Diet and Intermittent Fasting During Chemotherapy


When I was diagnosed with Cancer I quit alcohol, caffeine, red meat, dairy, fats… I was ashamed because I thought I had allowed Cancer to grow in my body with my poor diet. But the truth is that I did read, researched and thought a lot about Cancer, and reached a very different conclusion after a couple of months into my Cancer journey (ideas that I developed here:

In summary, it is your mind who controls your whole body; your thoughts can make you sick.

And thank God for that; because not everyone can eat completely healthy at all times. Firstly, because for many people it is absolutely boring to be healthy 24/7 (most of us enjoy a sweet and a drink from time to time). But also think of the amount of pesticides, heavy metals and toxins that our so-called healthy foods have nowadays. It is actually impossible to ingest 100% healthy meals (unless you cultivate/control your own food). But how many people can do that?

I am not saying that it doesn´t matter what you eat, because of course it does. The food you ingest today will create your blood from tomorrow, so it does matter indeed what you put into your body. But it is ultimately up to your healthy mind to create a healthy body.

The thing is that, even though I ate so healthily for a couple of months until I started my chemotherapy treatment, with such strong drugs, I realised that I could not keep it up with a healthy diet.

Chemo is tough. For starters, it will affect your stomach and, later on, your mouth. Food won´t taste like anything you remember; a simple and healthy tomato might hurt you like a knife in your tongue. For some people, it can even be impossible to eat anything for several days, as their stomachs won´t be able to accept any food for the whole first week after the chemo infusion.

So do not be hard on yourself, if during these months you eat some ice-creams and sweets. You have all your life to be healthy (after chemo).

Right After your Chemo – 1stWeek

During this very first week is when your stomach and gut are fighting with the chemotherapy drugs you have just received. Your body recognises them as poison, so your liver and kidneys will try to eliminate them from the bloodstream as soon as they can.

Drink plenty of water, unsweetened juices, and mint and ginger teas, to flush out the drugs from your system, and to fight the nausea caused by them.

Do not worry if you cannot eat a lot during these days; it is actually believed that chemo drugs work better with less food in the stomach (I will explain later on the benefits of fasting during chemo), so eat light foods, and remember: small portions, taken more frequently is key during these difficult days.

Home-made vegetable or chicken soups are a great idea for the day(s) after chemo, as they are easy to eat and digest, and have lots of nutrients.

Juicing (a lot of) vegetables and (a few) fruits can also be really helpful during this week, so you can consume more nutrients easily.

My favourite juice has 1 orange, 1 lemon, 1 beetroot, 1 generous piece of ginger, 2 apples, 2 pieces of turmeric, 3 carrots, and 4 pieces of celery. Remember to buy only organic products.

Beetroot and celery are good detoxifying agents; lemon and oranges are high in antioxidants; carrots are rich in vitamins and minerals… Why don´t you leave the lemon peel in your juice? It is said to have anti-cancer properties! Just remember to wash it thoroughly.

This doesn´t mean that you cannot eat a solid diet, because of course you can, if you feel like it. But right after chemo, any little thing you eat will feel very heavy in your stomach.

Try to avoid smelly foods, like tuna, as they can trigger nausea.

You will also take drugs home for the following three to five days that will make you avoid the uncomfortable episode of vomiting. However, you might still have some nausea, so don´t try to eat a lot; do not force yourself. Nobody dies for staying a few days on diet. To have a light and liquid diet these days will help you release toxins and make the chemo drugs work better in your body.

Some pills you are receiving for the nausea will probably cause you constipation, so it is important that you eat daily as much fibre as you can (always with plenty of water, to make it work), and also natural probiotics, like yoghurt or kefir, with dry fruits, plums and kiwis.

If the drugs you are taking have caused you Diarrhea instead, then try to eat more oatmeal, pasta, rice, potatoes and bananas.

As my mouth would be very sore (especially with TCHP chemo), I would allow myself to eat ice-creams and sweets, in order to get some energy. It was the only thing that didn´t hurt my mouth, and the funny thing is that I usually don´t like sweets that much, but my taste completely changed because of the chemo. Don´t worry if this happens to you as well. I promise it will all change once you finish.

During chemo I loved Magnum ice-creams, which I never liked before. As soon as I finished with the treatment, I hated them again. So things come back to normal eventually.

Even though I would be a bit unhealthy at times during this first week, I realised at some point that it didn´t really matter, because the chemo drugs would kind of wipe all my good cells anyway.

Don´t be stressed about what you are eating, but of course, always eat nutritious food when (if) you can.

A Week After your Chemo – 2ndWeek

A week after your chemo is when you have to eat really healthily, as your white cells will be very low, and you need to make them flourish.

During this second week I ate only organic unprocessed food, as I needed to increase the white cell count, and this is only achieved with good nutrition.

Eating healthily might be difficult though, because your mouth can still be very sore (I was in deep pain for 12 to 14 days after TCHP, in almost every single dose).

If this is your case, avoid breads, tomatoes, citrics, spicey food… You will also have to avoid hot food, so if you are eating soups or drinking teas, you will need to let them cool down before ingesting them.

During this second week, my body would also be absolutely hungry of red meat, as I needed iron. So I gave it delicious home-made burgers, lentils and beans.

Try to eat iron and multiple vegetables during these days. Keep it up with the juicing!

Protein will help you prevent muscle wasting. Include carbohydrates and healthy fats, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables. A good nutrition will promote healing.

Avoid preservatives, additives and/or colours, as they provide no nutritional value to your body, and avoid unpasteurised cheeses or milk as well, as they can be dangerous for you during these days of low white blood cell count.

If they are available to you, order fresh coconuts and drink their powerful water (a brick, can or tin won´t be the same than the fresh fruit).

Coconut water is rich in electrolytes (electrically charged minerals), such as potassium, sodium and magnesium. These wonder-minerals are really helpful in treating and preventing dehydration.

If you´d like to read more about the benefits of pure fresh coconut water, click below!

A Week Before Your Next Chemo Cycle – 3rdWeek

During this third week you will finally feel stronger (if you have eaten well and avoided germens). You body should be “recovered” by now, and your mouth free of ulcers. So eat what you haven´t been able to eat during the previous weeks, enjoy your favourite plate, be healthy, but not miserable; you are already suffering a lot with that chemo!

Supplements While On Chemo

I love supplements, and maybe you do as well, but during these months you will need to ask for permission to your oncologist/pharmacist. Tell them everything you take, because you might need to stop certain vitamins, minerals or herbs during your chemotherapy treatment.

For example, it is important to know that vitamin C or Resveratrol, powerful antioxidants, can be very beneficial when you don´t have Cancer, but in a patient with Cancer they might be counter effective (unless we are talking about intravenous high doses of Vitamin C, something which is believed to be beneficial).

Make sure NOT to take probiotics in supplements during your chemotherapy months, as these great amount of friendly bacteria can become unfriendly with your weakened immune system. Drink milk, and eat yoghurt and kefir, but do not take supplements with probiotics.

Intermittent Fasting During Chemotherapy

Intermittent fasting is an eating pattern that consists in alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating. It is not about what foods you eat, but rather when you eat them.

There are several ways to do intermittent fasting. Some people follow intermittent fasting daily, not eating anything in a period of 12 to 16 hours, but some others prefer to fast a whole day (24 hours) once or twice per week. Another option would be to ingest only 500 to 600 calories in two non-consecutive days per week.

All of these methods are valid intermittent fasting methods. Just make sure that if you choose the first one (in which you restrict your daily eating period to 8 hours, such as 12 to 8 PM, for example), you do not over eat, because there wouldn´t be any point in fasting, if you ate double portions later.

When I was diagnosed with Cancer, I did intermittent fasting for about two months. I would wake up at 8 AM, and drink just water, and green and turmeric tea). Then, I would not start properly eating until midday, and I would finish dinner at about 8 PM. That is 16 hours without receiving any food. I found it really manageable and my belly went down straight away. It consists in giving your body time to get rid of all toxins, and if we are eating constantly, especially foods difficult to digest (like meat), then how can we expect our bodies to get rid of the bad stuff?

We keep on leaving everything for our pancreas and liver to deal with, but sometimes they cannot cope, and then our white cells have to deal with so much bacteria, viruses, toxins and different attacks from so many fronts, that how would it be possible for our bodies to win any battle?

Intermittent fasting is becoming more and more popular for a reason: it works. It is helpful to lose weight, as your body will access your storage fat to get the energy it needs in the morning (as you are depriving it of food for a few hours), but it is also said to make people healthier.

When you fast, your cells repair themselves, your insulin levels go down, and your good hormone levels go up.

But Would it be Good to practise Intermittent Fasting During Chemotherapy?

If you ask your oncologist, they will probably tell you that you are crazy; chemo is already tough enough, so let alone having chemo on an empty stomach. No oncologist would recommend you do such efforts, as the medical literature proving the benefits of intermittent fasting for humans receiving chemo is sparse.

We also know that the first few days after chemo you feel nausea, so that makes you unable to eat a lot, and some people even vomit… I ate good amounts of food after my chemo infusions, but I remember my dad couldn´t eat a lot (he lost much weight during his treatment), so it is understandable that patients might be scared of the idea of not eating prior to chemo, and with good reason.

But oncologists also prescribe you steroids for a few days, and you actually hear of (or see) many people gaining weight in the process, so I was determined to give it a try after reading about its benefits, because all the information I found, overall, sounded really positive and promising.

Fasting during chemo is believed to be highly effective by many people: some scientists, but, most imortantly, quite a few Cancer patients who have been brave enough to try this on themselves, and share their experiences in Facebook, with other Cancer patients.

There are not many scientific studies about it out there, but, for example, in the article below, you can see that two studies proved that “a low-calorie fasting-like diet, along with chemotherapy, enables the immune system to recognise and kill skin and breast Cancer cells”; and that “a three-day fasting-like diet was safe and feasible for 18 cancer patients while on chemotherapy”.

My Particular Case

I only heard of the benefits of practising intermittent fasting during chemo about two weeks before starting mine. As I said, I heard about it in some private Facebook groups. One girl asked if someone had tried fasting during chemo, and some girls answered that they did try chemo with fasting, and chemo without fasting. They explained that the time they did the fasting the experience was so much better for them. Why? Because they experienced fewer side effects; especially less nausea after the infusion.

I didn´t have to give too much thought to it. What did I have to lose? After reading several of these articles and opinions, I decided to give it a go, in a non-very strict way, I must say.

How Did I Do it?

The recommendable amount of time for the fasting is two days before chemo, the day of the chemo, and, ideally, the day after. I know this might seem impossible for many Cancer patients (it did for me!) and I actually did not do this exactly. I researched more, and came across different opinions on how to do the fasting. Apparently, even being a bit more flexible and relaxed about it would still give benefits to patients.

Two days prior to the chemo infusion, I did intermittent fasting, drinking water and tea in the morning, and at about 2 PM I would eat a plate of plain vegetables: something like broccoli, spinach, green peas, or cauliflower. One day I also drunk a carrot juice with my green peas.

For dinner, at about 7 or 8 PM I would have a decent amount of vegetables as well. If I had eaten broccoli at lunch, then at dinner I would eat green peas, for example.

The next day, I would eat spinach for lunch (sometimes mixed with an egg), and cauliflower for dinner. (You can season these vegetables with lots of garlic, lemon, black pepper and olive oil).

So the idea would be to eat only vegetables, and not a massive amount, leaving many hours for your body to digest these light foods (and the food eaten in previous days).

I was starving, as I eat quite a lot, but on the day of the chemo I felt light and not that hungry (well… it is not a very relaxing day, is it?) On these days, I used to drink tea and perhaps a few nuts before receiving the treatment, and I was alright. At night, I always ate a vegetable soup with a bit of chicken, just to give myself some energy and well deserved nutrients.

On this day and day 4th you are supposed to still do fasting, but I couldn´t cope with it on that 4th day, as I was too hungry. However, I always felt that to be hungry after chemo was such an achievement! I thought that the fasting I did for two days before the infusion, and on the day of the treatment, worked so well for me, that there was no point in fasting another day.

The idea of eating these light foods before chemotherapy is that they will make your Cancer cells starve.

Cancer cells feed themselves with food (they are part of your body!) They adore glucose, as glucose gives them the most intense energy to keep on dividing; but if they don´t receive glucose, don´t you think they are going to starve and die (unfortunately, it´s not the case). They will then feed themselves with fat (they absolutely love fat as well) and, of course, they will also get their strength from protein.

We cannot just starve ourselves to kill Cancer cells. That wouldn´t work well for us, would it? But eating only vegetables (no glucose, no fat and not protein), and doing intermittent fasting before my chemo infusion, has worked really well for me.

The idea behind the intermittent fasting (or fasting) during chemo is that, when you don´t eat that much, your normal cells go into a sleep mode, while your Cancer cells get very hungry and, therefore, angry! So, when you receive your chemo infusions, the Cancer cells go like crazy to feed themselves with the drugs, and, consequently, they die faster. Isn´t that wonderful? My tumour was always significatively shrinking from the very first infusion. Who knows if chemo worked so well on me because of my diet prior to the day of treatment?

As I said, on the 4th day (the day after the chemo infusion), I would eat normally, because mi diet worked so well, that chemo would not make me feel nauseous whatsoever. Of course, I was taking pills to avoid nausea. But the time I didn´t do fasting, I did have much nausea since the day of the chemo, despite of the pills taken, and it was a horrendous feeling, I have to say.

So, as you can see, my fasting was not very intense, but it worked for me. How do I know it worked? Because there was one time I didn´t do the fasting properly, and the symptoms were much worst. I ate vegetables but I added protein in two of my meals, and on the day of the chemo I decided to eat a cheese omelette with frozen cheaps that they gave me at the hospital (what a menu, by the way). Worst idea ever, as I did have so much nausea that it actually made me eat little during the following three days after chemotherapy.

My Advice?

If you are young(ish) and healthy(ish), then give intermittent fasting or fasting a go during chemo, specially the two days before, and on the day of the chemo.

You will be hungry, but it will be well worth it.

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