Losing weight and keeping it off is a challenge for many wheelchair users, especially those who went from being fully able-bodied to suddenly having limited mobility. However, achieving a healthy weight is not impossible for disabled folks, and these strategies can help make the journey easier:
1. Reduce calories
Disability benefits can cover consultations with a dietitian. If they do, consult with a dietitian about the proper diet based on your condition.
Due to limited mobility, your physical activity is likely lower than that of non-disabled individuals. And because your body is burning fewer calories, the amount of energy that you need is also lower. Hence, consuming the regular amount of calories without taking your physical limitations to account can lead to weight gain.
If you want to lose excess weight, reducing your caloric intake is the best way to do so. Weight loss is 80% diet and 20% exercise, so even if you don’t do in-chair exercises, you can lose weight if you pay attention to your diet.
2. Eat a healthy diet
There is no bad food or good food. All types of food provide varying levels of nutrients for your body, regardless of composition. However, some foods contain fewer nutrients and are more calorie-dense, which can make you gain weight but is slow to make you feel full (e.g., chips, french fries, biscuits, cookies, etc.).
The picture of a healthy diet is the same for all adults, only in varying amounts. A healthy diet consists of:
- Plenty of fruits and vegetables
- Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, peas, beans, etc.
- Lean sources of protein such as fish, chicken, white meat, etc.
- Dairy products
- Healthy oils
And less of:
- Processed foods
- Fast food
- Sodium-rich foods
- Foods high in fat and sugar
It’s perfectly okay to indulge in a piece of chocolate cake or a fast-food meal from time to time. Make sure to moderate your intake. However, if you have other medical conditions that entail the need for nutrient modification, such as diabetes or hypertension, it’s recommended to stay away from foods high in fat, salt, and sugar.
3. Exercise regularly
There are plenty of exercise options for people in wheelchairs that you can choose from. If you want to go to the gym, there are exercise machines that are adapted for wheelchair users, such as rowing machines and weight machines. If you want to exercise through sports, you can play wheelchair sports such as basketball, badminton, or netball.
But if you don’t want to go to the gym or play sports, exercising at home can work, too. As long as you get your heart rate up and break a sweat, it will increase your physical activity.
Aim to do at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week with at least two days of strength exercises. If you want, you can also hire a fitness trainer who specializes in workouts for individuals who use wheelchairs.
4. Avoid stress eating
Eating when stressed is a habit that can quickly pile on the pounds, especially for people who have limited mobility. To avoid this, learn how to manage your stress in healthy ways. At the same time, find other ways to cope with stress that don’t involve mindless eating or, at the very least, snack on low-calorie foods when you’re itching to chew on something.
5. Manage your expectations
Losing weight while in a wheelchair is difficult, and it is often a non-linear journey. Hence, don’t aim to lose a lot of weight at once. You might only be setting yourself up for disappointment. Instead, aim to lose around one to two pounds a week until you achieve your target weight. If you have certain medical conditions, consult with a doctor so that they can monitor your weight.
Moreover, remember that weight loss might not be a linear process. Sometimes, you lose weight, and other times, you might gain it. Do not be discouraged when the weighing scale shifts upwards. As long as you’re sticking to your diet and exercise, the weight you gain is likely only water.
When you are in a wheelchair, maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise is hugely beneficial. Aside from improving your physical health, being at a healthy weight can also improve your mental well-being, which is crucial for many disabled individuals.
If you are having trouble losing weight and keeping it off, consult your healthcare team for a significant weight-loss or maintenance plan.