From a cancer treatment and prevention perspective, there are three key, inter-related aspects we need to consider:
- Diet and lifestyle;
- Genetics; and
- Environmental factors.
Since I’m a registered dietitian and not a genetic counselor or expert in anything environmental, I propose that diet and lifestyle be the focus of this article. After all, diet and lifestyle is something we can control and aim to improve. And, of course, it’s in vogue to be making health changes for New Years!
In the space of nutrition and cancer, there are really 4 areas that matter as we strive for improvements.
Weight matters. We know that excess weight is a risk factor in the development of many cancers. Weight is modifiable by what you eat and how you move. I know I bang this drum all the time, but it’s important to identify diet and activity changes that you can maintain long-term and not just in the moment. There is a clear advantage to holding a constant weight vs. losing it and then gaining that back, plus some.
What you eat matters. Making healthy choices not only helps us control our weight, but also ensures that our body is getting the nutrients it needs to fight, manage, and survive cancer. While there is an abundance of diet and nutrition information “out there”, I would argue that we don’t need to overcomplicate it.
- Strive for plenty of fruits and vegetables—of all kinds.
- Keep an eye out to reduce added sugars (coming soon to a food label near you!).
- Front-load on plant-based proteins (beans and legumes, nuts, and seeds) and, when choosing animal proteins, lean on seafood, poultry, eggs, and cut down on saturated fat (visible on meat), wherever possible.
- When choosing grain products, rely on whole grains (there are many more choices in this department than ever before—quinoa, oatmeal, barley, and whole-grain sources of all the usual grain suspects, just to name a few).
- Low-fat dairy completes the picture (did you know that a top contributor of sat fat in American diets is cheese?).
How much you eat matters. After childhood, we get out of the habit of eating when we are hungry and stopping when we are full. Be in tune to what your body is telling you and listen. Choose less on your plate and see if you stomach notices. Until you are sure of your hunger cues, eat a little bit and stop for a few minutes. Are you still hungry? If so, eat a little more. If not, put the rest away for later.
Balance matters. Perfection is not a sustainable destination. According to Statista, diet and healthy eating was the number one resolution made by Americans in 2019, followed by exercising more and losing weight. There’s no reason that this won’t be true as well for 2020. But, what happens after 30 days in? Six months? Compliance drops off. Way off! To paraphrase Seinfeld, the important part is not making the resolution…it’s keeping the resolution.
My advice for how to make the changes you want last!
- Take 10 minutes out of your day (how about now?) to brainstorm with yourself. List all the things you could think of doing in two areas: diet/nutrition and activity.
- Then, have an honest conversation with yourself and identify the changes you think you will actually do long-term.
- Now this one is going to be counterintuitive—DON’T do them all at once. Instead, choose ONE nutrition behavior and ONE activity behavior per week. The idea is to make these behaviors long-term habits by introducing them one at a time and giving yourself the time to figure out how to make them work.
- As you phase new behaviors in…
- Plan ahead. Know before the start of the week which behaviors you will be implementing. Set yourself up for success by having the supplies and support in place to give this behavior a fighting chance of sticking.
- Be mindful. Check in with yourself each day to see how you are doing.
- As you check in, be real. How do you feel about this activity? Do you see yourself doing it long-term or just for a short time?
- Don’t be afraid to give yourself a do-over. There are lots of reasons why any particular week may not be the right time to develop a particular habit. It’s ok. Give yourself grace and start again or decide whether that behavior is the right one to be implementing at this time. If not, move on.
- Built from there. Add on ONE new nutrition behavior and ONE new activity behavior each week to build on the successful ones.
And that’s how it’s done. HAPPY NEW YEAR—keep us posted on your progress!!