietitians are experts in assessing the food needs of people who are ill. They can review your diet and consider any specialist dietary requirements you may have. They can give you advice about which foods are best for you and whether any food supplements may be helpful.

Your feelings about weight loss

Weight loss may be upsetting as it can be a visible reminder of your illness. It can also have an effect on your body image. This is the picture you have in your mind of how you look (your size, shape and form), and how you feel about your body.

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 feel angry, anxious or sad. It’s natural to feel like this and it’s part of adapting to the way you see yourself. You may meet other people who have similar thoughts and feelings.

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.

Talking about how you feel

People often keep their thoughts and feelings about their bodies to themselves. But keeping your worries hidden can make them grow into something bigger, so it’s important to talk to someone.

Many people find that it helps to talk to someone close to them. If you find it difficult to talk about your feelings with your partner, family or friends, you could talk to your doctor or specialist nurse. Some people also find it helpful to speak to a counsellor. Your nurse can give you advice on how to contact one.

If you’re close to someone who has changes in their body image, it may also take you time to adjust to and accept the changes. You may also need to talk about your feelings too.

Getting help with meals

You may not always feel well enough to be able to cook food for yourself or others. If you’re the person who usually prepares the meals for your family, 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 get back to your normal routine.

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

Back to Preventing weight loss

Shopping list

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

Meal ideas

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