How to Lose Weight after Spinal Cord Injury

One of the biggest questions in the SCI community is “how can I lose weight after a spinal cord injury?”. It’s one of the tougher lifestyle changes to make, but once you get to know your own individual needs, you can start making choices that aid your goals. Let’s take a closer look at losing weight with SCI.

The Challenges of Weight Loss after Spinal Cord Injury

Typically, weight gain is a long term concern for people with spinal cord injuries. Initially, people tend to lose weight post-injury, because of reduced muscle and bone density.

Weight and health aren’t the same thing, but if a person doesn’t change their routine much, weight gain typically follows the loss of muscle and bone mass – which can have a greater impact on people with SCIs. Additional body fat can make mobility more difficult, contribute to pressure sores and increase the likelihood of secondary conditions. But why does weight gain occur more readily in SCI people?

Well, with paralysis at any level comes a more sedentary lifestyle. The baseline recommended intake of 2,000 calories per day (which is already very rough, as it really depends on your metabolism, activity levels, weight and height anyway) no longer applies.

Many people with SCI talk about the “tetra belly” or the “para belly”, because it can feel like weight accumulates around your stomach. This may be the case, but there can be other causes too.

People with paraplegia or tetraplegia lose muscles in the trunk area and over time, your stomach sags out. Also, managing bowels after SCI can be tricky. Some people feel bloated, which contributes to the belly even more.

A good bowel routine, plenty of fibre and consuming probiotics can all help to reduce the bloat. Abdominal muscles can be stimulated with a TENS machine – but it’s a little bit like going to the gym; you have to keep it up, or the effects won’t last. The jury’s out over how effective TENS machines are for this purpose, but they do have other therapeutic uses.

Diet is the Key

Exercising after SCI has so many benefits, especially for strength and confidence. It’s absolutely one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health post injury. It will certainly aid your weight loss – but it can’t lead it.

When it comes to losing weight, dietary changes are the key.

Diet has become a strangely taboo word; but all it really relates to is long-term eating habits. It has nothing to do with denying yourself foods you enjoy, cutting things out or starving yourself. Fad diets can do more harm than good, and as long as you’re not overdoing anything, any food should all be fair game at least occasionally – even with a bowel care routine in place.

All human bodies are averse to weight change, especially weight loss. It’s why so many people find it hard to lose weight – we’re hardwired to keep it on, just in case the winter never ends! But it can be done. Some people I know have recently been discussing whether Slimming World works – several people with SCIs have done it and lost weight.

While generic diet plans like WW, Slimming World and Noom are useful tools and fairly easy to follow, it might be worth talking to a dietician or your doctor first to make sure these plans are right for you. In fact, with any planned weight loss, it’s good to get professional advice tailored to your body’s needs.

Dieticians and nutritionists may be available on the NHS at some rehabilitation centres – but private consultations are common, too.

Slow, gradual weight loss is more effective than crash-dieting, but if you keep up a few simple habits, you’ll start noticing changes fairly quickly. The trick is sticking with it – easier said than done when an overindulgent fast food delivery is just a tap away. That said, you absolutely can enjoy the foods you love and still lose weight – it’s all in the balance.

Back to Exercise…

So, while exercise on its own isn’t very effective for weight loss, it can add value to it and help you feel good. That’s important, especially right now.

Due to lockdown after lockdown, we haven’t been moving around as much as usual. Some adapted gyms exist but they’re currently closed, and even just getting out and about is harder now that restrictions are in place.

It’s not too surprising then that there’s been a surge in disability-adapted exercise equipment; products from Cyclone Mobility and recumbent bikes (like this Hase Handbike) are seeing an uptake.

Some people I know of are paying for personal trainers, offering one to one sessions over Zoom or Facetime – and this covers both the nutrition and the exercise, with the added motivation from a dedicated personal coach. There are of course plenty of free options – like Ella Beaumont and Ben from Adapt to Perform, who continue to put out amazing wellness content for people with spinal cord injuries.

Talk to Aspire Law

Raquel Siganporia is a Senior Solicitor and Director of Business Development at Aspire Law.

If you or a loved one feel you may have suffered a spinal injury as a result of an accident or someone else’s negligence, or you are concerned about the treatment you have received, contact Raquel free of charge and in confidence on 0800 030 20 40 or at

Alternatively, complete this form and one of our Spinal Injury specialists will contact you.