One of the most common questions I get as a Nurse Practitioner in the Oncology Clinic is: What should I eat?
This question comes from patients on treatment, those that have just completed treatment, and cancer survivors years out from their diagnosis. It's a hard question to answer because individuals have such varied needs, but there's some general advice I use for cancer survivors regardless of their specific dietary issues.
For cancer survivors, eating well is an opportunity to heal and set the stage for overall wellness after cancer. It is a moment of great motivation to make positive health changes. Cancer survivors often ask for a recommendation for a special diet that will prevent cancer in the future. There are many fad diets in the media that claim anti cancer benefits but in my opinion, they are overly restrictive. Cancer survivors after treatment have such intense nutritional needs that cutting out too much can cause more harm than good.
Years ago I was talking about this subject with my good friend Karen, a fellow Oncology Nurse Practitioner, and she mentioned that she has a hard time restricting her own diet too severely because she loves all types of food. She said, "I'm an equal opportunity eater."
I love this idea because it implies open mindedness and variety in dietary choices. It also implies being thoughtful about where your food comes from and the humane treatment of animals raised as food.
For Cancer Survivors, equal opportunity eating can be like this:
There's no pressure about subscribing to a certain diet or plan or eating philosophy. You eat what is good for you and the earth without judgement and respecting your own and others' choices without ridicule.
It's not about restriction, it's about adding foods that are healthful and tasty. Soon, these will sustitute items in your diet that are less desirable for your healing body and eventually, it will be a whole new way of eating without even realizing it.
It's about investing in your neighbors by gradually replacing conventional, mass produced, packaged foods with locally grown and organic foods as your budget allows, prioritizing organic meat, dairy, and eggs over organic produce because their superior nutritional value gets the biggest bang for your buck.
It's about thinking critically about the contents of your pantry and opening cupboard real estate to food alternatives that are kind to your body's cells and respect the integrity of your DNA.
It's an opportunity to give life meaning through food by exploring history, culture, and spritual traditions through food. It's about food as connector, as the center of life's celebrations. Food can ignite curiosity, a desire to travel, a desire to be with other human beings.
Food can be a vehicle for kindness, healing, and self compassion. Equal opportunity eating is about giving cancer survivors a way out of the restrictive mindset of diets and meal plans which are just another set of dos and don'ts. Instead, the Brio philosophy of equal opportunity eating is a door to true nourishment of body and soul, an opening in the direction of respect for yourself and the planet, and a vehicle for celebration and reverence.
Equal opportunity just makes sense to me. I hope it makes sense to you, too.