The Elephant in the Room is Cancer. Tea is the Relief Conversation Provides.

7 Nutrition Tips from a Cancer Mom and Dietitian

by Shannon FitzgeraldCaregiverFebruary 28, 2019View more posts from Shannon Fitzgerald

Happy National Nutrition Month!

And you thought March was only for St Patrick’s Day and March Madness.

Yes, it is that time of year when dietitians celebrate our shared love of keeping communities healthy by offering some good common sense tips backed by science and research.  You may see some of us in grocery stores, at health care clinics, and of course on social media spreading healthy news and factoids.  The annual campaign has a vision of a world where all people thrive through the transformative power of food and nutrition.  But let’s be real for a second, you can do ALL the RIGHT things and still be in the path of the “c” word.

Take a step back with me,,, 8.5 years ago.  My world-view of ‘healthy eating/living prevents disease’ was headed for a shake-up…

I never considered a life-threatening illness for any of my 4 children. Then there we were. The horror of an enlarged lymph node, clearly imaged in my oldest son’s otherwise perfectly healthy body where a biopsy revealed Non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s Lymphoma.  What?! It can’t be…he takes good care of his body, eats healthy (mostly) is active and seemingly in perfect health (minus that enlarged lymph node).  Jack was 17, a senior in high school applying for college; getting ready to embark on his independence and set his path.

It took some time for me to come to terms with my profession and Jack’s diagnosis.  In fact we are still at odds.  But that writing is for another day.

One day at the start of Jack’s treatment, I heard a nurse utter ‘what color of popsicle would you like, any color?’ to an eager bald headed grade schooler.  I smiled enthusiastically.  Yes, these kids NEED this.  I put my stuffy, right way to eat dietitian hat away and embraced what I was seeing and living on the pediatric oncology floor of the hospital.  These kids need JOY.  They need to feel like they are LIVING all while getting those precious calories on food that they will LOVE TO EAT.

On that note, let me offer a common sense approach to nutrition for everyday LIVING:

  1. There is not a right and wrong way to eat. Let me say it again.  There is no right and wrong way.  Do not burden yourselves with negative emotions around food. Have a healthy relationship with food.  I believe in the 80/20 approach; 80% of the time eat plant-based, nutrient dense foods and let yourself off the hook for some of your favorites that may not fit in the 80- 20% of the time
  2. Take advantage of a good appetite. Eat what sounds good in the amount that your body tells you is enough.  Intuitive eating. Mindful Eating.
  3. Move every day. Yes, I am a dietitian but also a yoga instructor. Movement and Eating; they go hand in hand.  Move your body.    Day.  It reacquaints us with our bodies and connects us to the earth in a visceral way.  It can revitalize and restore you.
  4. Unplug while eating! Go old school here. Eat with others.  Enjoy conversation with others while you eat.  It leads to better digestion.  Trust me on this!
  5. Hydrate with water every day. All Day.
  6. Make sure your food/nutrition knowledge is from trusted sources based on science. There is a lot of misinformation out there.  Be a savvy consumer of “fake nutrition news”
  7. Finally, if you have lingering digestive/appetite issues, seek out a professional. Functional Medicine is a route to check out.  It is individualized.  There is typically a health coach and dietitian involved that are cheering for your optimal health and helping along the way.

Jack was successfully treated and is now 25 years old! Yay! In college he had the ‘ultimate meal plan’. I really wanted him to be able to get all the food he wanted when he wanted it.  I think the university may have ended the ultimate plan once they tallied up his visits; my daughters are currently at the same university and it no longer exists. Hmmm…

“We” have evolved in our approach to food/living. I lay off and he is happy! He is educated and aware of his food choices and occasionally we will chat about supplements, eating “clean”, veganism and everything in between.  Sometimes we banter about it all which ultimately leads to great discussions and debates.  He knows he is responsible for his food selections Just As We All Are.

Go out there and LIVE your best life.

I’m reaching for that colorful Popsicle for you.


Shannon Fitzgerald, MS RDN LD, is a professional dietitian and a mother of a young adult cancer survivor.

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