It’s not easy, but losing weight will make life better and may extend our lifespan
Living with disability and weight gain often go hand in hand but they are a killer combination. Being the right weight can make everyday with a disability better.
Part one of a three part series on losing weight sensibly for everyone but especially those living with disabilities who have limited mobility
I knew I was in trouble when I weighed 220 + lbs at 5’7″ and couldn’t walk anymore.
“Go to the grocery store and get a 30 lb turkey,” my physiotherapist one day. “Carry it around all day for a week.”
“I can’t do that!” I protested. “My arms will only carry 25 lbs.”
“Well, you’re carrying at least 60 lbs too much on those legs every day. You need to get your weight under control,” she replied firmly.
She was right. I was actually carrying 65 lbs too much. At 29 years old, I only weighed 129 lbs.
210 lbs was too high but I excused it with “What can I do? I can’t exercise because of fatigue and muscle pain.”
All that extra weight was making post polio syndrome worse. Extra weight is a no-no for neuro-muscular disabilities including MS, MD, post-polio, stroke and all the disabilities that affect walking or muscle movement.
Overweight, obesity and morbid obesity
Americans and Canadians have become overweight nations, despite billions spent on dieting. Obesity is when your weight is 20% above your ideal, which for me would be 185 lbs.
Morbid obesity – isn’t that an ugly term? – occurs when your body weight is 40% above normal. Morbid obesity means a serious life expectancy decline. While all obese people are subject to health problems, the morbidly obese can expect heart disease, diabetes, respiratory problems and cancer.
However, all those threats to health don’t mean a hill of beans when you have the weight problem.
For people with disabilities, obesity becomes just another hurdle in the day-to-day struggle to survive. Telling people with disabilities they might die sooner does little to change their weight.
Frankly, there are days for people with disabilities when escaping their existence might seem like a momentary blessing. I can remember thinking, during those dark days, “you mean if I’m really smart about my weight I’ll have to suffer like this for an extra ten years? Pile on the gravy.”
Making everyday life better with a disability
My take on losing weight is to make today and everyday better, easier to get by. Living longer would be a bonus. If we are disabled and obese, the obesity can make life worse. Our energy is being sapped just carrying around the old middle tire.
So I embarked on a year long campaign to lose weight and got down to 163. It was marvelous. At 185 lbs the doctor stopped talking about high blood pressure. There was none. At 175 lbs I could stop taking Losec for GERD.
About that time, I was able to walk more and even got into a rock band for one summer. OK that wasn’t the smartest thing but I had tons of energy. Without the 50 lb turkey on my back, my muscles and bones could carry me.
My mental health improved tremendously and I started working on volunteer projects, a few business ideas and generally got my life turned around from inactivity to activity.
Disability doesn’t go away at ideal weight. It’s just more manageable. The trick was not only losing it but keeping it off.
On that I was a partial failure since after 6 years I let 40 lbs pile back on, with the exact same results as last time: GERD, no energy and potential heart problems.
This article is long enough and it’s lunch time so I’ll quit here and take it up tomorrow with Getting real with calories.
By Stephen Pate, NJN Network