Posted: 15th January 2015
It’s the time of year when we consider what our goals are for the coming twelve months. And for many of us, our chief New Year’s resolution is all about losing weight.
For adults who use wheelchairs, losing weight carries its own particular challenges, not least because wheelchairs users tend to burn few calories through physical activity.
You’ve probably heard the mantra: eat less, move more. Many of us in western societies consume far more calories than we need, and don’t do enough physical activity. Inevitably, over time, this leads to weight gain.
Which is why it’s estimated about two-thirds of adults in England are overweight or obese.
Wheelchair users are at particular risk of weight gain. Generally speaking, wheelchair users tend not to use the large muscles in their legs and so use less energy day-to-day.
But the good news is, there are ways in which disabled people who want to shift a few pounds can achieve a healthy weight.
It’s common sense. There’s no avoiding it. You need to climb on those scales! Because let’s face it, how can you set your goals if you don’t know how much you weigh?
Body mass index (BMI) is a commonly used ratio to measure whether someone is a healthy weight for their height.
But BMI is not a suitable measure if you have some underlying health conditions, such as a growth disorder.
If you’re in any doubt, chat to your GP to find out if you are currently at a healthy weight, and discuss realistic weight loss goals. Your GP can also help if you are not able to weigh yourself.
It’s one of the principal reasons why many of us sabotage our weight loss goals. We’re simply avoiding answering the obvious question: why am I overweight?
Do you overeat? Do you eat the wrong kinds of foods? Are you prone to emotional eating? Or are you a secret binger? Knowing your weak spot is half the battle.
Also, wheelchair users often find it difficult to assess how many calories they need to eat on a daily basis, which results in them consuming more than they need – and thus gaining weight.
People who are new to using a wheelchair can find it particularly hard to adapt to their new lifestyle, eating as they did before rather than moderating their consumption to reflect their lower energy consumption through physical activity.
Sometimes, wheelchair users also lose muscle in their legs over time, and it’s been proven that muscles burn calories. When we have less muscle, we need fewer calories to maintain our bodyweight.
There are many fad diets out there which claim to help you lose weight – almost without trying.
Lose a dress size in a fortnight! Trim your belly fat using this one simple trick! The secret pill loved by celebrities!
But the key to losing weight the healthy way is quite simple: adjust your diet and level of physical activity.
You need to use more energy than you consume in food and drink. You achieve this by eating fewer calories and being more active. However, for wheelchair users whose ability to move around is severely compromised, dieting may be the main way to lose weight.
Realistically, you should aim to lose between 1lb (0.5kg) and 2lb (1kg) a week until you reach your target weight.
Ask your GP if there is a community weight management service available near you which aims to help people lose weight and keep it off ; limit further weight gain; get into a regular eating pattern; become more physically active; and learn new long-term lifestyle skills
The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain his bodyweight, the average woman around 2,00.
If you are a wheelchair user, it’s likely you’ll need less than these guideline amounts. Talk to your GP or a dietitian to work out your daily calorie needs.
But remember, don’t forego quality when reducing quantity. You should aim to eat a healthy, balanced diet of:
Cut down on foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar.
You can get tips on managing the amount of salt, fat and sugar in your family’s diet from Change4Life’s Be Food Smart campaign.
Being a wheelchair user doesn’t have to mean leading an inactive lifestyle.
If you can, combine regular cardiovascular activity with a muscle-strengthening regime. You don’t need to invest in a gym membership if you don’t want to. You don’t even have to take up a sport. You might simply start by making short journeys pushing yourself in your wheelchair, instead of taking the car or public transport.
If you fancy trying the gym, there are a number of options suitable for wheelchair users such as rowing machines and weight machines.
The English Federation of Disability Sport runs the Inclusive Fitness Initiative (IFI), a scheme that ensures gyms are suitable for use by people with disabilities. Find a local IFI gym at the English Federation of Disability Sport website
Other options include swimming or wheelchair sports such as basketball, netball, badminton and boccia, the wheelchair sport featured in the London 2012 Paralympics.
Even if weight loss isn’t achieved, sports participation is proven to have a very positive effect on a person’s overall wellbeing.
WheelPower is an organisation that helps wheelchair users get involved in sport. Learn more at www.wheelpower.org.uk
For tips on managing the amount of salt, fat and sugar in your diet, visit: www.nhs.uk/Change4Life
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