Hello everyone! Today we are going to talk about one of the factors that the World Cancer Research Fund has found to increase the risk for 13 different cancers: excess weight.
Cancers Associated with Excess Body Fat
- Oral (mouth, pharynx, larynx)
- Breast- post menopausal
How Being Overweight Affects Cancer Risk
Now when it talks about excess body weight, it is specifically referring to fat tissue, not muscle, bone, or water which are all considered lean-body mass. Not everyone, but many people who are in the “overweight” or “obese” BMI category may have excess fat tissue, which can cause low-grade inflammation and increase opportunities for cells to become damaged by unstable compounds. Additionally, the fat tissue also has the ability to create hormones, such as estrogen, which can increase the risk for hormone-sensitive cancers.
Unfortunately, in our modern society, we tend to be pretty sedentary, especially office workers who easily sit for 10 hours a day or longer! Since we are not using our muscles, we easily lose lean body mass and gain fat mass. We’re also stressed, juggling work, kids, and finances, so maybe we order out most nights and stress eat at work! It can seem as though the cards are stacked up against us if we want to lose weight.
The World of Weight Loss
Let me backup for a minute. Even for a dietitian, I think that in today’s world, weight loss can be so confusing.
Quick Fix vs No Fix
There are those that try to sell you the quick fix, urging you to buy that “detox” plan to lose “30 pounds in a month!” They make it seem as if your body is a serious problem that urgently needs fixing. It feels like every time you turn around, there is a new diet circulating on your phone, in your conversations, and on billboards you pass on the highway. Keto, intermittent fasting, sugar-free, low carb, low fat, detox – it may seem as though air is the only safe thing to consume these days.
Then there are those on the other side, who claim that any desire to change your body is an indication that you hate yourself and all others who are in similar body types.
Ironically, these contrasting ideas can be side-by-side in popular magazines, giving the reader diet whiplash. Page 2 talks about how to love and appreciate your body and then page 13 tells you about X celebrity’s newest diet.
Picking a Side
You may be thinking:
“Exactly Nichole! This is ALL so confusing, and I have no idea which side I should be listening to”.
My answer: Neither.
It is your choice to lose weight for health or personal reasons, but, as a cancer dietitian, I do not want you to harm yourself in the process and be miserable. Everyone has different goals and should be respected to pursue those goals. I also recognize that some techniques may not be effective and may even be harmful for specific individuals. For example, calorie counting could be useful for one person to get an understanding of how much they typically consume, but it could be harmful for someone who has a history of disordered eating. One size DOES NOT fit all when it comes to diets and lifestyle changes.
Now don’t get me wrong, fatphobia is a huge issue and there is some serious discrimination and stigma for people in larger bodies. On the other hand, I have also worked with people who were genuinely interested in making sustainable changes with a weight loss goal in mind who were met with criticism and accused of not being “body positive”.
So, let’s say, you do want to lose weight.
How do you do it?
Working Towards Weight Loss
First of all, remember that weight loss is an OUTCOME, not a behavior. It is kind of like the “X” on a pirate’s map. What you need to do is figure out how you are going to get there SAFELY, meaning without damaging your relationship with your food and without feeling miserable and cranky.
Secondly, break the diet cycle by looking out for and avoiding diet red flags. These are diets that call for you to cut out entire food groups, drastically slash calories, or deprive yourself of your favorite foods. Personally, I cannot live without my chocolate, and I would be a less happy person if I went without it for weeks. Ideally, you want to be incorporating your favorite foods regularly.
3 Tips to Meet Your Goals
1. Make Small Changes
The issue with so many popular diets is that they demand the person following it to adhere to super strict rules and change everything they are doing right off the bat. Not surprisingly, these changes tend to be pretty unsustainable, even if they initially do result in weight loss. When the person goes back to their regular way of eating, they quickly gain the weight back, landing them in square one. Rather than doing a full 180, try focusing on one or two small things, and gradually continue to work on your goals.
2. Focus on SMART Goals
In order to have success with your goals, you want to make SMART goals, meaning they should be: Specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound.
Instead of “I want to eat more vegetables” for example – try “I want to add one cup of vegetables at dinner time 6 days a week”. Have a plan for how you are going to fit it in. What vegetables are you going to buy? Are they going to be fresh/frozen/canned, or are you going to buy a combination to use throughout the week? How are you going to prepare them? Do you have a backup plan? Giving ourselves these parameters will help us actually do the thing rather than just say “I should eat more vegetables”.
You have to have a measurable goal so that you can track your progress. Keep track of whether you are meeting your goal or not. By tracking, you can evaluate what is working and what isn’t.
You have to be realistic. If you have never gone to the gym before, it is not the best idea to try to go every single day for 2 hours. Start small by going on a 10-minute walk for instance and increasing length or intensity of your workouts from there.
Does the behavior align with where you want to be in a month? A year? Focus on making goals that align with your values and your motivation for change.
Give yourself a deadline to evaluate how you are doing. You can mark the calendar for a month or two away to do some self-reflection. Once you reach that deadline ask yourself: Did I meet this goal? If yes, work on how you are going to sustain that behavior or even build upon it. If not, ask yourself why? What could you do differently, or maybe the goal you set was not appropriate. Set a new goal and try again!
3. Look for Non-Scale Wins
Now when anyone is pursuing a weight loss journey, it makes sense to keep track of the number on the scale, however this is not the best practice for some people. You see, your weight changes by the day, and hour even! The number fluctuates based on fluid status, whether or not you have gone to the bathroom, or if you’re wearing any clothes. The number can also tick up slightly if you are GAINING muscle mass!
Tracking the number closely can also cause you to become frustrated if you are not seeing the progress you want. Instead of throwing in the towel, look for non-scale wins so you still have something to celebrate!
- Getting more mobile, better range of motion, getting stronger.
- Clothes are fitting better or looser.
- You look forward to exercise.
- Workouts are getting easier – you are finding ways to increase repetitions, weight, or time.
- Sleeping better
- Saving money from eating out less
- You have a healither relationship with food.
- You have more energy.
- Improved mood
- Better posture.
- More confidence
Remember that big changes do not happen overnight. Have compassion for yourself. Even if you do not see the amount of weight loss you may have hoped for, implementing lifestyle changes alone will help to decrease your cancer risk and also improve your quality of life! Now that is something to celebrate!
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Want to go even more in-depth and learn about weight loss for cancer prevention, click here for my Weight Loss Using Behavior Change Masterclass!
- Obesity, weight gain and cancer risk. WCRF International. https://www.wcrf.org/diet-activity-and-cancer/risk-factors/obesity-weight-gain-and-cancer/. Published April 28, 2022. Accessed February 10, 2023.
- Obesity and cancer. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/obesity/index.htm. Accessed December 30, 2022.
- Factors affecting weight & health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/adult-overweight-obesity/factors-affecting-weight-health. Reviewed February 2018. Accessed December 30, 2022.
- Andrews N. Sugar Does Not Feed Cancer: The Complete Guide to Cancer Prevention Nutrition & Lifestyle. The Oncology Dietitian; 2022.
- Mohan V, Joshi S. Pros & cons of some popular extreme weight-loss diets. Indian J Med Res. 2018;148(5):642. doi:10.4103/ijmr.ijmr_1793_18
- Rissetto V. Swap the FAD diet for these 7 sustainable health tips. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/why-fad-diets-dont-work. Reviewed February 7, 2022. Accessed December 30, 2022.
This blog is not intended as medical nutrition therapy, medical advice, or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation or recommendations from your medical professional.