Breast cancer, Cancer, Chemotherapy, Cooking, Food, Nutrition, Women's Health

What the Nutritionist Said

Oh dear. I’ve had a very mild, tickly cough for about a month and yesterday it escalated into a full-blown, nasty choking, phlegmy cough. During the night I developed a painful sore throat and woke up this morning having largely lost my voice, so I am now on the antibiotics. So much for having a super-sonic immune system with 39.7-level white blood cells! Pah!

So, the nutritional therapist. I had a 1 1/2-hour consultation on Friday with Liz Butler, founder of Body Soul Nutrition, with a view to getting some advice on what I should be doing to keep my cancer away, and finding out whether any of my eating or lifestyle habits could have developed a better environment for the cancer to grow in the first place. One of the things she said was that many people have their cancer treatment and then go back to living their lives exactly as they did before – continuing to eat the same things, maintaining the same stress levels and doing the same amount of exercise, thus preserving the same body conditions in which the cancer initially thrived. It’s vital, according to Liz, to make drastic changes, both emotionally and nutritionally, to keep the cancer cells from growing again.

Her main recommendations were that I cut out dairy altogether and avoid sugar as much as possible. She also gave me some nutritional plans and talked to me about how each meal should be ideally composed, i.e. 50% vegetables and fruit on each plate, 20% starchy carbs (but only whole grains – no white rice, white pasta, white bread etc), 20% protein (eggs are allowed – phew!) and 10% fats (including nuts, pulses and butter, which is the only dairy allowed).

All of the above seems largely doable, apart from the giving up of dairy products and sugar, which is difficult for me to envision for the rest of my life. Two weeks, as I proved before, is easy peasy, but a life with no pizza (cheese), tea and coffee (milk), cheese and biscuits, cake, chocolate and many other tasty things is hard for me to get my head around. On the positive side, she did say I’m allowed red meat (once or twice a week, max), as long as it’s the best type of meat I can get my hands on – i.e. organic, free range etc (because the lower quality the meat, poultry or fish, the more likely it is to have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, etc).

One thing to stress is that the nutritional therapist didn’t say I have to give up all these things entirely – she said it’s fine to have a little of what I fancy, when I fancy, i.e. a couple of squares of dark chocolate every couple of days or a slice of cake or a dessert once a week, which is also fine. But I will struggle more with dairy because I eat a lot of it.

I decided for my last chemo I would be good to myself and let myself eat what I wanted, because often you feel so miserable and your tastes change so much, I didn’t want to punish myself like last time. So I’ve been eating something sweet most days, though not going overboard. And Christmas is coming up, so I’m not going to punish myself then either. But it’s important during radiotherapy to eat well to minimise the side effects, so I will definitely start being a little more strict in January.

I plan to take Liz’s advice to the extent that I can manage, cutting out dairy and sugar as much as possible but essentially allowing myself what I want in moderation. I am still very much aware that the oncologists don’t recommend any specific dietary changes and they certainly don’t recommend giving up sugar and dairy, and there is no proof or concrete evidence that doing so would guarantee my cancer never recurs, but at the same time changing what I eat to some extent will at least allow me to have a little more control over the situation. Nevertheless, I thought I might as well start as I mean to go on…

I started off well. Saturday morning, I had my first ever black coffee, and I quite enjoyed it. (I forgot to mention she told me to give up caffeine, but I may have to do things gradually!) Then I had a ginger steeper (fresh ginger in boiled water) at Leon. For lunch at Giraffe, I ordered a fresh fruit smoothie and a brown-rice sushi salad consisting of spinach, smoked salmon, mango, avocado and various seeds. But because I didn’t quite have the 50% veg/20% carbs ratio quite right, I ordered a separate side helping of sauteed veg (green beans, peppers and the likes – delish). Which brings me to Nutritional Problem #1: eating better is way more expensive. The better quality and the more organic the meat or the veg, the more the price increases. And the more veg portions you order to try and get the right balance, the more you end up paying. And Nutritional Problem #2: The better you want to nourish yourself, the more you have to plan what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, etc.

And then it all went down hill. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Saturday night I went to Bubbledogs and ate two hotdogs. I am not convinced the pork sausage was the most organic meat in the land (largely because I do not know its origin) and I can take an educated guess that barbecue sauce and ketchup both have a fair amount of added sugar. That said, at least I didn’t have a pudding, and the jalapeños on the Mexican dog would have been good for me. But I did have a glass of champagne.

Sunday, it went further down hill, with a bacon sandwich on white, a cheese toastie and sausage, chips and veg for dinner. And Monday, a decent lunch of Eggs Florentine (bit of spinach, decent amount of protein) and a handful of Niki’s fries, then fish and chips on the train home (free first-class food, I could hardly refuse, could I?) I suspect the quality of the fish on East Coast Trains may not be the best in the world, which brings me to Nutritional Problem #3: It’s particularly hard to change your nutritional habits when you’re away from home. But, like I said, I’m not being strict on myself at the moment as a) I’m still under the wicked spell of the last chemo and within the three-week cycle, b) I’m sick and c) it’s the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la.

Thank you all, though, for adhering to my request not to send me any more junk food. Alice very kindly oven-roasted me some assorted nuts in fennel and honey and they are amazing – I’ve been munching my way through them as only a gannet would. I since found out that honey is on the no-no list of sugary foods (Sorry, Mr Curado, I misinformed you), but I’m happily munching through them anyway (see points a, b and c). Thanks also to Beth for the lovely tin of personalised soup, as pictured at the top of the page (don’t ask why “Bobr”).

So, that’s (the very much abridged version of) what the nutritional therapist said. I still have a lot of reading and researching to do, and I confess I am slightly skeptical that following all this advice will keep the cancer away for good, because I have always eaten so healthily and it’s most likely my cancer was caused by a gene fault (just not the one I tested negative for). However, I have to do something to take this into my own hands, and improving my diet seems to be a good place to start (she says, while slurping through a cream-heavy tin of chicken soup…)


10 thoughts on “What the Nutritionist Said

  1. Valdimir says:

    Hey Laura, keep being a pleasure to read your blogs, and I specially liked the identified nutritional problems, which I’ve been trying to face myself whilst adapting to being in England for 6 months now and trying to avoid spending too much in food during this period.

    My nutritional conclusion #1 is that cooking can make a very good compromise between price and quality of food, of course having to bear a bit more of work while you’re at it, but the more you practice the less of an effort it is, and conclusion #2 is gathering as much information about suppliers as possible, because then comparing the mix of quality, variety and price of products becomes easier.

    Also wish you good luck beating the cough, seems to be all around in London with this cold weather as well, but I trust it will be gone before it bothers you too much.

    • Hey Valdimir, thanks! Yes, cooking is definitely the key, though it’s so much more expensive to buy organic produce in the supermarket or elsewhere than it is to be low-quality produce. That said, I have always tried to buy free-range stuff anyway so it shouldn’t make too much of a difference! It’s just more difficult when you’re away from home, but I have no major problem going to nice, expensive restaurants!
      Hope you’re doing well too and have a wonderful time in Dublin! Beijos

  2. Jaime Oliveira says:

    Laura the balanced food you need is here in Brazil: Rice, Beans, one type of Meat and Salad! The famous PF (Prato-Feito) you can find anywhere. The Olive oil on the salad will count as the (good) fat you need. Feel better! Beijo

    • Jaime, I don’t think there’s enough vegetables in that meal plan! But I do agree I got a lot of fresh fruit and veg in Brazil, you’re right. I’d kill for a feijoada right now!! And some nice Brazilian-Japanese sushi… mmmmm 🙂 Hope you’re doing well, beijos

      • Jaime Oliveira says:

        I’ve been dieting for 1 year following a similar plan as indicated by your nutritionist. I feel much better now and 40lb lighter!
        In my case the cholesterol was sky high. Nothing serious.

        I’m just preventing before it’s too late…
        I Can’t quit drinking though. 🙂

        Hope to see you some day! Tchau! Fica bem!

  3. Adriana Tomalino says:

    Hola Lauri, interesante lo que contás. Sin embargo nunca tengo bien claro cómo se hace para seguir todas las recomendaciones: comer ésto y no aquello, áloe vera para la piel, té de hierbas para no sé qué, placenta de tortuga para el cabello, y hojitas de menta para la sonrisa fresca….no alcanza el día para conseguir todo!!! Lo primero que hay que comprar es una camioneta para cargar tantas cosas, que venga con chofer así no hay que encontrar una herramienta para paliar el stress del tránsito. Imaginate una película con este recorrido y debería ser muy divertida. Lo que tampoco me queda claro es cuándo se iría a trabajar…..para poder comparar todo lo recomendado, ha, ha.
    Besos, Baci, Beijos, kisses. Summary: Mua!

    • jaja gracias, es verdad, es mucho esfuerzo! Lo bueno es que cuando vuelva a Dublin, tendre la comida de mi empresa, que es muy buena y saludable! Por ahora voy a aprovechar el periodo de navidad para descansar y comer lo que quiera! besos

  4. Bryan Foat says:

    Hey there,

    congrats on getting info, making a balanced assesment of theinfo received, and then making a sensible plan of action. By “sensible” I mean only that it can actually be implemented and adhered to and does not sit idly by as an unattainable ideal. You might (or might not, being as intelligent, well-traveled, well-informed as you are…) be surprised by how many people fall into the all-or-nothing trap.

    Vladimir makes many good points. And almost regardless of the ingredients’ quality, cooking at home tends to be healthier just because you can control the quantity, quality and ratio of ingredients, means of preparation (which type of oil or butter to sutee in, for example, and how much.. a few drops or slathered). In a broad sense, calories and processing of food add flavor. Herbs and spices are your friends now: they add lots of flavor and have pratically no nocive effects.

    And, just an extra word or two since I have the time… Nutritionists I put into the same bag as chiropractors: They tend to have their own world view and agenda which dramatically affects their objectivity and recommendations. They may help sometimes in some ways, but you probably don’t want to trust your well-being to them completely, ignoring other more professional opinions. That being said, western medicine too has its own miopic views of health, well-being and treatment. So then there’s eastern medicine, holistic, etc. My opinion, in health as in religion: no-one has a lock on all of the truth. Take the best and leave the rest. I know, I digress, but really it’s all realted. You seem to already be on this path, I am just trying to give you positive reinforcement and wish you well. So be balanced. Be well.

    • Thanks Bryan, yeah it’s definitely all about the balance and moderation. Another friend of the family replied to this post on Facebook and pointed out that her son, who is my age and had cancer when he was 15, wasn’t expected to survive his cancer, yet went on to smoke and drink tremendous amounts at university and live a somewhat hedonistic lifestyle and to this day his cancer has never come back. He is now a doctor himself and didn’t make any major nutritional changes. You just never know. Certainly the most important thing is to enjoy life! It’s my Dad’s birthday tomorrow and I’m planning on cooking chicken pot pie and mince pies tomorrow, then out for sunday lunch so I don’t think it’s going to be an especially healthy weekend! (It’s freezing cold and wintry here – all these winter-warmer foods are essential!)
      Have a great weekend, beso, Laura

  5. Adriana Tomalino says:

    Lauri, yo estoy convencida que es el stress la principal causa…otras cosas pueden sinergizar en todo caso, pero el disparador es ese. Yo, en mi, puedo decirlo a ojos cerrados. Un gran dolor, un gran golpe emocional, te puede matar. Y, fijate vos, veo que esto ocurre en personas a las que todos nos dicen “vos sì que tenès caràcter, vos sì que sos fuerte”….creo que hacer las cosas apasionadamente hace que uno se comprometa con cuerpo y alma y, ademàs, termina cargando con cosas y responsabilidades de otros. Si se pudiera decir: “hasta aquì sì” pero no te permito que me afectes màs…què fàcil serìa todo. Yo en verdad, nunca fumè (nunca literamente tuve un cigarrillo en mi boca), ni tomè, ni tuve una vida al lìmite. Como cosas caseras y en general hechas por mì misma. Comida normal para este paìs. Sin embargo, otros con otra vida màs “desprolija” no tuvieron ningùn problema de este tipo. Se tomaràn las cosas con màs liviandad?
    Lo afectivo es lo màs importante y lo que hay que cuidar a rajatabla. Lo demàs se acomoda.
    Besos y abrazos, Adri.

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