, Salem, MA

October 16, 2012

Constant chemo cravings

Navigating food choices isn't easy

By Bev Bennett / CTW Features
CTW Features

— As a health professional, Patricia D’Imperio urges her patients to make the most nutritious food choices.

The chiropractic neurologist is a nutrition role model, who searches out wholesome food for her family.

Then, there’s Doritos.

When D’Imperio has to have them, she’s unstoppable. “I’m a craver of salt,” says the owner of Healthy Living in Bayville, N.Y. “It’s not one; I’ll consume an entire bag and have to get it out of my system. I can’t stop even though I know better.”

D’Imperio, who finished her treatments for breast cancer, is struggling with an occasional craving for a salty snack as she tries to eat the best diet possible to stay cancer-free.

She’s not alone.

“Some days I’m good, some days I’m not so good,” says Cynthia Newsome, who is finished with radiation treatments for breast cancer.

The Dairy Queen strawberry shake beckoned, and Newsome responded.

“It was good,” says Newsome, weekend anchor for NBC Action News in Kansas City, Mo.

You may have an itch for a particular ingredient, like D’Imperio and salt, which hits every two months or so. Perhaps you associate a certain food with a positive experience you want to recall. Whatever the reason, if you learn to manage your food urges, you can splurge without the guilt, while developing more healthful habits.

While you’re educating yourself, you’ll also look for ways to let your loved ones know how you’d like to be supported.

Getting into a breast cancer recovery nutrition program can help.

Find a registered dietitian who will show you what you can eat.

If you need to lose weight to reduce your risk of a breast cancer recurrence (or your risk of other diseases), you don’t want a diet that feels like punishment.

Emphasize enjoyable options, not what you should forgo, says Cheryl Rock, Ph.D., registered dietitian and professor, University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine. You may find you have “a lot of choices that are equally pleasurable,” Rock says.

She is studying the effects of weight loss and increased exercise on quality of life and on coexisting medical conditions in overweight breast cancer survivors. The women she counsels are helped to change their behavior.

“We don’t hand out a list of foods you shouldn’t eat, but (advice on) how to fill the plate. It’s not a punishment,” Rock says.

For example, she suggests switching from regular bacon to savory, full-flavored Canadian bacon.


“You can have it. It’s a wonderful vehicle for having vegetables in your diet,” Rock says. Her tip is to trade pepperoni for sun-dried tomatoes as a pizza topping.

The health expert also teaches portion control as a way to enjoy favorite high-calorie foods. In Newsome’s situation, a small shake was satisfying. “I would have gotten a large in times past,” she says.

When you’re more aware of nutrition, you can stop beating yourself up over the candy bar you couldn’t resist.

However, it’s easy to understand those feelings of guilt.

“Your trust in your body is gone,” says Barbara C. Unell, founder of Back in the Swing USA, Overland Park, Kan. You think, “If I have that extra cookie, it will put me over the edge,” says Unell, whose nonprofit organization promotes joyful and healthy living for breast cancer survivors.

Again, educating yourself about wholesome eating will help. But, even though you may feel in control with the occasional tortilla chips or milkshake, your loved ones may not understand.

When her 9-year-old daughter sees her reaching for the Doritos, “her eyes will get really wide and she says, ‘MOM,’” D’Imperio says. “My husband and daughter say, ‘Mom’s on the Doritos again.’ I explain that this is one little thing I do once in a while.”

How do you tell your friends and loved ones you appreciate their concern but don’t need policing? You can provide the answer. You can tell others how you want to be supported, according to Unell. How you phrase the question makes a difference.

“Don’t say to the family, ‘I want to eat better, help me.’ They’ll nag you with everything you eat,” Rock says.

Instead, suggest something specific: Let’s go to the farmers market and pick up some salad ingredients for dinner. Let friends know how to help you.

Newsome says she is “looking for information more than people motivating me.”

The Kansas City television anchor says, “I like to read things that say here’s what to do; here’s what to try,” like, for instance, a good-tasting sugar-free ice cream.