Skip to main content

Reaching and Maintaining a Healthy Weight after Cancer Treatment

During cancer treatment, some patients gain weight, some patients lose weight, and some experience both at different points in treatment.  Your weight may fluctuate for many reasons including

  • Side effects from treatment that make eating difficult
  • Medications such as steroids
  • Decrease in physical activity
  • Fluid retention from treatment or medications

After cancer treatment, many people want to achieve a healthy weight to improve their wellbeing, heal from treatment, and prevent recurrence. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a good goal to include in your survivorship plan.

Benefits of a Healthy Weight

Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of a healthy lifestyle. Benefits of maintaining a healthy weight or healthy body size include

  • Decreased risk of disease
  • Increased energy and wellbeing
  • Improved strength and mobility
  • More restful sleep

Find a Healthy Weight for You

Every person is unique. Talk to your healthcare team to determine a healthy goal weight for you. Your healthcare team will take into account your medical history, lifestyle, and health goals to determine a healthy weight for you. In the tabs below are explanations of two tools your healthcare team may use to help you set a weight goal.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) is calculated by dividing a person’s weight in kilograms by his or her height in meters. Although BMI does not measure body fat directly, it helps provide an estimate of body fat, and healthcare professionals often use BMI to group a patient’s weight into one of four categories

  • Underweight
  • Normal or healthy weight
  • Overweight
  • Obese

BMI is only a screening tool; it is not a tool used to diagnosis any illness. Your healthcare team may use BMI along with other factors to determine a healthy weight for you.

BMI is less accurate for people with higher muscle mass, such as athletes, and for people with lower muscle mass such as seniors. BMI is also not an appropriate screening tool for teens, children, or pregnant women.

You can use the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s Adult BMI Calculator to find your BMI. Discuss your findings with your healthcare team.

As stated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, “Overweight and obese are terms that refer only to a general estimate of an individual’s body weight. They do not in any way reflect on a person’s competence, self-discipline, drive or ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.” These statements also apply to people who are underweight. If you want to lead a healthier lifestyle, weight is only one piece of the puzzle.

Waist Circumference

Waist circumference is another useful tool in determining a healthy body size. Excess fat around the abdomen or belly indicates an increased risk for diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. A high-risk waist circumference is

  • More than 40 inches for men
  • More than 35 inches for women (who are not pregnant)

Instead of focusing only on a healthy weight, it may also be helpful to set a goal for waist circumference.

Similar to BMI, waist circumference is only a screening tool, and you should seek the advice of your healthcare team to determine your overall health and risk for disease.

Source for BMI and waist circumference information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Reaching Your Healthy Weight

If you need to lose weight or gain weight to reach your healthy weight, talk to a registered dietitian. You should try to find a dietitian with whom you can speak on a regular basis. Use the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) locator to find a registered dietitian in your area. You can also ask your primary care provider or health insurance provider for a referral.

A registered dietitian can help create a plan that is right for your needs to so you can reach and maintain your goal weight in a safe and healthy way. Do not expect or even try to change your entire life overnight. Gradual changes to your lifestyle are the best way to achieve and maintain results in the long term.