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10 Diet and Exercise Tips for People Who Say, 'I Can't'

A two-time cancer survivor shares strategies that have helped her over the years with healthy eating habits and movement.
PUBLISHED November 10, 2017
Barbara Tako is a breast cancer survivor (2010), melanoma survivor (2014) and author of Cancer Survivorship Coping Tools–We'll Get You Through This. She is a cancer coping advocate, speaker and published writer for television, radio and other venues across the country. She lives, survives, and thrives in Minnesota with her husband, children and dog. See more at,or
Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Diet and exercise. Are you still reading this? I wouldn’t be. Well, I might be, but the negative self-talk would have begun.

Things like “I should do that” and “I know, I know, I know I need to do better” and yes, even "yup, I am fat and out of shape and therefore not good enough, never good enough." OK, Barb, enough already. Stop it!

As cancer survivors, we know there is a link between healthy eating and movement and cancer prevention or cancer recurrence prevention. Beating ourselves up doesn’t work, so here are some thoughts that might help you.

Try baby steps. Every time I eat, I have a choice. A glass of water, a small handful of nuts — that I chew one by one slowly and thoughtfully — a handful of leftover Halloween candy. Every time I choose to walk the long way rather than the short way or march in place for a few minutes, or go up and down stairs a few times, I am making a good choice. I remind myself that each small baby step choice counts. Simple fact: To lose one pound per week, eat 500 fewer calories per day.

Move joyfully. Exercise is a harsh term. I prefer joyful movement as described by Christiane Northrup, M.D., in her book, Goddesses Never Age. Movement can be any movement joyful to you. I do a weird combination of silly dance with Leslie Sansone’s "Walk Away The Pounds" video moves — marching in place, knee lifts, kicks, side steps and marching forward and backward to music that like. When you choose regular movement that you enjoy, you will stick with it and reap the health benefits.

Consider interval training. The common wisdom of the "best" way to exercise has changed over the years. There is lots of tested information about the effectiveness of interval training that you might want to check out. It might be as simple as 30 to 60 seconds of intense movement alternated by a few minutes of moderate activity, repeated over 30 minutes.

Check out the equipment available. Technology has progressed. I like my Fitbit because it gives me continual information every day. Exercise equipment is now better designed and more informative, too. My simple truth: 10,000 steps is approximately five miles for me regardless of what movement I choose.

Get support. Don’t go it alone if you are exploring healthier eating and movement. Support can look lots of different ways. Find a fit for you. It might be a local Weight Watchers meeting or an online community like or a friend who wants to make similar changes. Again, there is no one right way to find support.

Moderation. Avoid extremes. Cutting out all fats or all carbohydrates can create intense cravings that just lead to rebounding. Our body needs fat and carbs. Ding, ding, ding. One by one, day by day, do the research, and choose good fats and carbs. Relearn and practice better portion sizes. Above all, choose the healthful foods that you personally enjoy.

Decide if you are a moderator or an abstainer (again from Goddesses Never Age). Can you be satisfied with a taste of an unhealthful food or beverage that you really like or does that open the flood gates? For me, I often can’t stop. This makes me an abstainer to make better eating choices. When I am working on making healthier choices, I abstain from my "problem" foods except for one day per week.

Try new foods. Figure out what works for weight loss and inspires you. If you don’t like something, you don’t like it. Consider trying: Greek yogurt, quinoa (seed), ground flax (seed) cinnamon, hot peppers, green tea, grapefruit, watermelon, pears and apples, berries and raw vegetables (especially colorful ones). Be an explorer!

Keep notes. Everyone is unique. Write down what you enjoy and what works for you. You can do this through a food and movement journal or a list of foods and movement ideas. Have reminders of ways to distract yourself from making a bad eating choice or a go-to grocery list.

Finally, change your thoughts. Healthy eating and movement are about joy, comfort and stress relief, not deprivation. When you make good choices, you feel better physically, mentally and emotionally. As a cancer survivor, you deserve that!
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