The building-up diet

Many people with cancer find there are times when they can’t eat as much as usual. Sometimes this leads to weight loss.

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 do not feel hungry, or feel full soon after starting a meal. Others find that food makes them feel sick (nauseous), or that their treatment makes some foods taste different.

Some types of cancer make your body use up more energy, even if you are not very active. The cancer may produce chemicals that make your body work more quickly 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. If you lose too much weight, it is important to talk to a dietitian. They can suggest changes to your diet. They may suggest using nutritional supplements to help prevent further weight loss and help you gain weight.

Try to keep active

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

We have more suggestions on keeping active during cancer treatment.

The building-up diet

People who find it difficult to eat enough, especially if they are losing weight, need to find ways to get more energy and protein in their diet.

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 small amounts. 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 doctor or dietitian may recommend foods that you would normally think of as unhealthy. If you do not have a dietitian, you can ask your specialist doctor, nurse or GP to refer you to one. Qualified dietitians are experts in assessing the nutritional needs of people who are ill. They can review your diet and consider any specialist dietary needs you may have, such as food intolerances or allergies. They can give you advice about which foods are best for you and whether any food (nutritional) supplements may be helpful.

I've never had a big appetite. It was all the more difficult when I was told that I should be consuming up to 3000 calories a day to keep my weight up, because chemo often took away my appetite.


Back to Preventing weight loss

Shopping list

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.