Beating Tamoxifen Weight Gain – How Shannon Did it!
“I’ve been working with Julie for six months now, and it’s been an incredible journey. My weight has gone down, and I’m at a lower weight than when I started breast cancer treatment. I’ve also managed to gain muscle and lose inches from my waist and hips. I am even faster and stronger than I was in my 20’s. But more importantly, Julie has given me hope that I can regain control of my body even while on Tamoxifen.”
Name: Shannon Stillman, 45
Hometown: Aurora, Colorado
I had always been passionate about health and fitness. Researching nutrition, reading books on fitness, planning my week of workouts. Equally importantly, I was diligent about my breast cancer screenings due to my family history of breast cancer. Then at age 44, I received a diagnosis of invasive ductal carcinoma in my right breast. It felt like a punch to the gut. My mom, paternal aunt, and maternal aunt had all faced breast cancer in their early 40s, so I knew my risk was elevated. It’s unusual to get breast cancer in your 40s, but there I was, facing this diagnosis. Fortunately, it was caught early, thanks to my regular screenings, and I was able to undergo a lumpectomy instead of a full mastectomy. Additionally, I only needed radiation, not chemotherapy. If there’s any silver lining in this cancer journey, it’s the fact that we caught it early.
However, despite feeling lucky about the early diagnosis, the changes happening to my body were frustrating. It could have been stress, or the lack of sleep due to surgery pain and radiation burns, or the fatigue that limited my ability to exercise. But I ended up reaching my highest weight during cancer treatment. My oncologist explained that it’s common for women to gain weight during breast cancer treatment, especially tamoxifen weight gain, due to exercise restrictions, stress, and hormonal fluctuations.
For me, this was particularly distressing because I had always been an athlete. From soccer and basketball in childhood, to a variety of sports in high school and college. I then got into weightlifting and bodybuilding after college. I’d always strived to maintain a lean, muscular physique. Entering my 40s, I noticed my body changing, but during breast cancer treatment, those changes intensified. My muscle mass seemed to decrease, and the tamoxifen weight gain felt unstoppable.
At the end of my cancer treatment, I was put on a medication called Tamoxifen, which I’ll have to take for the next 10 years. It’s often referred to as “chemo lite” in the breast cancer community because it significantly reduces the risk of cancer recurrence. However, it comes with challenging side effects, including early menopause and more weight gain. I was anxious about taking this medication because I hardly recognized my body anymore, and this would make it worse.
That’s when I stumbled upon Julie Lohre’s website and her story. She was an IFBB figure pro, a trainer with over 20 years of experience, and a two-time breast cancer survivor. Through emails and our initial phone call, I knew she could help me regain control of my body while still on Tamoxifen.
I’ve been working with Julie for six months now, and it’s been an incredible journey. My weight has gone down, and I’m at a lower weight than when I started breast cancer treatment. I’ve also managed to gain muscle and lose inches from my waist and hips. I am even faster and stronger than I was in my 20’s. But more importantly, Julie has given me hope that I can regain control of my body even while on Tamoxifen.
Julie has taught me how to eat to fuel my body and revamped my training to work with my body’s current needs. The training and nutrition that worked in my 20s and 30s were no longer effective, and Julie has helped me understand what will work for me now. I had tried discussing my weight gain concerns with the oncology dietician and my oncologist, but it seemed like no one had solutions. Julie provided me with the answers and solutions I needed.
What sets Julie apart is her compassion, empathy, and deep knowledge. I can be honest about my struggles, and she’s always responsive and understanding. I can’t say enough good things about working with her. She has truly given me hope during such a challenging time in my life.
So, that’s a glimpse into my cancer and health journey – a mix of challenges and triumphs, and the hope that comes from finding the right support and guidance.
What is Tamoxifen
Tamoxifen is a medication that’s been widely used for decades to both treat and reduce the risk of developing breast cancer in both premenopausal and postmenopausal women. In fact, for women that are still having cycles, tamoxifen is the only hormone therapy option. Essentially, it works as a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM). This means that while it can block the effects of estrogen in the breast tissue, which can help prevent the growth of many breast tumors that feed off this hormone. It also acts like estrogen in other parts of the body. For women who have had or are at high risk for estrogen-receptor-positive breast cancers, tamoxifen can be a vital tool in their health arsenal. Both Shannon and I are currently taking Tamoxifen after our breast cancer diagnoses to help prevent recurrence.
What tamoxifen does to the body & how does it work to prevent breast cancer?
It really is interesting to know how medications like tamoxifen work within our bodies. This powerful medication is like a double agent: in some parts of the body, it acts as a barrier against the hormone estrogen, particularly in the breast tissue. This is crucial because many breast cancers are driven by estrogen. By blocking its effects, tamoxifen can prevent the growth of these cancers. Yet, in other areas like our bones and uterus, tamoxifen might actually behave a bit like estrogen itself, potentially offering some protective bone benefits which is one of the real bonuses, but also carrying certain risks.
What can women do to limit tamoxifen weight gain?
I work with many women that have been through breast cancer and that have struggled with tamoxifen weight gain – me included! Here are my tips to feel great in your body and limit body fat gain while taking tamoxifen…
Julie’s Top 5 Ways to Limit Tamoxifen Weight Gain
- Eat a Balanced Diet with a focus on protein: It is no surprised that eating a diet high in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean proteins can help limit tamoxifen weight gain. These foods provide essential nutrients that support overall health and may help the body process and metabolize tamoxifen effectively. My #1 rule for women that are noticing tamoxifen weight gain is to move to a protein-rich diet where your protein macronutrient intake is between 25-35% of your overall calories.
- Limit Alcohol Intake: Truth be told, having a glass or two (or more!) of wine in the evenings after the high stress of a breast cancer diagnosis sounds great, but it can REALLY cause you to pack on pounds. For many reasons, this is the time to cut back on alcohol or to cut it out completely. Not only do studies show that excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence, drinking alcohol while taking tamoxifen may contribute to weight gain. Alcohol provides additional calories without nutritional benefits, which can lead to caloric surplus and, subsequently, weight gain. Additionally, alcohol can impair the liver’s ability to metabolize fats and sugars efficiently. Given that the liver also processes tamoxifen, the concurrent intake of alcohol may place extra metabolic stress on the liver. Furthermore, tamoxifen itself can cause side effects like fatigue, which may reduce physical activity levels, and when combined with the sedative effects of alcohol, this can further contribute to a sedentary lifestyle and weight gain.
- Limit Processed Foods and Sugars: Of course, we know it is a good idea to limit highly processed foods and excessive sugar. Those are a surefire way to pack on body fat for all women, but for women that are taking tamoxifen this advice takes on all new importance. Beyond those, empty calories, processed foods and those high in sugar can cause rapid spikes and subsequent drops in blood sugar levels, leading to increased hunger and potentially overeating. Saturated fats, found in many processed foods, can contribute to increased fat storage in the body. With those pesky tamoxifen side effects like fatigue making it harder to workout and stay active, it is even more crucial to be mindful of calorie and nutrient intake. Adopting a diet that emphasizes whole, nutrient-dense foods can help in managing weight while ensuring the body receives the necessary nutrients for overall health.
- Hit the weights: One of the first things that I did for Shannon was put together a workout plan that included strength training. Strength training can be particularly beneficial for women experiencing weight gain and other side effects from tamoxifen. Firstly, strength training helps build lean muscle mass, which inherently boosts the body’s resting metabolic rate, meaning women burn more calories even when at rest. This can counteract the propensity for tamoxifen weight gain. Secondly, increasing muscle mass can improve insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of weight gain from insulin resistance, a condition that tamoxifen may exacerbate in some women. Additionally, strength training offers bone-strengthening benefits, which is crucial since tamoxifen can sometimes lead to decreased bone density. Beyond the physical benefits, engaging in regular strength training can also enhance mood and alleviate feelings of depression or fatigue—common side effects of tamoxifen—by promoting the release of endorphins, the body’s natural mood elevators.
- Foster an attitude of gratitude: Be grateful and positive… after breast cancer?!?! While it might seem a tall task, maintaining a positive outlook can significantly help women grappling with weight gain due to tamoxifen. Embracing gratitude can shift focus from potential negatives, like weight changes, to appreciating the medication’s life-saving benefits and other positive aspects of life. This shift in perspective can reduce stress and cortisol levels, both of which have been linked to weight gain when elevated.
Beating Tamoxifen Weight Gain
As an online trainer for women for more than 15 year now, I have had the pleasure of working with fellow breast cancer survivors. Through the ups and downs that this kind of diagnosis causes, there is comfort knowing that incredible medical advances have allowed so many more women to beat breast cancer. The odds are truly in our favor! 1 in 7 women in the US will be affected by breast cancer at some point in their lives, and most are recommended to take hormone therapy like tamoxifen for between 5 and 10 years. Finding ways to live your best life despite cancer and medication side effects like tamoxifen weight gain can be tough, but help is available. If you are a women that needs help getting to your personal best after breast cancer, I am here for you! Find out more by emailing me directly and checking out my Online Personal Training.
The information here is based on my personal experience as a women with breast cancer and that is taking tamoxifen and should not be considered medical advice. Always work closely with your healthcare team for your specific needs in managing medication side effects.