Online program aims to aid in weight loss for women with physical limitations

Online program aims to aid in weight loss for women with physical limitationsIf you really want to see something rarer than a vegetarian at a rib cook-off, try looking for a woman in a wheelchair at Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, or 24 Hour Fitness. Why are we such rare birds in these environments?

The answer is simple – these programs don’t really understand what it’s like to try to lose weight when exercising is simply not an option. They may give good advice. However, they don’t even have an accessible scale where people who can’t stand could weight themselves, much less accessible exercise equipment.

As faculty in the Baylor Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and executive director of the department’s Center for Research on Women with Disabilities, I have been studying how women like me, living in the community with significant physical limitations, are able to maintain good health. That’s why my team and I started the GoWoman program.

When it comes to weight management, here are just a few of the frustrations we have to deal with:

  • Having to figure out some way to burn calories that won’t also burning out overworked muscles
  • Having to take medications that have weight gain as a side effect
  • Being so tired at times that the only comfort to be found is in a piece of Godiva dark chocolate (well, maybe more than sometimes)
  • Wanting to spend active time outside with my kids when it’s so hard to find smooth, accessible sidewalks and parks
  • Trying to talk to my doctors about losing weight when they have no idea what to recommend

One innovative way we are addressing these challenges is by using the Internet to bring together women with disabilities to share solutions they have discovered through trial and error.

Our project started with the Diabetes Prevention Program that was developed and thoroughly tested about 15 years ago.

We added information about how mobility impairment interacts with diet and metabolism, physical activity, psychology, and the environment. We also modified the curriculum so it is responsive to the life situation of women.

We are now testing this program with small groups of women who have mobility limitations, but instead of making them deal with all the hassles of coming to one location, we hold our meetings in the virtual online world of Second Life.

Stay tuned to this blog to learn more about weight loss and women with mobility impairments, and to hear about our progress as we develop the GoWoman program.

Your input would be really valuable, so please tell us about your experiences trying to lose weight when exercise is more of a challenge than a choice.

By Margaret A. Nosek, Ph.D.

23 thoughts on “Online program aims to aid in weight loss for women with physical limitations

  • I’ll watch for updates. I know you are talking about women here, but us guys have the same problem.

    • Thanks for your interest in our program, James. You are absolutely right! When we get to topics that have clear gender differences, like emotional responses to stress or styles of communication, I would definitely like to hear your ideas. – Peg

  • Excellent initiative. I am a female polio survivor, 60+ years and have been trying to find ways to avoid gaining more weight. I do seated yoga, stretching, resistance exercises. It is very difficult to do cardio when you have paralysis.

    • Hey Carol, have you tried seated Zumba? It looks so cool. No, cardio is not for us, but I like to tell everyone that anything more than we normally do every day is taking us in the right direction. I feel so much better when the weather finally breaks and I can just go out to take the dog for a walk. That’s pretty far from cardio, but for me, it counts

    • I am a polio survivor, 59 and female and I’m overweight. I am going to go through my medicines to see the side effects of weight gain. I can’t walk as an exercise. I can’t do cardio either

  • For those of us who don’t have second life and don’t want to increase our social media presence are there any other options?

    • There is more information available on our website under Research Topics >Health Behaviors >Weight Management. Our newly revised and expanded website will launch in a couple of weeks and it contains quite a bit more information about this study.

      I avoided Facebook and all that for a really long time because I just didn’t need to spend anymore screen time. After imposing strict limits on myself of no more than one hour per day on Facebook and no playing around in Second Life more than two times a week, I find so much more pleasure in the time I do allow myself there. As a typical workaholic, I find that this kind of social connection really enriches me. – Peg

  • YES! How exciting!

    • Thanks, Sandra. Have you ever tried to go through one of those mainstream programs? What has been your experience? – Peg

  • Finally someone who understands exactly what we are going thru. I am really excited about this and looking forward to more information. I feel that there’s hope now.

    • Oh Beverly, you are warming my heart! You just can’t imagine how much I need to hear this! I’m going through my own diet challenges right now, too. What you will read on this blog is only the tip of the iceberg. Keep those comments coming! – Peg

  • Excited about this program also. Since polio affected my legs most exercise needs to be done sitting. Found the total gym to be a great help, however since I am now in mid 60s am not sure how much exercising I should be doing. Doctors don’t really seem to know

    • Some very knowledgeable rehabilitation physicians who work with us (and even know something about the late effects of polio!) say you should never work yourself to the point of exhaustion because you might totally burnout already overworked muscles. I learned that the hard way by getting overly ambitious with an arm bike and made my arms weaker instead of stronger. It’s better to exercise until you feel a moderate increase in your heart rate and breathing rate, and then STOP! Our muscles don’t recover from exercise the same way as others, so we need to be more gentle with ourselves. Your goal is to stay fit, not to become Iron Man. Only you can know how to monitor your peak feeling of wellness. – Peg

  • Do you envisage this program being available to Australians? I really warm to the holistic approach you are acknowledging – weight issues + mobility challenges = depression (contributor) for me. My first hurdle is that my BMI has never been established by any health professional. I once challenged a ‘Biggest Loser’ trainer (in Australia) to take up disability and weight concerns – with absolutely no response. I’d be happy to communicate the [somewhat drastic] measures I’ve taken over the years, in a more private communication.

    • Well, Mary, I’m all for it! Let’s start Go-Australian-Women! There is nothing drastic about our approach. It’s totally rational and loving of your body, but it does involve discipline and the challenge that comes with changing habits and the way you look at things. I would love to expand Down Under, so let’s definitely talk. Contact me through our website, http://www.BCM.edu/crowd. – Peg

  • This is great! Let’s connect!

  • Just been forwarded a link to this article.

    I thought I’d let you know that at the ripe old age of 52, over the past three years, I have managed to lose 4.5 stone (28.5kg, 63lbs) through a calorie controlled diet and taking up exercise.

    No one could be more surprised than I!

    I have written a blog – http://flidfit.blogspot.co.uk/ and the following is an account of my journey to success.

    I’ve sent you a private email too, with more details about my journey to success.

    I wish I’d done this years ago, as my mobility has improved, my pain levels have decreased, my self-esteem has rocketed…. and I’m realising that as a short (4ft, 9″ woman) with a severe physical disability and mobility impairments, I just can’t eat the same quantities as my AB husband can!

    • What a wonderful story! I can’t wait to read your blog, but wanted to answer right away, and ask if I can put a link to it on our website. Please let me know ASAP. I have also come to that painful realization. Like all the other losses I have had to accept over the years (I am about to turn 63 this Sunday), my chocolate/wine/ice cream indulgence is now on the altar of sacrifice and only to be enjoyed on very special occasions. I used to think two or three times a week was limiting my intake. As a friend once called me, “oh, you naïve idealist.” I’m still trying to figure out what a reasonable limit is for me.

      You wouldn’t happen to be interested in starting Go-British-Woman, would you?! – Peg

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