A Healthy Regimen for Patients with Cancer

BIDMC Contributor

SEPTEMBER 10, 2018


“I have no appetite,” one patient tells BIDMC dietitian Juliana Gilenberg, RD, LDN, CNSC.

“I know, but you’re losing muscle mass,” Gilenberg tells the former athlete. “Let’s review what you were able to eat yesterday.”

Down the hall, BIDMC physical therapist Alexis English, PT, DPT, NCS, is helping another patient with a stretching exercise. “It’s important to keep moving when you can, even though you’re tired,” she says.

Gilenberg and English, who work at the BIDMC Lank Cancer Center in Needham, explain how these scenarios are common among patients with cancer and their healthcare teams.

“There are a lot of side effects of cancer and its treatments that can wear on patients,” Ross Gilenberg says. “Loss of appetite, nausea, bowel changes, low energy and fatigue are common.”

English adds, “Our role is to help patients maintain and improve their nutrition and strength so that the side effects of treatment are less severe.”

Although one’s instinct may be to lay low and rest when tired, English says that’s not always the best protocol for people undergoing cancer treatment. “Cancer-related fatigue can worsen by prolonged rest, so staying active in any way you can is important,” she says. “If you need to take a nap, that’s okay, but try to limit it to one hour.”


Physical activity is often something that patients, their family and friends can help be in control of—a welcome feeling during a somewhat anxious time. “There can be a lot of unknowns during cancer treatment,” English says. “Owning your physical fitness by getting up and moving can help with your overall well-being and mood.”

Gilenberg says the same holds true for eating well. “If your body isn’t being fed with nutritious food, it will begin breaking down muscle mass as its fuel source,” she says.

For those without an appetite, she typically recommends something easy on the stomach like a smoothie, banana with peanut butter, milk, yogurt or cottage cheese on toast.

One of her favorite parts of her job is seeing patients who have made changes for the long-term. “A lot of people realize that you just feel better when you’re eating better,” Gilenberg says. “Nutritious food and physical activity can help you feel your best.”

Nutrition and physical therapy services accompany other leading-edge treatments at BIDMC’s Lank Cancer Center in Needham and the Cancer Center at BIDMC in Boston. Speak with your doctor about supplementing your treatments with either service as part of your personalized care plan.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.
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