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It is much more difficult for people living with a disability to lose weight, especially losing weight in a wheelchair. Not having the ability to use your leg muscles and abdominal muscles reduce the number of calories needed to maintain healthy body weight. A gym with adaptive equipment might not be available in your community. Getting to the store to buy healthy food can be a challenge.  

All of these obstacles can make the thought of taking off extra pounds daunting but losing weight with a wheelchair is possible! The first step is to talk to your doctor and get a complete physical before attempting weight loss. Once you have the clearance from your physician, it's time to get started.

The Risks of Being Overweight

karen-workout-2-(1).jpgThere are a wide variety of health problems associated with being overweight. You are at higher risk for Type II diabetes, heart disease, stroke and types of cancer. In addition to those, being overweight when you have a disability brings on even more risks.

For example, since wheelchair users have to transfer in and out of cars, beds and bathtubs, being overweight makes those tasks a lot more difficult. There’s a greater risk for shoulder and upper-body injury as well when overweight, as you’re putting more strain on the body. Ultimately, the harder it is to move, the less you feel like moving, and that makes everything more difficult.

There is also the issue of becoming too large for your wheelchair. People who use wheelchairs for mobility don't just have to buy a larger size in clothing, they might also have to get a bigger wheelchair, which can take a lot of time and cost more.   

My Weight Challenges

Keeping my weight down has always been important to me. I have been fortunate most of my life to maintain my weight, despite being disabled for the last 32 years. However, losing weight in a wheelchair hasn’t always been easy.

Something I always and still constantly try to sustain is my diet. Diets for people in wheelchairs don’t differ from the norm. I had my three children in my twenties, and I was cautious with what I ate during each pregnancy. Sticking to meals that were nutritious and low in calories was key. I was aware that if I gained too much weight while pregnant, losing it would be difficult.

Ten years ago, I tried the ketogenic diet for about six months. I ate mostly eggs, chicken, fish, and broccoli. I prepared my meals separate from my family and brought my lunch to work every day. When I would go out to eat, I ordered fish and vegetables when possible. I lost fifteen pounds in about six months, and I felt much better. Don’t get me wrong - it was a boring diet, but it worked. However, I realized it would be tough to sustain for a lifetime. After I hit my target weight, I eventually returned to my old eating habits but was more aware of what I was eating and tried to keep junk foods out of the house.

karen-workout-1.jpgExercise has also been a vital part for me to stay healthy. I ride my functional electrical stimulation bike as often as possible. Even lifting my wheelchair in and out of my car each day serves as a great arm workout. I also tried and fell in love with adaptive yoga. My next venture is adaptive rowing, and I can't wait to start training and using muscles I haven't used in a while.

Recently I have found that I am fifteen pounds over my ideal weight. The gain happened slowly, as I have been traveling and eating out often. Plus, the fact that I am now 51 years old has also slowed my metabolism.  
After looking over all of the diet plan options, I decided to use Weight Watchers. I have a friend that lost 31 pounds in the last year their Freestyle app. The nice thing about this app is that there are no meetings, no meetings, no packaged meals or shakes to buy, and no weighing food. I love that you have a support group on the app, and the points for meals at most national restaurant chains are available at your fingertips.

Online Weight Loss Support Groups

Using social media support groups can be helpful in knowing you are not alone on your weight loss journey. There is an excellent article in Woman's Health Magazine about a woman named Jamie Goodwin, a paraplegic who lost sixty pounds. Before losing the weight, she had difficulty losing weight on her own and needed people to hold her accountable. So, she started following the Wheelin' Weightloss page on Facebook.

Focusing on Diet

If you are limited on how much you can move, it’s best to focus on what you eat. There are many good options when it comes to diets for people in wheelchairs. You could choose Jenny Craig, a ketogenic diet, Nutrisystem, Ideal Protein, South Beach or Weight Watchers. Be careful to choose one that fits within your budget. Some of those options charge a monthly fee, and some require you to buy their food or supplements, which can get expensive.

There are also lots of weight loss apps like NOOM, diettogo, or myFitnessPal. After doing some research, you will hopefully find one program that fits your lifestyle and your budget. For myself, I find it convenient to have meal planning information right on my phone while at the grocery store or restaurant, it can take all of the guesswork out of what to order or buy for dinner. I use weight watchers.

If these diet plans and apps for your phone don’t fit your lifestyle, you can always start cutting calories in an old-fashioned way.
  • Stop eating high calorie/low nutrient foods like cookies, bread, chips, and ice cream, and replace with more fruits and vegetables
  • Try to eat smaller portions at every meal
  • Cut back on sugary drinks and instead drink lots of water
Get more active

karen-workout-3.jpgThere are many choices for getting more active with a disability. You can try adaptive tennis, cycling, basketball or swimming if these programs are available where you live. All of these sports will get your heart rate up, improve muscle tone and burn calories.

It might be possible for you to incorporate weight training or CrossFit into your workout routine. Lifting weights is a great way to build muscle, speed your metabolism and burn more calories. Check out Chis Stoutenburg’s story, who is a paraplegic and adaptive Crossfit expert. Another good cardiovascular activity for a wheelchair user is Drumba Fitness. Drumba is a cardio workout that uses weighted drumsticks. It’s super fun! They have classes in cities across the country or there are YouTube videos you can follow along to as well.  

Losing weight in a wheelchair is challenging but possible. We burn fewer calories, and moving is more difficult, but that has never stopped me from achieving my weight loss goals. Weight loss for wheelchair users takes planning, patience, and persistence. The improvement in your health and mobility is worth the effort. Good luck with your weight loss journey, now go live your best life possible!
Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador


Karen Roy, Numotion Brand Ambassador

Karen Roy is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with 20 years of experience. Most of that time was spent as a Case Manager for an in-patient rehabilitation hospital. She was the victim of an armed robbery in 1987 and has been a wheelchair user for the last 31 years. She had 3 kids after her injury. Caroline, Austin and Joseph are all in currently attending college. As Ms. Wheelchair America 2019 Karen’s platform was “Stand for Life”. Her platform is about the use of standing technology and other devices that improve the health and well-being of people with disabilities.