Caregiver Lessons: Eat To Live, Not Live To Eat (2 of 6)


Cooking for a cancer patient can be much more challenging than you expect. It can take over your life and disrupt your kitchen and family’s routine. Here are some caregiver tips on managing the diet and nutritional needs of your loved one.

Don’t Get me Wrong, Diet is Important

Diet is a big deal and everyone says diet can make or break you. It plays an important part in healing yet beyond a point, you can become obsessive and lose perspective.

Soon after Vijay’s diagnosis, we received many well-meaning inputs from friends and well-wishers on what to eat. Further to this, Vijay himself spent many hours researching different diets for cancer.

He loves his food and eating the right food that was also palatable and tasty became very important for him. Dealing, as he was, with loss on many levels, he was keen to find a way where he could still enjoy his food in a healthy and therapeutic way.

But How Much is Too Much?

Matters came to a head when Vijay went to our Ayurvedic doctor friend to ask for a diet that would keep his immunity up and maintain his state of health. The doctor tested him on all the standard parameters: cholesterol, blood-sugar, his Vata-Pitta-Kapha (dosha) imbalance, etc. and prescribed a very specific and stringent diet. This was a challenge on many levels.

  1. Vijay had to learn to like this new food on his plate
  2. I had to find a interesting, innovative, creative way of serving it morning, noon and night (he gets bored so easily!)
  3. My cook had to learn a whole new way of cooking. And even though getting help in India is easy, comparatively, training the help to the high and precise standards required is a real stretch.

And even though, Vijay was by now past the 5-year cancer-free mark, he was so committed to maintaining his optimum lifestyle regime to remain cancer-free that he felt this should become his life-long diet.

Overnight, my kitchen and all its resources, my shopping list, my menu plans everything started demanding 3-5 times more attention than before. It was as though I was being sucked into a vortex.

The result was, at the end of three months, Vijay’s Ayurvedic doctor was delighted and amazed that his dutiful patient had scored perfect scores on everything from cholesterol to sugar and all in between.

That was also the day my cook quit her job because she fell violently sick, so stressed was she because of the exhaustion and inability to cope with this level of detail.

Finding Balance is Important

That’s when I decided to take charge and find a way that would be realistic for everyone – one that would still give Vijay a good diet, though not as stringent as the one described, and would be kinder to the rest of the family, so we too could eat what we enjoy. And for my cook (a new one this time!) to cook only one meal that everybody could eat.


  • Today, our breakfast is organic whole food: poha, dalia, red rice idlis and dosas, whole wheat bread, the occasional egg-white.
  • Vijay starts his lunch and dinner with a big portion of fresh salad (with all the rainbow colours!) which forms the majority of his meal. Then he eats small portions of the rest of the meal cooked for the family, which has minimum oil, along with 2 chapatis (breads) made from high-fibre, multi-grain flour. He eats very little rice these days.
  • Between meals, Vijay has freshly juiced fruits and vegetables as a mid-morning snack and green tea or Tulsi (Holy Basil) tea in the afternoons. (After attending a seminar on the vegan diet, he has also reduced milk and dairy products to a minimum too.)

Of course, since Vijay (and all of us are real ‘foodies’), this daily discipline allows him to indulge once in a while, without any guilt. Being virtuous but miserable isn’t a good idea either!

I’m happy to report that this dietary ‘compromise’ works for him and the whole family now; his health indicators continue to be in the healthy range.

Whether it is diet or another life-style aspect, my message to other caregivers is to experiment and find a way that is do-able and does not exhaust you or stretch your limited resources.

While cancer requires us to make fundamental changes, remember that each individual’s needs are different and that a holistic, balanced approach is probably your best answer to sustain these changes over a period of time.


  • The process of organising and preparing the specific diet required for the cancer patient: what toll is it taking on you?
  • What is a better way to manage the new diet plan … how can you find a middle path?
  • What adjustments are needed – from everyone in your household – to make the transition smoother?

More from this series

Title About the article
Lesson 1: Wear Your Oxygen Mask First The cancer diagnosis blows a big, unexpected hole in your energy supply. It’s like being on an aircraft which was flying smoothly, all under control, and suddenly the cabin pressure drops due to some unexpected turbulence.
Lesson 2: Eat to Live, Not Live to Eat Cooking for a cancer patient can be far more challenging than many books indicate. Sometimes it can take over your life and make you wonder if this is all you are now going to do.
Lesson 3: Acknowledge and Accept the Struggle Another unexpected aspect of the cancer journey is when you come up against your own, not-so-heroic side, and that of the loved one you are taking care of.
Lesson 4: From Pain to Transformation Pain can serve you, if you can only stop long enough and pay attention to the incredible learning and growth that you are experiencing.
Lesson 5: Co-dependence – Don’t Slide Into It Most times the loved one who gets cancer and for whom you are the primary care-giver is already in a deep relationship with you.
Lesson 6: Relationship as a Path to Wholeness Looking back, the very struggle of having to reclaim my power from Vijay after having spent over five years of not just being his wife and the mother of his children but also his primary care-giver and chief source of emotional support, did deliver something extra-ordinarily beautiful for me.


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