Beating bowel cancer together

Diet after treatment

After your cancer treatment you may find you can’t eat the same foods as you did before. This page has information about eating a balanced diet, eating when you have a stoma and how diet can help with problems like weight change, diarrhoea and constipation.

If you have recently been diagnosed with cancer or if you’re having treatment for cancer, speak to your healthcare team or dietitian for diet advice.

A balanced diet >>


It’s important to follow a healthy, balanced diet to help you feel physically and emotionally well. Our information on healthy eating for reducing the risk of bowel cancer may be helpful.

Try to eat plenty of vegetables and fruits each day, with some lower fat dairy products and lean protein like skinless chicken, fish or pulses. Limit your intake of saturated fats and sugars. Carbohydrates are important for energy but unless your healthcare team has advised you to follow a low fibre diet, choose wholegrains.

Fibre >>


A diet rich in fibre (wholegrains, pulses, vegetables and fruit) is important for bowel health, as it helps move food more quickly through the bowel. Fibre also keeps you feeling full for longer, and so can help you control your weight and appetite. Increase fibre gradually and drink plenty of fluids like water, low fat milk or herbal teas, to avoid wind, bloating and stomach cramps.

Your healthcare team will explain how much fibre you need. After treatment, you may find you can no longer eat high fibre foods. You could try foods containing gentler soluble fibre like oats and pulses. Some people can’t eat foods containing insoluble fibre, like bran, nuts and seeds. Cooking fruit and vegetables and removing the skins can also make fibre easier to digest. If you keep having problems, talk to your healthcare team.

Should I take supplements? >>


You can get all the vitamins and minerals you need from a healthy, balanced diet. But you may need some extra help if there are some foods you can’t eat. A dietitian can make sure you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need.

Some supplements can be harmful, for example if they contain a higher dose of a vitamin or mineral than you would normally get from food. Don’t take any vitamins or food supplements unless they’ve been prescribed by your doctor, dietitian or other qualified healthcare professional.

Eating with a colostomy >>


Many people with a colostomy are able to eat a healthy, balanced diet. But if you had constipation or diarrhoea before having a colostomy, you may find that you continue to have these symptoms.

To prevent constipation, drink six to eight glasses of liquid a day and make sure you’re eating enough fibre. For the first few days after surgery, make sure vegetables are well cooked.

Eating regular meals, spicy foods and high fibre foods can help to relieve constipation. Introduce fibre into your diet gradually and make sure you’re drinking enough liquid.

Your GP or stoma nurse can give you medicine to help with diarrhoea. You can also eat food that thickens output, such as very ripe bananas, boiled rice, porridge, smooth peanut butter, white bread and pasta.

Eating with an ileostomy >>


When you first have an ileostomy, you may find that some types of food are harder to digest. Chew your food well and introduce fibre gradually.

After six to eight weeks, you should be able to start eating more types of food. Chew fruit and vegetables well to reduce the risk of blockages. You could try taking off the skin and removing the seeds or eating tinned fruit and vegetables in natural juice or water.

A blockage can cause pain in your stomach area (abdomen) and bloating. You may feel sick and your stoma may stop working. These symptoms should settle if you stop eating for 24 hours but carry on drinking liquids. Get medical help from your stoma care nurse or hospital emergency department if you start being sick (vomiting) or if the pain doesn’t get better.

You may sometimes get an increased output. Possible causes include stomach bugs, stress, antibiotics, spicy food, beer or lager. Carry on drinking water as usual to replace the extra liquid you’re losing. Eat salty foods to replace the salts lost in the output and avoid foods that increase output, like fruit, vegetables, fried foods, fruit juice, caffeine and alcohol. To thicken the output, eat bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, biscuits, sponge cake and crackers. If you have an increased output over a long period of time, speak to your stoma nurse or healthcare team.

Low appetite >>


The side effects of cancer and its treatment can affect your appetite and your ability to eat. You may not have enough help with food shopping or preparing meals or, if you live alone, you may not feel like going to the trouble of cooking for one person.

These things can help you increase your appetite:

  • Fresh air and exercise before meals can help you feel hungry. Even a short, gentle walk can make a difference.
  • Eat at similar times each day. Your appetite will start to adjust to these planned meal times, which can help you look forward to meals.
  • If food smells make you feel sick, try to stay away from the kitchen and ask friends or family to cook. Or eat cold foods that don’t need cooking.
  • Use herbs, spices, pickles and sauces to add flavour to food.
  • Pre-prepared foods that can be chilled or frozen can be useful if you don’t have time to cook or if you aren’t able to cook for yourself. Make sure they’re reheated properly before eating.
  • Make large meals that you can eat in smaller portions, such as soup, shepherd’s pie or lasagne. This allows you to go back for more if you want to.
  • If you find that you get full quickly, don’t drink anything for half an hour before a meal. Only have small sips during your meal, unless you need liquid to help you swallow. Drink more between meals.
  • Cook and eat the foods you enjoy, in a relaxed environment.
Weight loss >>


Speak to your GP or healthcare team if you’ve lost a lot of weight or if you’re losing weight quickly. It’s important to find out what’s causing your weight loss and you may need treatment. If you’re finding it hard to put on weight, ask your GP or healthcare team to refer you to a dietitian.

Eating four to six small meals a day can help you to eat more calories and digest your food more easily. You could also try high calorie or ‘build up’ drinks with added vitamins and minerals. You can buy these over the counter from the pharmacy or your dietitian may give you a prescription for them.

Regular gentle physical activity can help to build up your muscle strength. Ask your GP or healthcare team if you can be referred to a physiotherapist, who can help you find activities that are safe to do during and after cancer treatment.

Weight gain >>


There are several possible reasons for putting on weight after treatment. You may have felt too tired to exercise during treatment, you may have taken comfort in eating or you may have felt low and found it hard to eat healthily.

Speak to your healthcare team before trying to lose weight. They can give you information on which types of food you should eat, depending on the treatment you’ve had and any side effects you’re having.

Following a healthy, balanced diet and doing regular physical activity can help you lose weight. Aim for at least 30 minutes, five days a week, and avoid sitting for long periods of time.

Can diet help to prevent bowel cancer coming back? >>


We don’t yet know how to stop cancer coming back after treatment. There’s some suggestion that these things may help to reduce the risk of cancer coming back but we need more evidence before we can say this for sure:

  • Staying a healthy weight
  • Being physically active for at least 30 minutes each day, and sitting less
  • Avoiding high calorie food and sugary drinks
  • Eating more wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans
  • Limiting red meat and avoiding processed meat
  • Eating less salt

There isn’t enough evidence to show whether alcohol affects the risk of cancer coming back, but we do know that it increases the risk of bowel cancer in the general population.

Making healthy lifestyle choices is good for your overall health and can reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease.


More information

Find out more about eating and drinking with diarrhoea and constipation after treatment

There’s more information on diet after bowel cancer in our booklet, Your diet and lifestyle: living with and beyond bowel cancer.


Updated August 2018. Due for review March 2019.

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