25 October 2010

Eating for recovery

“Now that you have cancer, what you eat will make no difference to the outcome.”This is the all-too-frequent and disturbing advice many people have told me was given to them by their well-meaning doctors.

Clearly, if you reflect on it, the advice is inane. Does that mean you can eat poison now and it will not matter? Does anyone really think that if you are on chemo and have a really bad junk food diet, that switching to a good diet will not help? And what of the recent research showing that what you eat actually can be therapeutic and improve outcomes for people with cancer?

Faced with cancer there are basically three food choices – do nothing different, eat sensibly, or eat therapeutically.

1. Do Nothing
Just continue to eat what ever you did in the past leading up to the diagnosis.
  • Benefits: No stress, no fuss, business as usual, easy for everyone.
  • Disadvantages:
    • Since the 1970’s and the work of Doll and Peto, we have known that at least one third of all cancers are directly dietary related. Food is the major cause of cancer according to leading authorities. So, if you have a disease why keep doing what is causing it?
    • By doing nothing, you could miss out on the real benefits.
  • How to do it? Convince yourself food is unimportant or what you are doing is okay.

2. Eat Sensibly
Eat things that are known to be good for you, and avoid those that are not. This is like the Wellness (or Maintenance) Diet, as set out in my book You Can Conquer Cancer (YCCC).
  • Benefits:
    • Provides sound nutrition that will support treatment and healing.
    • Avoids dietary factors that could make the situation worse.
    • This approach is relatively easy to do and if followed by other members of the family, will do their long term health a power of good.
  • Disadvantages: Unless you were eating really well before the diagnosis; you and those around you will need to change somewhat; you will have to learn new ways and adapt your habits.
  • How to do it?  Follow the Wellness Diet Guidelines in YCCC.

3. Eat therapeutically
Eating for Recovery goes further and aims to use food as a solution; it aims to increase the chances of survival.
  • Benefits:
    • Based on 30 years of clinical experience, almost all the people that I have worked with who have had medically unexpected, long term recoveries claim that food was one of the things that helped them most.
    • Taking control of your diet gives a sense of control generally and it might just be very helpful!
    • Changing your diet is not so easy but by doing so, it is like you make a huge affirmation that you want to live. This truth and its impact are often overlooked.
    • Done well, this focus on food can provide a common goal, a point of coming together for family and friends. What is needed is the clarity of conviction. Then enthusiasm for it, even delight in change flows easily.
  • Disadvantages:
    • If done badly, with the wrong attitudes, dietary change can cause stress for everyone.
    • Obtaining good professional support is challenging. Most medical courses provide little training in nutrition and hence many doctors do not value it. In my experience many dieticians seem to have a very conservative view regarding the potential for food to be therapeutic. Nutritionists and naturopaths are often more accepting of the possibilities and knowledgeable, but generally many health practitioners focus their “nutritional advice” on supplements and overlook the main event – the food you eat and what you drink.
  • How to do it?  Refer back to last weeks Blog – Food 101 as a starting point to review the decision making process and to be reminded of the choices. You could consider one of the following:
  • Follow a specific healing program or therapist’s advice.
    For example, the Healing Diet as outlined in YCCC and detailed in my CD “Eating for Recovery”, is based on 30 years experience helping people with cancer who took their nutrition seriously. Like me they studied, they experimented and they reached conclusions that were common to many of them. Those conclusions form the Healing Diet and are a good starting point for many who have been recently diagnosed and choose to be serious about their diet.
  • Personalise your Healing Diet.
    This requires a concerted effort but in my view provides the best long term outcomes. The steps are:
  1. Begin with an intense period.
    Take your food seriously. Ideally do a detox program, maybe a monodiet as in YCCC. Eliminate toxins, purify your system. Rebalance your metabolism and enhance your sensitivity to what is good for you. Revisit the blog: Food 101.
  2. Over time, use your own sensibilities to modify the Healing Diet to match your own situation and metabolism. This is a little challenging as it requires some confidence in your own ability to work out what is good for you. But remember, life is not static. Everything is constantly changing and so while the main things you eat may remain fairly constant, some details will change. When you have developed the capacity and the confidence to respond to you own dietary needs, you have a secret for long-term good health.

Before diagnosis: I ate the average Western diet with a lot of meat. Many people, including me, thought I ate pretty well.

After diagnosis: Began to take more interest in what I was eating, but changed little.

After secondaries: Had an “ah! ha!” experience. Food is important, it could help me to heal.
Began with about 3 months on the Gerson Diet: No meat except some liver juices (true!), no fish, only occasional cottage cheese, lots of veggies and juices along with specific Gerson supplements (from Dec ’75). Fortunately survived all this too!

While it was great for detoxing, rebalancing the system and increasing my sensitivity, I was unable to obtain organic grains at the time so struggled with weightloss. Also, as my disease was well advanced, cachexia, or weightloss related to the cancer itself was probably a real issue (I will write more on this important issue another time). So I began to modify Gerson by experimenting with a wider range of foods. Stayed off meat and found hen’s eggs and dairy products disagreed with me. Continued to have juices while healing, towards the end ate fish once every week or two.

Once well: Settled into the Wellness Diet. Now eat what is best described as  vegaquarian – basically (but obviously not strictly) vegetarian/vegan with seafood occasionally (about once a week). This could also be described in broad terms as a wholefood, plant based diet. Often I eat a couple of eggs a week and every now and again some cheese or an ice cream (for years while healing I did not, which may have been my greatest discipline).

It may well be that the more attention you give to your nutrition, the better the effect.

Prof. Dean Ornish published research showing that men who made modest lifestyle changes, including to their diets, stabilised early prostate cancer. Those who made major changes, improved their situation significantly.

With Multiple Sclerosis, Swank’s long term research showed the same effect even more dramatically. In his study, people who improved their diets to quite a large extent often got little benefit. It was only when they were more thorough that their MS stabilised and when really thorough, actually reversed – like we have documented at the Foundation’s MS program.

Again, based on my years of experience, I believe that to obtain cancer related, therapeutic benefits from nutrition may require a really good diet, not just pretty good. And while it may well be true that when you are well, what you eat mostly is important, (what you eat occasionally does not matter so much in this situation), when you are Eating for Recovery, what you eat all the time is likely to be important. So eating therapeutically may well require being consistently thorough, sticking to what is good for you.

How sad it is that research in this field is so neglected. I have seen so many people do remarkable things when they combine good nutrition with the right state of mind and regular, intense meditation.

All of this is an essentualised summary intended as an indication of what is possible while giving some inspiration and direction. Remember to get professional advice if you are making major changes.

As always, let me know your experiences, questions, feedback bellow by clicking on the word "Comments".

1. My book 'You Can Conquer Cancer' has three chapters on food, eating theraputically and maintaining a healthy diet.

2. My CDs:
Eating Well, Being Well: All the main points about food – the Wellness Diet.
Eating for Recovery:  Building on the first CD, the specifics of the anti-cancer diet: the Healing Diet.

3. Gerson’s book 'A Cancer Therapy'. While I do not recommend this at home because it is so hard to do, the book is full of explanations and recommendations that more recent research continues to support. For example, Gerson said in the ‘40s Flaxseed oil was the only oil to use and not to heat it.

4. Programs and counselling: The Gawler Foundation; www.gawler.org

What was Prof Dan Siegel, Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA and world authority on the brain, the mind and relationships doing literally “Out on a Limb” up a tree in a Melbourne park? All will be revealed as I tell you about the meeting Ruth and I had with him this week and about his fascinating and extremely important research and experience.


  1. Ian this is a helpful reminder and great to show my friends. I have been on the healing diet for a while now, feel great and my doctors are surprised how well I am doing. I do get asked a lot about why low protein -no meat eggs fish etc and would like it if you could say more about this.

  2. In 1999/2000 I was diagnosed with Duke's "C" bowel cancer. I did all the things my (very good) medical advisers suggested but I also looked about to see what control I myself could take over the condition. Ian's book seemed so SENSIBLE! It made intuitive sense to me! There was a lot of the most horrendous rubbishy literature about then. Scarey, judgemental rubbish. Ian's stuff was practical and doable and positive. I truly do believe it saved my life and I still follow it and I recommend it to anyone I know who has cancer. Some want to follow it; some don't! My dear sister, Robyn Jamieson actually managed to go over to the Gawler Foundation. A wonderful experience for her. I'm writing this to say thank you. Thank you for hope, and strength and power and good health.

    1. I'm not totally familiar with "c" bowel cancer. If that is metastasis bowel cancer US calls it stage 4 colon cancer. But anyway that is what my husband has. Diagnosed in October 2011. Had already spread to his liver. Since you are a long term survivor compared to my husband, it sounds more promising for him. I know all cases are different but still will make him more optimistic. We are trying to follow ian's diet. At least have been for almost 10 months. He would like to quit treatment. But doesn't feel confident to make that decision yet. Would like to correspond with like survivors. But thanks for the hope.

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