Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Happy (Buckwheat Banana) Pancake Day

On Shrove Tuesday last year, Katie and I very bravely gave up all chocolate and sweets. Me, not so up on my Christian religion, thought it would be one month. Six weeks nearly killed me. This year there isn't actually anything 'bad' left to give up in my diet, so I may have to give up moaning about it instead. So let me tell you about the food thing...

This is a tricky one to tackle: We all know how women can have a tumultuous relationship with food. I'm being hideously generalistic, and I never would have said I had one of those relationships (I NEVER diet, I love eating too much, I would just be thinner but depressed), but I can't pretend I don't delight a little bit in any kind of weight loss - even gastric flu induced. And since I am a relatively normal female, I am confident in assuming most women reading this will feel the same. Even secretly.

Since this is a loosely looks based blog, it's important to at least touch on an unexpected side effect of my treatment (in a round about sort of way): I have dropped two bloody dress sizes.

I don't think I needed to (previously a 10-12 - women will never just say a 12, but going through my wardrobe, most of the clothes I've had to pack away did have that on the label...), and I know a lot of people put weight on (I am only half way through treatment, I'm still expecting several other surprises to add to the list), but my own control freakishness has resulted in this - I'll be honest - not unhappy outcome.

First let me say, I am NOT recommending weight loss before or during treatment, in fact quite the opposite - you need to be as healthy as possible to deal with the drugs (ironic hey) - but for me, the healthy thing has led to the weight loss thing. Plus chemo makes me want to banish food to another postcode during the first week, so short of an intravenous drip feed, I can't help losing some. But that's just me.

I was inundated with 'diet' advice right at the beginning. From being told it was my fault I had cancer due to my eating habits (this is tantamount to a loon stopping me in the street to say its because I don't believe in god btw), to being persuaded 2 weeks before commencing chemo is a great time to do a punishing detox. It is NOT).

I know I felt a complete loss of control - a tough thing for someone who would rather fly a plane myself than have someone fly me in it -  so I immediately thought if I could make myself as healthy as possible, at least I was getting a bit of a handle on the thing.

The official line is the same as pregnancy advice - nothing unpasteurised, cured meats, soft cheeses (sob) etc. This is because of your compromised immune system. I researched a bit and went with my gut instinct, which is basically treat your body as best you can, because chemo is tough enough on it as it is, without asking your liver to deal with a glass of wine or your guts to digest a steak. There's a lot of debate on the soya/dairy issue too - they contain plant oestrogen, and since some breast cancers are hormone receptive, I thought it best not to add more fuel to the fire. Oh, and I try to avoid wheat too.

I know this sounds a bit mental, I'm basically a nearly full-time vegan. Me! While I sincerely hate being 'that' person who asks for their dressing on the side in restaurants, I really feel good that I'm doing something positive to help - its hard to just put 100% faith in doctors when you don't have a degree in medicine, like the pilot thing. Is that just me? Probably... Anyway, I'm happy with how good my skin looks as a result, people are forever telling me so, and I'm pretty sure that if I wasn't somewhat debilitated by chemo, I would be sprightlier than Tigger after a couple of Red Bulls.

Oh, and I must mention the other important point. Shopping is now a medical necessity, since none of my old clothes fit. So DadJokes can't tell me off anymore. Bonus!

I hope I'm getting across that I don't believe in diets, find diets impossible in fact, but when you have beating cancer as a motivation, it's actually a lot easier than you'd think. The main thing is not to put any pressure on yourself. You don't need to change your diet, you need to not be any more depressed than is absolutely necessary. If giving up cheese makes you want to cry, eat cheese. I just adapted my eating habits to a level I could cope with, and discovering I can learn to cook has cheered me up no end. I'm pretty sure if I can do it anyone can.

nb II
I'm also not saying anyone can, or should, but just FYI, in case you want to know how to follow the extreme initial stress instant weight loss plan, then the exceedingly healthy living, control-freak maintenance plan, now you know.

nb III
Also, slipping up sometimes is amaaaazing. I swear a little bit of chocolate never tasted so amaaaaaaaaazing. I can't imagine I ever would have gone nuts over a piece of wholemeal tomato garlic pizza base before either. Buts nuts I often do go.

If you're still interested, check out The Haven's nutritional advice. It's basically what I'm doing with a few bits tweaked for anti-depressive reasons. I'm going with the 'better than' principle that commends me for anything I do better than I did it before. That offers a lot of commendation opportunities, which is always nice...


  1. I go through phases of healthy eating (i do love my grub especially the naughty things like chocolate and loads of carbs) and i always feel amazing for doing so but im such a greedy guts i fall back into eating rubbish! I am giving up chocolate for lent - i think it may be the end of me but i want to try and prove i can be controlled in my eating and hopefully it will open the door to revamped eating habits and healthier lifestyle x

  2. I also lost weight during treatment - mainly because my mouth (etc) was so sore that I couldn't eat and I was too tired to try. Argh, I was sooo hungry!

    I lost about 6kg but as soon as I could eat, I did. I put it back on again pretty quickly (within a couple of weeks) but since then have been eating smaller portions and have even begun exercising on a more regular basis. I've lost about 2kg of than, but my smaller-size clothes fit me again. My nutritionist tells me this is better, as it means I am losing fat, not water and muscle mass.

    What I'm saying is, enjoy your new body shape but take care that you are feeding your body the fuel it needs and keep up your fitness as much as you can. It sounds like you're doing a great job of doing just that and eating yummy food.

    I agree with you about people talking about 'healthy' food and cancer. I still have the urge to tell those people who said to me 'eat healthy' to stick that where the sun don't shine! As if I wasn't already eating healthily. I guess we have to take well-meaning sentiment at face value.

    One really useful piece of advice is to not force yourself to eat favourite foods if they taste different. You will regain your taste again (mine took months to get back to normal), but you might retain bad associations with your once-favourite food. I ate a lot of crumpets with butter and golden syrup (lovely comfort food) when I was having/recovering from chemo. My stomach now churns just to think about crumpets! Luckily they were not a favourite favourite food, so I don't miss them too much.

    I agree with you about soya. I like my tofu from time to time but it wasn't a huge part of my diet. I asked my oncologist and she said as long as you aren't drinking a cup of soya milk every day, a little tofu here and there won't hurt, especially if you like it and it's contributing to your quality of life.

    Thanks for the post :-)