How I Transitioned to a Healthy Lifestyle After Cancer
Nutrition is a sensitive topic. The reason being is that no two people are the same and we all have unique needs that change throughout the seasons of our lives.
My heart in writing this article is not to tell you what to eat, the amount of water you should drink, or the number of calories to eat in a day. Everyone is different, so instead of focusing on what to do, I want to focus on how I made the change to a healthy lifestyle after cancer.
How did I get to the point of wanting to make this change in my life?
Over the course of my life, I have always battled my weight. I was on a weight loss program in high school, I battled anorexia athletica in college, and I was an emotional eater as long as I could remember. I had pant sizes in my closet ranging from sizes 6-18 because my weight fluctuated so much.
I tried countless diets. Some I enjoyed, others I despised, but regardless, nothing lasted. I was motivated to participate in aggressive work out classes to counteract my bad eating habits, too.
In July of 2017, I was diagnosed with stage 3 sarcoma cancer at 27 years old. It turned my world upside down. I was on a combination treatment called “GemTax” that I was scheduled to be on for 6 cycles at 3 weeks per cycle.
After 4 cycles though, I found myself hospitalized. Things were so bad that it was suggested I fill out a Power of Attorney and a Living Will since I hadn’t done that yet. Things began to look up as the days went on and I was finally getting close to being released from the hospital. I was so excited to be off a liquid diet too. But after I was pulled off of the liquid diet, I found myself ordering abnormal quantities of food at the hospital and eating a lot.
One might say that’s understandable since I hadn’t had solid food in a while. But the kicker with that was I had completely lost my taste from chemotherapy and could not taste a thing that I had ordered.
I broke down in tears. It was the first time I realized just how bad my relationship was with food. The struggle I had with emotional eating was unmistakably exposed. I made a decision that day: I was done with battling this. Even if I only had weeks left to live, I wasn’t going to let food control me another day. The transition to a healthy lifestyle began that day in the hospital room.
I am not a Dietitian, Nutritionist, or Counselor, but these are 7 key things that I did to help me transition to a healthy lifestyle that has lasted almost 2 years and counting:
I wanted to make the change. This one seems so simple, but if you aren’t all in, it won’t happen long term. I was told that “it would be a great choice for me to change my lifestyle” but it had to be MY choice. I had to want it or it would never last.
One decision at a time. I think what often happens is that we let a month or two go by without consciously making decisions and before we know it, we’ve made a ton of unhealthy choices. But what about if we did this in reverse? Where a month or two goes by and our “one decision at a time” has turned into hundreds of great choices to benefit our health? It makes it a little less intimidating, too, to look at it in the short term.
I stopped personifying food. It wasn’t like I was saying, “Come here friend” or “Get away enemy” but my actions were in line with statements like that. I would always eat unhealthy when I was stressed or would view food as the enemy and push it away when my jeans would get too tight. I started looking at food as nourishment for my body and now I enjoy eating it and don’t let my emotions control my eating habits.
I involved a Dietitian in the process. This may not be an option for everyone, but it was something that honestly fell into my lap. The cancer center that I’m seen at has a Dietitian that I’m able to meet with and email anytime. I had no idea what I was supposed to do to make this change, so I started setting up appointments and asking what was right for me. If this isn’t available, your Oncologist or Primary Care Provider could possibly help, or at least point you in the right direction.
I transformed “excuses” to “opportunities.” I have made so many excuses about why I had not switched to a nutritious lifestyle. “This takes too much time,” “It’s too limiting,” and “This is unrealistic.” I decided to change my perspective and these phrases to, “This is a great way to spend energy and time,” “It is so freeing to live life this way,” and “This is absolutely realistic and worth it.” For so long, I focused on what I couldn’t do rather than what I am capable of doing. Once I began viewing a healthy lifestyle as an opportunity, it changed my entire outlook on it. But it all goes back to #1: I had to want to do it.
Social Media has been extremely helpful in the transition. There are many Facebook groups that discuss health and wellness that are open to join, hashtags to follow on Instagram, and countless recipes available on Pinterest. I have learned so much about nutrition and have found great meals online!
My “end goal” changed. Everyone may have a different motive in why they want to make the change. For me personally, years of trying to obtain a certain weight, fit into a certain dress, or be attractive were goals that never lasted. When I changed my end goal to nourish my body to be the healthiest me that I can be, it became something that lasted. I know everyone is different, this is just what has worked for me!
I hope with all my heart that you know that you are beautiful right now, today. That this post serves as a resource if this is a transition that you are wanting to make. It took me 28 years of life before it mattered to me and I want nothing more than to encourage you in your journey!
Have a beautiful day!
If you are interested in discussing this more, I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow my IG/FB @SparklySurvivor.
Photo courtesy of the author.