Hodgkin’s lymphoma and its treatments can take a toll on your appetite and energy levels. Following a balanced diet and staying active will help you feel your best.
If you’re living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, keep in mind that how well you take care of your body during treatment may affect how you feel from day to day.
Eating a nutrient-rich diet and maintaining a regular exercise routine, as much as you’re able, may improve your overall well-being.
During treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, your immune system is more vulnerable, putting you at risk for infections. It’s also common for treatment to cause side effects such as exhaustion and weight loss.
Eating nutritious meals helps you keep your body strong as well as maintain your energy levels and weight. A nutritious diet supports your immune system, too.
If you’re undergoing chemotherapy, you may experience gastrointestinal side effects such as nausea and diarrhea. These side effects can make it harder for you to stay well-nourished. During this vital stage, it’s especially important to follow a diet that provides you with all the nutrients your body needs.
Your nutritional needs will depend on factors such as your:
- medical history
- cancer stage
- treatment stage
Work with a healthcare professional to design a wellness plan that’s right for you. Your doctor may advise you about your dietary needs or refer you to a registered dietitian.
There’s no specific diet for people living with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but you can always aim to plan well-balanced and nourishing meals.
A balanced diet will include:
- fruits and vegetables, such as berries, citrus fruits, broccoli, and leafy greens
- healthy fats, such as those found in nuts, avocados, extra virgin olive oil, and Greek yogurt
- complex carbohydrates, such as starchy vegetables, beans, oats, quinoa, and other whole grains
- proteins, such as chicken, fish, eggs, tofu, and lentils
It’s generally a good idea for people to eat a diet low in added sugar and highly processed foods. However, if you have Hodgkin’s lymphoma, it’s more important that you take in adequate calories. This will help you avoid weight loss and maintain muscle mass while you undergo treatment.
Fruits and vegetables
Try to have a variety of fruits and vegetables in your regular rotation. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society recommends you aim for 5 to 10 servings per day and include at least one serving of cruciferous vegetables almost every day.
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and kale. These vegetables are high in protective plant compounds like beta carotene.
As a reference point, one serving of most fruits and vegetables is about a 1/2-cup. For leafy greens, melon, and berries, one serving equals about 1 cup.
Some cancer treatments can cause dehydration or related symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting.
Stay hydrated by drinking water and other fluids throughout the day, even if you don’t feel dehydrated or thirsty. Your care team can let you know how much to aim for each day. Even taking small sips throughout the day can help keep you hydrated.
If you’re not a fan of plain water, add fruit to it to give it a boost of flavor. Other smart beverage choices include:
- herbal tea
- clear liquids like lemonade and ginger ale
Sports drinks and broths can help replenish the loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium. Cancer and chemotherapy are both common causes of electrolyte imbalances.
Try to avoid beverages containing caffeine or alcohol. Caffeine can sometimes increase gastrointestinal side effects, and alcohol can be dehydrating.
Sometimes the side effects of your treatment can make eating difficult or undesirable. However, it’s best to avoid skipping meals, even if eating is difficult.
If you’re having trouble getting solid food down, liquid options like nutritional shakes, juices, and soups may be easier to swallow.
Opting for soft foods and foods that become tender when cooked is another way to minimize pain from swallowing. Blending fruits and vegetables into a smoothie can also be a tasty alternative to eating them whole.
If you’re still struggling to finish your meals, dividing your food intake into smaller servings may be useful. Try eating snack-sized portions four to six times throughout the course of your day.
If you’re concerned that you may not be getting enough calories, speak with your doctor or dietitian. One way to get more calories into your diet is to eat more healthy fats. Another way is to use ingredients like milk, cream, and broth during food preparation instead of water.
Also, try to stay hydrated even if you don’t feel thirsty. Fluids can help ease the symptoms that contribute to loss of appetite, like fatigue and constipation.
Did you know?
Deficiencies in some nutrients, such as iron and vitamin D, are common in people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and may have a negative impact on your condition.
Consider asking your doctor to test you for nutrient deficiencies. They may recommend supplements to correct any issues.
During certain Hodgkin’s lymphoma treatments, your body may become more vulnerable to foodborne illness and infection.
Here are some quick food safety tips to help reduce your risk:
- Wash your hands frequently throughout the day, and make sure you wipe down any surfaces you use for cooking before you begin preparing a meal.
- Wash all your produce before peeling it.
- Avoid eating raw meat, raw eggs, raw sprouts, and sushi.
- During the process of cooking, use separate plates for raw meat.
- Avoid unpasteurized milk, cheese, and juices.
- When dining out, avoid salad bars and buffets.
- After grocery shopping, refrigerate your perishable items as soon as possible.
- Avoid thawing frozen items on the counter.
- Be diligent about inspecting your food for spoilage and sticking to expiration dates.
Research, such as a small 2019 study and an older 2009 study, suggests that staying active while you have lymphoma can improve both your physical and psychological health.
Regular exercise has been shown to:
- build muscle and bone strength
- reduce anxiety and fatigue
- improve heart function
- increase self-esteem
Before starting any new exercise program, consult your doctor about your fitness needs. Begin with a light workout routine, then gradually increase the intensity as you get a sense of your capabilities and limitations.
People who already exercise frequently may need to decrease their activity levels during the more physically demanding portions of treatment, such as chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy can increase your risk of infection. Avoiding public gyms and pools during this treatment stage can help reduce your risk of exposure to infections.
Although it’s a good idea to stay as active as you can during treatment, you don’t need to overexert yourself if you feel weak or tired.
The recovery process for people with Hodgkin’s lymphoma can be physically demanding. There may be days when you simply don’t have the energy for your regular fitness routine.
Here are a few options to help you keep active if you’re feeling too fatigued for a full-on workout:
- Go for a gentle walk around your neighborhood.
- Take the stairs.
- Tidy up your living space.
- Spend 30 minutes gardening.
- Practice mindfulness techniques like deep breathing and light yoga.
Regardless of your cancer treatment stage, it’s never too late to make good lifestyle choices. For more information on nutrition and fitness guidelines, talk with your doctor during your next appointment.