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Some medical conditions and/or their treatments can result in unwanted weight gain or loss. Some weight change may only be temporary, particularly if the change is due to a specific treatment. 

Click on the links to the following subjects which may be of interest to you:


  • In case it helps encourage you, you can see how you would look if you gained or lost weight by uploading a photograph of yourself to: offsite link
  • To learn more about weight change and your diet see Nutrition.
  • To learn more about dealing with weight change and physical activity see Exercise.
  • The costs of doctor-prescribed weight loss plans are deductible medical expenses.  Gym membership fees are not deductible. Nor is the cost of weight reduction plans entered into for the purpose of improving your appearance or sense of well-being.

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What Causes Weight Gain Or Loss?

Weight gain can be caused by a variety of factors. For instance:

  • Treatments requiring use of steroids can contribute to weight gain. 
  • Some medications or conditions may contribute to swelling caused by fluid retention (edema). The weight is the result of extra water in the body.
  • Weight gain is also a possibility for cancer patients taking certain medications, particularly people on hormone therapy or some forms of chemotherapy. Cancer patients with breast, prostate, and ovarian cancer are the most likely to gain weight. 

Weight Loss can be caused a health condition itself, or the result of treatment that contributes to nausea, difficulty with eating, swallowing, digestion or loss of appetite. Emotional worries or depression about your illness can also contribute to loss of appetite or eating less. (For information about depression, including what it is and what can be done about it, click here.)

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How To Choose A Nutritionist

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Exercise Nutrition

What To Do If You Experience Weight Gain

If you experience weight gain due to your condition or treatment, it may not a good idea to immediately start a diet. Instead, inform your doctor. Together you can determine the cause and possible solutions. 

If your weight gain is due to eating too many calories, see a variety of easy tips for losing weight in our article: How To Lose Weight.

If your weight gain is due to water retention, your doctor may:

  • Recommend a diuretic, a medication that helps to reduce fluid retention. Never use a diuretic without first consulting with your doctor.
  • Recommend that you speak with a registered dietician or nutritionist for guidelines on limiting the amount of salt you eat. Salt causes your body to hold extra water. (For information about nutritionists/dietitians, click here.)

What To Do If You Experience Weight Loss

If you find that you are beginning to lose weight, speak with your doctor or other health care professional before weight loss becomes significant.

  • Your doctor can prescribe appetite stimulants such as Marinol. In states where it legal, the doctor may prescribe marijuana. 
  • Your doctor may refer you to a licensed nutritionist/dietitian for assistance. For information about nutritionists and dietitians, click here.

In the meantime, consider the following causes and what to do about them, as well as general information about gaining weight.

Weight Loss Causes

Diet Changes That Can Help Minimize Weight Loss

  • Increase your intake of calories by adding more high density foods. Keep in mind that healthy oils such as olive oil or canola oil add just as much calories as less healthy oils.
  • Instead of water, tea or coffee, drink healthy beverages that include calories or proteins - for example, milk or shakes.
  • Alcohol may help improve your appetite - if alcohol does not interfere with your medications. Take alcohol 20 minutes before mealtime.
  • Sweeten foods and beverages with sugar, jam, jelly or honey.
  • Eat snacks in between meals.
  • Add high-fat foods to meals and snacks:
    • Choices include butter, regular margarine, vegetable oils, peanut butter, and mayonnaise.
    • Whole milk, half and half, and cream have more calories than skim or low-fat milk.
    • HIgher-fat meats and whole-milk cheeses provide more calories than lean or low-fat types. 
    • To keep muscle mass up, exercise.
  • Consider nutritional products such as Ensure or Sustecal which help you retain weight while providing necessary nutrients.
    • If you have health insurance, it is worth checking to find out if it will pay for these products. 
    • Concerning Ensure:
      • If you have a low income, you may be able to get Ensure for free for up to a year. Call 800.222.6885. Press 5 for medical nutrition products. You will be mailed an application to take to your doctor for completion and fax back to thecompany.
      • For higher income people, Ensure has coupons available to help reduce the cost. See: offsite link. For couplons: offsite link. (You will have to answer a series of marketing type questions to obtain the coupons)
    • It is worth checking other supplement companies to see if they have programs similar to Ensure. Search on the name of the product in your favorite search engine.

How To Dress In The Event Of Temporary Weight Gain

Tips for dressing with weight gain include:

  • Monochromatic dressing - dressing the body in one color. Dressing in the same color from head to toe helps to streamline the appearance of the body. If you prefer not to dress in one color, consider choosing color tones that are closely matched. This will still have the same effect.
  • Dressing in dark colors such as navy or black creates a thinner appearance.
  • Women may want to consider matching the color of their hose to their shoes.
    • Matching the color of a skirt, hoses, and shoes will elongate the look of your legs and make them appear thinner.
    • If you are wearing a print, pick out colors that match the background when choosing hose and shoes.
  • Men and women should consider wearing vertical stripes.
    • They will elongate the body.
    • Avoid horizontal stripes because they will accentuate your weight gain.
  • Consider wearing loose fitting clothing.
    • A long fitting jacket can hide figure flaws for both men and women.
    • A loose fitting vest can help conceal your waistline.
    • Tight clothing will emphasize your weight gain.
  • If you have a chubby neck, men may choose a V neckline and women a V or scoop neckline. This will create the appearance of a face and neck that look longer and leaner.
  • To draw attention to the face and away from the body, women may wish to wear a necklace and matching earrings.
  • Consider purchasing "every day" clothes made from stretchy fabrics. You might choose to purchase items with an elastic waistband which will provide some additional room if you continue to gain weight.

How To Dress In The Event Of Temporary Weight Loss

Tips for dressing with weight loss include:

  • Consider having a few of the items in your closet tailored to fit. You may choose to ask the tailor to tack the alterations rather than cutting any fabric. You can then let the clothes out when you return to your normal weight.
  • A shorter fitting jacket can provide a fuller appearance.
  • Small shoulder pads in jackets, blouses or shirts can provide a fuller appearance.
  • Bold and bright colored items or prints may help to conceal some of your weight loss.
  • Consider dressing in several layers for a fuller appearance.
  • Horizontal stripes may provide a fuller appearance. Avoid vertical stripes.
  • Long sleeves and looser fitting pants may help to conceal weight loss.
  • Avoid shoes with higher heels. They will elongate your appearance. If money is not an issue, consider going on a shopping spree. You can always donate the clothing to charity when you have returned to your normal weight.

How To Obtain Clothes On A Limited Budget

If you need new wardrobe items due to a change in weight (gain or loss) and finance is a consideration, think about the following:

  • Consider borrowing clothes from a friend or friends who are close to your new size. As we know, most of us have clothing items hanging in our closets that we have not worn for a long time.
  • Do some shopping in a secondhand or vintage clothing shop. These days many thrift shops have a nice selection of gently used clothing at great prices. If the shop is owned or run by a charity, you will also be helping the organization. Does the thought of sharing someone else's clothes seem strange? Isn't it what you do when you wear a hotel bathrobe or a cloth dressing gown at the doctor's office?
  • Rent clothes. Type "clothing rental" or the type of clothing you want to rent plus the word "rental" into your favorite search engine or engines. Rentals are not just limited to tuxedoes and wedding gowns. Examples on online rental clothing sites are offsite link;; offsite link offsite link
  • Contact a local religious organization for clothing donations.
  • Contact your local disease specific nonprofit organization for advice. 

NOTE: You can find tips for clothing-specific needs based on treatments and cancer type at:  offsite linkor call: 800.799.6790.

Foods To Help Gain Weight

The following list of ways to gain weight is from the National Cancer Institute:

TypesHow To Use
  • Use whole milk instead of low-fat
  • Put on hot or cold cereal
  • Pour on chicken and fish while baking
  • Mix in hamburgers, meatloaf, and croquettes
  • Make hot chocolate with milk
  • Melt on top of casseroles, potatoes, and vegetables
  • Add to omelets
  • Add to sandwiches
  • Use in cookie, muffin, and bread batters
  • Sprinkle on:
    • Vegetables
    • Yogurt
    • Ice cream
    • Pudding
    • Custard
    • Fruit
  • Layer with fruits and bake
  • Mix with dried fruits and nuts for a snack
  • Use in pudding recipes instead of bread or rice
Dried fruits (raisins, prunes, apricots, dates, figs)
  • Plump them in warm water, and eat for breakfast, dessert, or snack
  • Add to:
    • Muffins
    • Cookies
    • Breads
    • Cakes
    • Rice and grain dishes
    • Cereals
    • Puddings
    • Stuffings
    • Cooked vegetables (such as carrots, sweet potatoes, yams, and acorn or butternut squash)
  • Bake in pies and turnovers
  • Combine with nuts or granola for snacks
  • Add chopped hard-boiled eggs to salads, salad dressings, vegetables, casseroles, and creamed meats
  • Make a rich custard with eggs, milk, and sugar
  • Add extra hard-boiled yolks to deviled egg filling and sandwich spread
  • Beat eggs into mashed potatoes, pureed vegetables, and sauces. (Make sure to keep cooking these dishes after adding the eggs because raw eggs may contain harmful bacteria.)
  • Add extra eggs or egg whites to:
    • Custards
    • Puddings
    • Quiches
    • Scrambled eggs
    • Omelets
    • Pancake or French toast batter

A Sample 1 Day Menu For Weight Gain

The following sample menu for gaining weight is from American Dietetic Association:


  • 1 large egg, scrambled in 1 tablespoon of butter
  • 1 medium biscuit with 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon jelly
  • 6 ounces apple juice

Morning Snack

  • Instant pudding made with evaporated milk


  • Tuna salad (tuna canned in oil, hard-cooked egg, onion, pickle relish, mayonnaise)
  • 6 club crackers
  • 2 canned peach halves with 2 tablespoons cream cheese and 4 walnut halves
  • 6 ounces grape juice

Afternoon Snack

  • Fruit smoothie (orange juice, banana, frozen strawberries, 1 scoop/tablespoon protein powder)

Evening Meal

  • 3-ounce ground beef patty with gravy
  • French-fried potatoes with ketchup
  • 2 large stalks broccoli with cheese sauce
  • 1 or 2 slices bread with 1 tablespoon butter

Evening Snack

  • 1 medium scoop ice cream with chocolate syrup