Weight Gain after Breast Cancer

It may seem especially cruel that along with the stress of dealing with breast cancer, on average women gain between 5 and 8 pounds from the chemo and steroid cocktail used during treatment. I gained 10 that first year and another 10 this past second year since my breast cancer! What the heck? I mean, it’s not like I’ve been sitting around eating Krispy Kremes. I went back to my healthy way of eating and thought the weight would naturally drop off. Well, it hasn’t. In fact, more has packed on.

So last Friday I noticed it was 6 weeks until my birthday in October and I decided to figure this situation out and make my birthday a deadline for getting my weight under control. I don’t think it’s realistic or even healthy to attempt to lose all 20 pounds that I’ve gained in 6 weeks, but I’d like to see what I can do.

First I needed to understand why simply going back to my healthy way of eating, that so easily maintained my ideal weight before, was no longer working.

Turns out there are several factors that make losing weight post chemotherapy especially challenging. Even if you haven’t been through cancer treatment, you may be experiencing some of these difficulties. Read below for what may be working against you and a plan for how to get rid of some of the extra weight you’re carrying around.

Difficulty #1: Menopause Hormones

Chemotherapy threw me head first into menopause years before my body was ready for that hormonal shift. I went from normal estrogen and progesterone levels to zero in a week. Unfortunately, it is harder to lose weight post menopause. The lack of those hormones lowers our metabolism by 25% (that’s a lot!), making the amount of food and calories we ate before suddenly too much fuel for our bodies and we gain weight.

Difficulty #2: Less Muscle

I lost muscle during recovery mostly from my inactivity due to fatigue. I just didn’t feel like working out at the level I did before. I wanted my body to heal. Maybe I babied by body a little bit. Maybe I could have pushed it harder. It is what it is (see previous post on Pure Acceptance) and what there is to do now is rebuild that lost muscle. Because guess what? Muscles burn more calories than fat (increased metabolism). Plus as you get stronger, you want to be more active which builds more muscle, thus creating what I call an upward cycle of health.

Difficulty #3: Insulin Resistance

Unfortunately, insulin resistance gets worse as we get older. Insulin is the hormone made by the pancreas that enables glucose (the body’s fuel) to be used for energy.  As we get older, we may exercise less and if we’re overweight, insulin becomes less and less effective at converting fuel to energy.  This means that the glucose is instead converted into body fat.  The most common sign of insulin resistance is an expanding waist. Yep. Got that.

Another factor may be an enzyme called Lipoprotein Lipase (LPL) which is controlled by insulin. According to breastcancer.org, “LPL sits on the surface of cells and pulls fat out of the bloodstream and into the cell. If LPL is on a muscle cell, it pulls fat into the cell where it’s used for fuel. If LPL is on a fat cell, it pulls fat into the cell and makes it fatter.

It’s important to know that estrogen suppresses LPL activity on fat cells. This could be one reason why some women gain weight after menopause or after breast cancer treatment that dramatically decreases estrogen levels. With less estrogen in the body, LPL can pull fat into fat cells and store it there.” So what they’re saying is with post menopausal low levels of estrogen, LPL is making our fat cells bigger. Great.

Wow, there is so much working against us! We have the lack of hormones and muscles lowering metabolism plus insulin and LPL actively trying to store fat. No wonder it’s been so hard to maintain my weight! So what do we do to turn this around? From my research and experience as a health coach, here is what I will be doing in the next 6 weeks and beyond to lose the weight that I have gained.

Formula for Post Menopause/Post Breast Cancer Weight Loss:

  • Reduce grains (simple carbs) and increase veggies (complex carbs). Eat the rainbow and organic if possible. If you need recipes, check out my Recipe Club!
  • Increase exercise, in particular strength training to build muscle. I will be doing 20 minute strength training daily at home using light weights and my own body weight as resistance and doing cardio a few times a week. If you need inspiration for a short at home strength training workout, check out the 7 Minute Workout app (it’s free!). For cardio, I like spinning classes, playing tennis, doing vinyasa yoga and walking my dog at a quick pace. I just need to get myself to do it.
  • Drink plenty of water. For many people, their chronic dehydration is having their body resist losing weight. Give it a try!
  • I’ve already cut out dairy and alcohol and greatly reduced meat (eliminated red meat) to give myself the best chances for Permanent Remission so if you haven’t taken those steps, you may want to give those a try and see if they are also having your body hang on to weight. I know that my body does like a higher protein diet, so I will increase nuts and seeds and make sure I’m having wild caught fish a few times a week.
  • Take supplements. Unfortunately, it is hard to get everything your body needs from food these days. I take a vitamin D supplement, Turkey Tail mushrooms, vitamin C, magnesium, spirulina/chlorella and I will be adding Berberine to the mix to help with insulin resistance. Read more about Berberine.
  • Last but certainly not least, eliminate added sugar. This has many health benefits but is especially important if you’re trying to lose weight. Unless you’re a high performing athlete and burning a bazillion calories, refined sugars will almost certainly be stored by the body as fat. Besides, sugar is highly inflammatory and that’s a really bad thing inside anyone’s body.

Please comment below if you would like to join me in this 6 week challenge! I would love to have a group doing it together. The more the merrier. I will give updates on my progress periodically.

Here’s to your health!


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