Combating Anxiety: Diet & Nutrition Can Help

A common theme I notice with my clients at Mondays at Racine and elsewhere is anxiety. In today’s fast-paced society, relaxing is difficult for anybody, but a cancer diagnosis further compounds this. Diet and nutrition do make a difference in decreasing anxiety because it helps with tolerance to treatment, promoting positive health and providing the patient with a sense of control.

Many cancer patients deal with treatment-induced side-effects, such as decreased appetite/early satiety, fatigue, taste and smell changes, gastrointestinal distress, mouth issues, etc., so the combination of all this can affect their nutrition status and negatively impact health. One of my roles as a Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist and Mondays team member is to help our clients de-stress as much as possible by targeting areas of difficulty and helping them develop practical ways to combat the extra obstacles they face. The hope is that by decreasing anxiety, quality of life is enhanced. There is no one perfect strategy but by putting a few tips in place it can help.

Here are Some Helpful Strategies:

  • View eating as the part of your treatment you control.
  • Keep energy dense, portioned meals and snacks easily accessible.
  • Prepare meals and snacks in advance (solicit the help of others for cooking to conserve your energy).
  • Designate certain times of the day as eating times (hunger cues may be off & structure, routine and consistency with medication schedule are important).
  • Take advantage of a particular time of day (morning, afternoon, evening when you typically feel your best) to maximize nutrient intake.
  • Keep a handwritten schedule at your bedside for reminders.
  • Choose foods that are easy to chew if energy is an issue.
  • Try walking or other physical activity (it helps fight fatigue).
  • Be social and eat with others (it makes the experience more enjoyable).
  • Avoid stress at meals! *Caregiver tip – don’t try and force patient to eat and avoid bringing up stressful topics at mealtime.
  • Hydrate! Carry a drink with a straw around so it’s convenient to take sips.

Besides the fact that research backs up the importance of getting good nutrition during cancer treatment, I’ve seen firsthand how it helps, both mentally and physically. A few bites of quality food (high-protein, whole-grain carbohydrates, good fats, fruits & vegetables) offer many benefits including lessening some of the stresses associated with cancer.

Anyone undergoing cancer treatment knows how harsh side effects can be and how it can be a barrier to getting adequate nutrition. You need to allow for modifications because there will be days that treatment and circumstance will take over and healthy eating may not be possible. Try not to stress, just do what you can and understand that this is a reality. Everyone strives to do his/her best each day and whatever you can do will be good enough for today.

Wendy Kaplan, MS, RDN, CSO, CDCES, CDN is a registered nutritionist specializing in oncology and weight management in Long Island and in the New York City area. Connect with Wendy on FacebookInstagram and Twitter and read more of her blog posts and download recipes at Food4HealthRD.comof her blog posts and download recipes at


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