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Ask Dr. Gourmet

How can I lose weight if I can't exercise?

I am female with multiple sclerosis (27 yrs) and have been confined to a wheelchair for 17yrs. I was a size 10-12 and am now a size 16. I haven't been weighed on a scale in years, so I can only go by clothes size.

My question to you is, can I lose weight even though I can't exercise? I do go to physical therapy every week to keep my upper body strength. My husband had a triple heart by-pass operation last year, so we both need to eat a very healthy diet. He goes to the gym every day and does a lot of walking, so he manages to keep his weight under control. He is the cook in the house and likes his food, so it is very difficult for him to give me small portions. Any advice would be greatly appreciated. We are both aged 63.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

an elderly person in a wheelchair outdoors watering plants with a watering can

The problems that you present are certainly difficult for you, but there is a lot that you can do to help yourself lose weight. The physical therapy, as you have found, is key to keeping yourself healthy.

See Also:

How to Exercise with Disabled or Weak Legs
by Jacques Courseault, M.D.

The other is diet. You can lose weight while being more sedentary, but you will have to be vigilant about what you eat and how much. The key is certainly in watching your calories. There is excellent evidence for not just eating smaller portions, but also reducing the number of calories in the meals that you make.

Even though your husband is kind enough to do the cooking, you should be very involved. Choosing healthier recipes is the first place to start. This allows you to know what is in the food that you are eating. Portion size is also an important part of healthier cooking. Working at this with him will help him to understand the impact of both ingredient choices and the amount that you eat.

It would be a good idea for you to get an estimate of your height and weight and the physical therapists may be able to help with this. That information will give you an idea of what your target weight should be and about how many calories you should be eating. There are terrific resources on the web for healthy recipes, like those on my site. The key is to get him to help you by carefully choosing healthier recipes and considering appropriate portion size.

Lastly, it is important for you to remember that while your husband may serve you large portions, you do have control over whether to eat everything on your plate. I know that many of us were taught to clean our plates, but as with a lot of folks like yourself, being a member of the "Clean Plate Club" is not necessary. Save part of your meal for lunch the next day.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet