By Ann Ogden Gaffney
When I was going through cancer treatment, I experienced bone wrenching fatigue. A pal of mine who knows I love to cook gave me a cookbook featuring recipes to help me beat it. I was excited to have something that might help and eagerly opened it up only to put it down almost immediately. It was too complicated for my energy levels, so I decided to keep doing what I was already doing: cooking simple, nutritious, minimally processed food that sounded good to me and that I could make easily.
My most important realization as I went through treatment was that if I wanted to eat well during chemo, I had to plan ahead to cope with the inevitable fatigue. My own chemo protocol had a 2-week cycle, and as bad as I felt on the days directly after my infusion, I knew that I would feel like myself again for most of the second week. It was then that I would shop and cook for the freezer. I effectively created my own in-house convenience store, stocked up with favorite foods to nourish me during the down days that I knew were coming.
Here are some tips gleaned from my own experience that I hope will help you too:
- Make sure you have your pantry stocked with basics, so you don’t have to go out to shop when you feel horrible. This will be personal but for me, having carrots, celery, and onions, plus pasta, rice, oatmeal, and canned beans and tomatoes on hand was essential. And gingerroot. It helps with nausea, aids digestion and frankly, I love its taste!
- Use your freezer: Buy quart freezer bags, and check out our ‘bag and freeze’ videos to learn how to freeze leftovers and just about anything you have on hand.
- Make bone broth and freeze it in quart freezer bags. You can defrost it and throw in a chicken breast or baby spinach with some egg noodles or white rice for a quick, nourishing, easy-to-digest soup.
- If you’re vegetarian, make a vegetable-based broth instead and freeze it in quart bags. You can add miso and tofu for protein.
- If you have a favorite ‘down day’ soup or meal make a batch and freeze it portioned into quart freezer bags.
- Cheat! Use pre-cut veggies if you can afford them. A boon when your energy is low, pre-prepped vegetables will only keep a couple of days in the fridge so don’t over-buy
- Have some easy proteins on hand, like eggs, thin-cut chicken breasts, canned or dried beans, and firm tofu for example, along with nuts, and a favorite dairy like yogurt. Proteins and non- starchy veggies will help with the fatigue better than a carb overload. That said, carb overloads are tempting for a quick lift when you’re chemo fatigued. The craving for something sweet can be strong, but don’t buy a ton of store-bought treats. They are too sugary and have too many unknown preservatives as ingredients. Try baking a batch of cookies when you’re feeling up to it cookies are quick and easy to make and will have better ingredients and less sugar than their store-bought counterparts. Eat them as a well-deserved treat, but don’t eat the whole batch in one sitting!
- Last but not least, keep moving. Keeping off the couch and exercising, however hard that may seem, has been shown to help lessen fatigue and improve quality of life during treatment
If you’re too tired to eat or you don’t have an appetite due to treatment, drinking your calories can be a great alternative.