How Many Calories Should A Wheelchair User Eat


How Many Calories Should a Wheelchair User Eat This article addresses some of the common calorie intake questions, how much calories a wheelchair user should consume daily in order to lose weight and maintain health, how to protect the health and body of wheelchair users while on caloric restriction diet.

How Many Calories Should A Wheelchair User Eat


For those of us with disabilities, getting, and staying, fit and healthy can be extra difficult, especially when there is little information out there for exercises to do sitting down, or the best food to eat when your metabolism isn’t the quickest.

There’s not too much out there for wheelchair users to find their own exercise routine, an important part of staying in shape. Hopefully this article will show that exercise is for people of all abilities, can be fun, and comes with plenty of benefits, too!

Benefits of exercising as a wheelchair user:

  • Increase your endurance
  • Alleviate muscle/joint pains
  • Improve balance
  • Prevent injury
  • Build muscle/bone mass
  • Enhance your range of motion

So, what kind of exercise is good? Why not look for your local wheelchair basketball team, take up wheelchair dancing, or even read our blog on wheelchair yoga?!

Eating well

For those of us who use wheelchairs, losing weight and/or keeping that weight off can often prove tough as we usually burn fewer calories through exercise as our non-disabled peers.  So, maintaining a good diet, a boring as it can often seem, is vitally important.  

On the NHS website, Helen Bond, a dietician, says that wheelchair users can find it difficult to gauge how many calories they need to eat. This means they can eat more than they need, resulting in weight gain.

Wheelchair users are in a very different situation from other adults when it comes to how many calories they need,” she says. “This can be hard to adapt to”.

If you are new to using a wheelchair, you might eat as you did before, but you are using less energy through physical activity, and so you begin to put on weight. If you live with other adults who need more calories than you, you may eat as much as them, and again this will result in weight gain.

Wheelchair users can also lose muscle in their legs over time. When we have less muscle, we need fewer calories to maintain our bodyweight.

So, what can we do as wheelchair user to ensure we are eating well and getting all the nutrients we need?

  • Eat plenty of fruit and veg
  • Plenty of starchy foods – like brown bread, wholewheat pasta and potatoes
  • Limit too many dairy products
  • Limit too many sweet, sugary things
  • Use fatty, red meats as just a treat
  • Avoid processed foods whenever possible
  • Drink plenty of water, and alcohol only in moderation.

How many calories?

We are often told that, to be healthy, we should limit our calorie intake.  For men, this suggested intake is 2500 calories per day, and 2000 for women.  However, as wheelchair users often don’t do quite as much daily exercise in general, we often require fewer calories in order to maintain our weight and healthy lifestyle, so need to eat slightly less that our able-bodied peers, or work extra hard at the gym!!

So, enjoy all that this wonderful New Year has to offer.  Eat, drink and absolutely be merry.  But remember to limit those calories and exercise that little bit harder if you want to stay fit and healthy as a wheelchair user.  

Making healthy food choices can sometimes be tricky, whether you are living with a disability or not.

Key points:

  • Healthy eating is important for everyone, but especially for people with disability who have a higher risk of chronic health conditions
  • A healthy diet can improve your immune system and recovery from illness
  • It’s important to follow expert advice from reliable sources when it comes to nutrition and diet

Motivation and a lack of support are really common barriers for people when it comes to making and maintaining healthy lifestyle choices. There’s also a lot of confusing information out there about what is and isn’t ‘healthy’, and it can be overwhelming trying to understand what is best for you.

So how can healthy habits around nutrition and diet improve the lives of people with disability?

Senior dietitian at NDIS-registered health and disability support organisation Kinela, Jamil Tuazon, shares how food choices can impact our overall wellbeing as well as her top tips for healthy eating.

Healthy eating and living with disability

There are a variety of reasons why people with disability may experience more health issues as a consequence of poor diet choices or limited access to nutrition information.

For example, research also shows that people on the autism spectrum can have increased food selectivity related to food categories, texture, smell, colour, temperature or appearance which may lead to an unbalanced diet.

People with an intellectual disability are also more likely to have poorer access to good medical care, exercise less than is recommended, and health providers may be unprepared to meet their needs.

These are just some of the extra challenges that people with a disability can face when it comes to making healthy lifestyle choices.

“Some medications can cause drowsiness, increased or decreased appetite, nausea, constipation and/or diarrhoea,” Ms Tuazon says.

“Reduced capacity may also be a challenge, such as physical, intellectual or mental health limitations.

“One of the biggest barriers however, is a lack of understanding about how important healthy eating is for people with a disability – and how it can significantly improve someone’s quality of life.”

How to lose weight in a wheelchair

Adults who use wheelchairs can find it harder to lose weight because they tend to use fewer calories through physical activity. But there are still changes you can make to achieve a healthy weight.

Being overweight or obese puts you at higher risk of a range of serious health conditions, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease and certain cancers.

How to check your weight

Body mass index (BMI) is a useful measure of whether someone is a healthy weight for their height.

You can check your BMI by using our BMI healthy weight calculator.

However, it’s sometimes not enough to use BMI to check the weight of someone in a wheelchair, as this may not give the full picture.

If you’re uncertain about your weight, talk to a GP. They will be able to tell you whether BMI is suitable for you and whether you’re currently a healthy weight.

The GP can also help if you’re not able to weigh yourself.

Losing weight in a wheelchair

The average man needs around 2,500 calories a day to maintain his bodyweight. The average woman needs around 2,000 calories a day.

If you’re a wheelchair user, it’s likely you’ll need fewer calories than these guideline amounts. This is partly because you tend not to use the large leg muscles. And having less muscle means fewer calories are needed to maintain a healthy weight.

A GP or dietitian can help you to work out your daily calorie needs.

You may prefer to have the support of a community weight management service. Ask the GP if there is one available near you.

Anyone who wants to use the service, which welcomes wheelchair users, is screened by a qualified weight management adviser who can tell you if the service is suitable.

For some people, a one-to-one programme may be available.

Tips for losing weight

Aim to lose between 0.5lb (0.25kg) and 2lb (1kg) a week until you reach your target weight. A healthy, balanced diet and regular physical activity will help you to maintain a healthy weight in the long term.

It’s important to eat a balanced diet from across the food groups shown in the Eatwell Guide because, when you eat fewer calories, it can become more challenging to get enough nutrients, especially vitamins and minerals, from your diet.

A healthy, balanced diet should be based on the Eatwell Guide. This means:

  • eating at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and vegetables every day
  • basing meals on potatoes, bread, rice, pasta or other starchy carbohydrates
  • choosing wholegrain with less added sugar or fat, where possible
  • having some dairy or dairy alternatives (such as soya drinks and yoghurts) – choose lower-fat and lower-sugar options
  • eating some beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other protein – aim for 2 portions of fish every week, 1 of which should be oily, such as salmon or mackerel
  • choosing unsaturated oils and spreads, such as sunflower or rapeseed, and eating them in small amounts
  • drinking plenty of fluids – the government recommends 6 to 8 cups/glasses a day – but try not to have drinks just before meals to avoid feeling too full to eat

If you’re having foods and drinks that are high in fat, salt and sugar, have these less often and in small amounts.

However, it’s important to remember that the Eatwell Guide is aimed at the general population.

Your dietitian or weight management adviser may have specific advice about portion sizes that are adapted for your particular disability. But this will still be based on a healthy, balanced diet.

Maintaining a Healthy Body Weight for Wheelchair Users

Following are some of the important tips that every wheelchair user should pay attention to:

1. Look at the Quantity of Your Diet

Most of the wheelchair users tend to intake more calories required by their body. It is basically because they take food in the quantity appropriate for their age while their lower body remains inactive. A person who can stand or walk, uses leg muscles that burn a lot of calories. This is not the case with wheelchair users. If you are someone who cannot stand, you use approximately half of your body. So, you need to adjust the amount of calories intake accordingly. An average man needs 2500 calories a day while a woman requires 2000 calories a day. If you are a wheelchair user, you require significantly lesser calories than that.

a healthy meal plan is important for maintaining ideal body weight

2. Don’t Miss the Balance of Your Diet

While you need to decrease your calorie intake, you should not let your diet get out of balance. Taking a balanced diet is imperative. It can become more challenging for you to get all nutrients when you decrease the amount of food you take. You can use vitamin supplements but it will be better if you can maintain the balance of nutrients in your diet itself. Add more fruits and veggies and cut on processed food from your diet plan.

3. Drink Plenty of Water

Keeping yourself hydrated has many health benefits. And, it also helps in shedding extra weight. Drinking a glass of water in the morning helps flush out toxins from the body. You should also try to drink a glass of water before taking your meal. This will make you feel full and you can easily reduce the amount of food you consume.

drinking plenty of water keeps you hydrated and healthy

4. Add Exercise to Your Daily Routine

Whatever is the level of your physical activity, you can add some yoga or exercise to your daily routine. We have covered this topic in some of our older posts. Choose the type of exercise you like best and do it consistently. Any physical activity is better than no activity. So, be active. Try adoptive yoga or other chair exercises. Wheelchair aerobics too are good for losing weight and strengthening muscles. You can also include some activities or sports like swimming, basketball, badminton etc. if you enjoy them. Let your body sweat.

5. Sleep well

Getting a good night’s sleep is important for keeping you healthy. Studies have shown that a person may gain weight due to lack of sleep. So, you should focus on sleeping well at night. Muscle cramps, pain, stiffness or the inability to find a comfortable position may affect the sleep quality of many wheelchair users. You can get a few body pillows to help you sleep comfortably or you can find other solutions as per your specific need. The aim is to get proper 6-8 hours of sleep every night.

6. Stretch Your Body

Don’t confine stretching to your morning exercise routine. You should do some stretching multiple times a day. Stretching your body ensures a good flow of blood to different parts of your body. Stiffness of muscles and joints is very commonly experienced by wheelchair users and stretching is the perfect solution for the problem. When your body is more flexible you can expect a more active life and thus loss of excess weight.

7. Breathe Deeply

Wheelchair users have to sit for long stretches of time and they tend to slump, this automatically lowers their lung capacity thus making their breathing shallower. Shallow breathing can lower the level of oxygen in the body. You should try to consciously breathe deeply. This will increase oxygen in your body which will help in burning extra fat deposited in the body. Apart from this, there are many other health benefits of deep breathing.

Benefits of Counting Calories


When you keep a keep journal or track your meals on your smartphone, you make better choices. You become accountable to yourself, and you can track your progress better. Within the first couple days of tracking your meals and their calories, you will be shocked.

There is no more fooling yourself about how much you are or are not consuming when you write it down. Journaling and logging your food choices leads to making better choices. It is better to eat a healthy and filling salad than to waste your calories first thing in the morning on a donut in the coffee line.


Have you wondered how many calories you can actually eat? Here’s a hint: it’s not what everyone thinks. Your ideal calorie intake depends on a number of factors: activity level, age, weight, body type, and macronutrient percentages. Calculate your recommended calorie goal. Once you see how much you can actually consumer, you will begin to reassess what goes in and what should be left out. If you are counting calories, count them correctly for your needs. 


Calorie control is not so much about restricting your diet as it is about eating the right amount of good foods. It’s not easy to eat healthy all the time, but portion control is possible when good eating is not. Counting calories helps you eat the right amount of better foods.

Pay attention to serving sizes on food labels, carry a portion chart with you in your wallet or purse, and learn how to visualize what a healthy portion looks like. Healthy portions and calories are easier when you limit processed foods and take-out. Again, when you log your food and calories, you will be inspired to limit your portion sizes, and you will eat different foods on the menus at your favorite restaurants.


Most of the benefits lists come down to one key factor for success – visualizing. When you see, you really see it. You see your goals, you see your food, you see the calories, and you begin to consciously make better decisions. When your calorie intake is in your face, reality sets in. There is no running from it. If you are honest with yourself and your food journal, success will follow if you take the cues to make healthier decisions about your calories.


Yes, it’s free to count calories. No, you don’t need to sign up for an expensive weight-loss plan, you don’t need a 300-page book, and you don’t need a monthly subscription. You need an app, you need nutrition labels, and you need to count everything that goes in.

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